Legislative Update October 2011

Now is not the Time to Cut Funding for Amtrak and High-Speed Rail!

Amtrak

The recent Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development legislation, passed out of the Appropriations Committee on September 8, included only half  ($1.1 billion) of Amtrak’s FY 2012 request for $2.222 billion. It cuts Amtrak’s operating funds by 60 percent and capital funds by $25 million. The bill would also prohibit funding to be used on state-sponsored, short-distance routes, halting service for half of Amtrak’s riders and immediately eliminating 1500 Amtrak employees.

The Senate version of the bill, which has also passed out of Committee, would cut operating funds by three percent but increase capital spending by two percent. It does not contain the elimination of the state-sponsored routes.

Full funding for Amtrak is essential in order for the railroad to fulfill its obligations and provide the best and safest service possible to the 900,000 commuters it serves daily.

 

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS NOW TO REQUEST THAT THEY SUPPORT FULL FUNDING FOR AMTRAK.

High Speed Rail

The same House Appropriations bill that would cut funding in half for Amtrak, also proposes to cut all funding for high speed rail in the budget, and the Senate version appropriates only $100 million for high-speed intercity passenger rail. Please let your congressional leaders know that you support increased funding for high speed rail in order to provide an additional and much-needed form of transportation which would reduce congestion on our roadways and create an estimated 20,000 jobs per $1 billion spent on high speed rail projects.

Continuing Resolution Continues Federal Funding Through November 18

On October 5, President Obama signed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running through November 18, 2011. The CR provides $1.042 trillion for government agencies between October 1 and November 18. It also provides $2.65 billion in FY 2012 for disaster relief projects around the country.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate continue to work on FY 2012 funding appropriations legislation before the CR ends. As of October 5, the House had passed six appropriations bills and the Senate just one. With less than seven weeks to pass twelve separate appropriations bills and send them to the President, there will likely be an omnibus appropriations bill that will include some, or maybe all twelve, bills. (An omnibus bill is a single piece of legislation that is accepted in a single vote and rolls the spending bills of all departments into a single bill.)

Strike Averted – At Least for Now!

The BLET, along with 10 other rail labor unions representing 75% of all rail workers at major U.S. railroads, have been in an ongoing dispute with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee over wages and health care benefits since early 2009 when negotiations began for a new collective bargaining agreement. The main sticking point has been the issue of health care benefits for rail workers and their families. The carriers want to shift health care costs to those members and their families who get sick – in other words, those who can least afford it. The United Transportation Union reached a tentative agreement with the carriers in June; however the other rail unions have rejected the deal’s wage and health care terms. The UTU agreement includes a 17 percent wage increase; however it also includes huge concessions in health care benefits for its members. Under the UTU agreement, their members will pay a larger share of each health care service and includes new programs that will lower the quality of health care by transferring selection of prescription drugs from one’s doctor to an insurance company. The carriers have called the UTU deal a “pattern agreement” that the other crafts must accept; however, the BLET and the other rail unions find this unacceptable given the record profits that the railroads have enjoyed in recent years.

The National Mediation Board had overseen the rail negotiations for over a year and, on September 6, 2011, the Board released the BLET and the other unions from mediation, thereby triggering a 30-day cooling off period, which expired on October 7, 2011. According to the Railway Labor Act, self-help would be available to the parties (i.e., the unions could strike or one or more of the carriers could order a lockout, or a unilateral promulgation of carrier Section 6 notices could occur) if President Obama failed to issue a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB).

During the 30-day cooling off period, the BLET activated its mobilization network and conducted a strike authorization vote on those railroads where the dispute exists and the BLET has representation rights for their craft. After the votes were counted on October 3, BLET National President Pierce announced that an overwhelming 97 percent majority of BLET members voted to authorize the strike. Locomotive engineers were prepared to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. EST on October 7 if President Obama did not appoint a PEB.

On the afternoon of October 6, 2011, President Obama announced that Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) No. 2431 had been established to investigate and propose a solution for settlement between the NCCC and the six rail unions remaining (those who comprise the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition2) in the dispute. The five-member PEB now has 30 days to issue their recommendations to President Obama. At the conclusion of that 30-day period, another mandatory 30-day cooling off period will begin while the two sides consider the PEB recommendations and seek a voluntary settlement based on those recommendations. If no settlement can be reached during that cooling off period, which ends at midnight on December 5, the parties are again free to engage in self-help. At that point, Congress can step in and impose a third-party settlement on the involved carriers and their unions.

  1. The members of PEB No. 243 are: Ira F. Jaffe, Chair; Roberta Golick; Joshua Javits; Gil Vernon; and Arnold Zack.

  1. The RLBC is comprised of: Teamsters Rail Conference members, the BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers of the Service Employees International Union; and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

More Attacks on Labor

Republicans in both the Senate and the House have been lobbying to prevent the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from carrying out its mission to protect workers against employers’ unfair labor practices and to strip the agency of its legal power and responsibility to protect union workers from employers’ retaliation. The NLRB has been under attack by business groups and congressional Republicans for allegedly favoring labor groups in series of high-profile cases and rulings.

Thanks to the efforts of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and other unions, an amendment recently introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to bar the NLRB from pursuing a case against Boeing was defeated. Boeing was charged with retaliating against union employees by moving the work and some 1,000 jobs from Washington State to a new non-union production line in South Carolina. The bill passed in the House, but failed to get out of a Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up on a 15-15 tie vote. Although the amendment was focused on Boeing, it would have prevented the NLRB from pursuing any cases involving companies that move work from a union to a non-union plant to retaliate for lawful union activity. The NLRB officials contend that Boeing officials were illegally punishing union workers for past strikes by moving the work. CWA Legislative Director Shane Larson stated that the amendment “would set back decades of labor law and was an attack on all working people, their rights, and their jobs.”

On October 5, Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced legislation to overturn a new NLRB rule that speeds up the union election process. Kline contends that the NLRB’s action would weaken the economic recovery and that he and his Republican colleagues “are determined to hold the NLRB accountable for its job-destroying agenda.” Citing the “Occupying Wall Street” protests taking place nationwide, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated that the GOP was going too far and that anyone who supports Kline’s anti-worker bill should listen to the people on Wall Street rather than the CEOs or hedge fund managers. “What they’ll hear,” Trumka stated, “is a call for action to create good jobs and end the inequalities caused by corporate greed and economic injustice.” Kline’s bill will be heard in the Education and Workforce Committee next week and will most likely be fast-tracked to the House floor by GOP leadership, but it is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.