THE STORY OF THE TWO PROMISES
by James Brunkenhoefer
National Legislative Director
Starting two and half decades ago, the railroads began on their journey of crew size reductions. Each round of negotiations resulted in job loss and profit growth. Finally the carriers entered into a crew consist agreement with a moratorium that promised, in most cases, that trains would have at least one conductor. Some of these moratoriums lasted for several years while others only lasted for the lifetime of any conductor who was employed by that carrier at that time. This prevented any possible changes in crew consist agreements for many decades. The greedy leaders of the railroads saw a continued profit growth as business grew to record levels. This resulted in higher stock prices, bigger dividends and bonuses, not to mention stock options and stock buybacks.
This was not enough - the railroads went to Wall Street and made a second promise. They promised that these records would be broken and they told Wall Street how they were going to do it. It was very simple - they were going to break that first promise. The first promise was contained in the moratoriums; that promise was to you - the person who gets out of bed day and night, leaves their families and travels many miles, stays in second and third rate hotels (train crews don't stay at the Hyatt or the Ritz), eats at fast food restaurants if they get a chance to eat at all and leads a constant life of fatigue and jet lag. That simply is not appreciated by the railroads. It doesn't matter the sacrifices you make, it doesn't matter the promises made to you. You see, you are an inconvenience that stands between them and more greed. It doesn't matter that they want to throw you aside, cut your wages, cut your health care and repeal FELA. It is all okay for them after all, it was just a promise to you. It wasn't important.
After the November 2004 Elections, the railroads were certain that they could break any promise to you because the Republicans had won again. They had a game plan for the bargaining table. It was really simple - they would meet with your union, make one ridiculous low ball offer after another, claim they were at an impasse, seek release from mediation, get a slam dunk Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) that would recommend that all of the railroads' dreams come true, get Congress to adopt the PEB's report, grab their profits, blame Congress and let you suffer. The promise that they made to you in their crew consist moratoriums were just an inconvenience for them.
Well, it looks like their game plan ran into some problems. First there was a law suit by UTU General Counsel Clint Miller in East St. Louis. Quite frankly, it was real simple - it maintains that a promise is a promise even when they are made regarding crew consist moratoriums. The second part of the lawsuit said that labor and management can't agree to change the law - that is what Congress is for. It seems like rail management never got around to reading the US Constitution. I guess they just think that is an inconvenience also.
This did not detour the railroads from their game plan. They still believe they could get released from the National Mediation Board (NMB), throw the problem in Congress' lap, get a favorable action and simply ignore the reality of the courts. However, their dream quickly turned into a nightmare, it wasn't a gentle rain storm on their parade instead it was a hurricane, in fact two hurricanes. The first one came from an independently minded Republican from Alaska named Don Young who is the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. After Chairman Young got the complete picture of the railroads' plan, he became very troubled that the railroads plan at the bargaining table assumed that he was looking forward to their problem showing up on his doorstep. He immediately recognized that for the railroad's plan to succeed, it could very possibly end up with a conflict between all three branches of government. He and other Congressional leaders wrote to the NMB questioning the reasonableness of the railroads' plan. Other Congressional leaders from both parties also became active on the issue.
Next, the unions changed history. They put aside their differences, joined together and became working as one as Eugene V. Debs envisioned more than a century ago. The NMB appeared to have come under the spell of the railroads. Indications were that the parties would be released no later than spring of this year. The combined efforts of the union turned that dream into a nightmare with tens of thousands of faxes, emails, letters and phone calls into that agency overwhelming the railroads' message.
This one, two punch caused the railroads to pull back but we know that this will not be for long. They continue to believe that you will become impatient and you will push your leadership into accepting one of their low ball offers. Or that you will allow them to use your impatience against yourself and let them drag you into a PEB that will permit them to not only break the promises contained in the crew consist moratoriums but also to saddle you with higher health care costs reducing the standard of living for you and your family while allowing their stock prices and bonuses to soar. You see you and your family are just an inconvenience to them.
Who is the mastermind of this scheme? It is Bob Allen, Chairman of the National Carriers Conference Committee. Mr. Allen's back ground is the airline industry. I guess he didn't learn all that he should have.. Yes, Frank Lorenzo tried to follow exactly the same game and in the end Eastern Airlines went up in smoke, the unions went up in smoke and so did Lorenzo. Maybe it's time for Mr. Allen to learn that Eastern Airline type tactics won't work in the railroad industry. In the railroad industry, the union members are not dumb enough to be impatient just so that the railroads could win. If it gets to be a waiting game, our families can out wait reduced health care. Our families can out wait reduced wages. Our families can out wait unnecessary job losses.
The only way that the railroads can win this game is if they use our impatience against us. You have already won the technical game in the courts by delaying the process. You have already won the technical game in Congress through delay, you have already won the technical game at the regulatory body through delay. We cannot let our impatience destroy our step by step journey towards victory. We can let our impatience to allow the railroads to get away with breaking their promise to you so they can keep their promise to their friends on Wall Street to their own personal benefit.