CLEVELAND -- The United Transportation Union has taken Union Pacific (UP) to court over the railroad's violation of a labor agreement.

The UTU on Thursday, May 6, asked a federal district court in Oakland, Calif., to issue an injunction, which would prohibit UP's further use of management employees to operate its locomotives.

"By using company officers to operate its locomotives, Union Pacific is denying more than 2,100 UTU-represented conductors, brakemen and yardmen promotion to locomotive engineer as provided in a 1985 national agreement between the UTU and the UP," said UTU International President Paul Thompson.

"UP must use company officers, such as road foremen and trainmasters, to operate its locomotives, because it has historically sought to avoid the costs of having to promote conductors, brakemen and yardmen to higher-paying engineer positions and to avoid training new employees to fill the vacant conductor, brakemen and yardmen positions," Thompson said. The railroad's officers primarily are operating UP trains over lines of the former Southern Pacific (acquired by the UP in 1996) in Southern California and Arizona.

"Union Pacific has repeatedly acknowledged a shortage of employees qualified to operate its freight trains," Thompson said. "Each acknowledgement is accompanied by a promise of new hiring and training. But the railroad has always been a day late and a dollar short with respect to hiring and training. Insufficient operating crews are contributing to severe service disruptions across Union Pacific's system, which have caused the railroad to take the unprecedented step of telling many customers to shift their business to trucks."

The 1985 agreement between the UTU and Union Pacific provides, in part, that "when selecting new applicants for engine service (locomotive engineer), opportunity shall first be given to employees in train and yard service (conductors, brakemen and yardmen) on the basis of their relative seniority standing ..."

Instead, Union Pacific on April 23 entered into a tentative agreement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), a division of the Teamsters union, to permit railroad officers to fill locomotive engineer vacancies rather than promote eligible and qualified conductors, brakemen and yardmen as provided by the railroad's 1985 national agreement with the UTU.

"The BLE has a history of not protecting other crafts and this is another sad example," Thompson said. "But our principal beef here is with Union Pacific because it is responsible for hiring, promotion and training of its operating crews.

"We are asking a federal court to prohibit the railroad from violating its labor agreement," Thompson said. "The result would be promotion of eligible and qualified conductors, brakemen and yardmen to all locomotive engineer vacancies and hiring of sufficient new conductors, brakemen and yardmen at the other end of the employment pipeline.

"The UTU has gone many extra miles in attempting to help Union Pacific out of its service failures," Thompson said. "When Union Pacific suffered a system-wide meltdown seven years ago, we defended the carrier before regulatory agencies and encouraged our members to work months on end without rest days, holidays or vacations. In exchange, we were promised by Union Pacific that it would hire sufficient new operating crews. The railroad failed to meet that promise.

"More recently, the railroad came to us again for assistance," Thompson said. "Again, we delivered. We went arm-in-arm with Union Pacific to U.S. immigration officials to gain permission for furloughed Canadian operating employees to cross the U.S. border to operate UP trains temporarily until the railroad could hire and train UTU conductors, brakemen and yardmen," Thompson said.

"But once again, after the UTU helped UP out of the fire, the railroad again failed to deliver on its promise of promotion, training and new hiring," Thompson said. "Instead, it entered into the agreement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to use company officers to fill vacancies in an effort once again to avoid hiring new crews.

"Clearly, Union Pacific is a railroad that cannot be trusted to do as it promises," Thompson said. "The UTU has no choice but to ask a federal court to force the railroad to honor its labor agreements. Until Union Pacific honors those agreements, there is little likelihood it will correct its extreme service failures and be in a position to handle its customers' freight this summer and fall," Thompson said.

The UTU, with 125,000 members employed by railroads, commuter agencies, transit lines, bus companies and airlines, is the largest railroad union in North America . The UTU represents some 14,500 Union Pacific employees.