YOUR UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION AND YOU:
Written by J. G. Schmechel
The summer of 2004 has brought forth numerous rumors concerning the fact that another union wants to represent the trainmen. The next few pages will sort out the facts from the rumors so that you can judge for yourself that the United Transportation Union is the one union that can best represent you, the trainman or the engineer.
We in the UTU must remind ourselves why we even have a union in the first place. Not every person who becomes employed by UPRR at first realizes why a union is an absolute necessity. Do not kid yourselves; if it were not for the union brotherhoods, our workplace environment would certainly not be what it is today. Our pay and working conditions would be terrible. If not for the union, we would be considered "at will" employees, who would work here only at the will of our employer; pay would be what the employer wants to pay us, working conditions would be only what the employer wants. An example is found by the fact that beginning in October, 2004 managers will be paid monthly instead of semi-monthly; this is something arbitrarily forced on them, they have no say in the matter. If we had no union, who knows what kind of shenanigans they would pull on us.
A railroad carrier has two basic on-going expenses, employees and fuel. They do not pay their employees what they do simply because they are benevolent and have deep pockets and good hearts. Your pay and working conditions are what they are because of the labor organizations, past and present, that have worked hard to forge what we have today. Is it perfect? Do we get everything we ask for? No, and it never will be. But the UTU will keep trying, one issue at a time.
Many who come to work for the railroad come from backgrounds that were non-union, or maybe even anti-union. And we live in a right-to-work state (more properly stated, "right-to-work-for less"). But like it or not, there is a law called The Railway Labor Act (RLA), which trumps the right-to-work laws of the various states. Because of that, we have a union shop agreement; the unions will represent the various classes of employees and they will belong to those unions. As a result, labor contracts have been written and enforced for over a century.
The RLA has one main purpose, to keep the nationís commerce moving. It forbids us from arbitrarily striking an employer in an effort to improve the employeesí position. The RLA does provide for an option to seek self-help (i.e., go out on strike), but only after certain conditions have been met; and it also provides for the government to step in to resolve an issue if the parties cannot. So it behooves the parties to work together to try to resolve issues on their own to try to keep the government out of our affairs. Our 1991 contract was the result of the government appointing carrier-friendly neutrals (an oxymoron) to write our contract. Thinking we were overpaid enough already, we were literally spanked by those neutrals. This only served to perpetuate the damage started by the ill-fated 1982 strike by the other union over their being the highest paid crew member, which resulted in the Van Wart Study Commission, which highly favored the carriers.
When labor organizations seek self-help outside the framework of the RLA (i.e., wildcat strike), carriers have been known to get injunctions against such organizations to do two things; the first is to end the illegal walkout, the second is to recover the revenue they think they lost by that illegal walkout. If the carriers were to be successful in getting that recovery, where would they get the money? Donít kid yourself; they would put a lien on all the property owned by the various brothers, you, me and all of us in the organization that struck. The bottom line is that a labor organization has to be very judicious in what it goes out on strike for. That is one of the strengths of the UTU.
The other organization seeking to obtain the contract for trainmen found out first-hand recently what a wildcat strike can do. In 1996, they got personal leave days as a part of their contract; there was a stipulation that in order to qualify for the PL days each year, they had to work 150 days in the previous year. At first the carrier did not enforce that. When they did, a wildcat strike of several hours duration was the result. In an effort to forestall the placing of liens on all its members, their general chairmen reached an agreement with the carrier that raised the number of days worked in order to qualify, and provided that the carrier could deny the taking of PL days, but that denied days could be put in a bank that will be paid off upon retirement or death. It is hard for a UTU member to see where there was a positive result of that strike, if a substandard agreement was a result thereof. Essentially it was an agreement via blackmail.
Now this same organization has merged with a truckersí union in order to have "strength in numbers." This is the same truckersí union that could NOT organize Overnite Trucking, a former subsidiary of your employer. Do you honestly believe that if the other organization goes out on strike over an issue, say overtime for post-85 employees, that the nationís truck drivers will respect that position and also go out on strike? And do you think that if the non-RLA truck drivers strike over some trucker issue that the trains will come to a halt because the other organization is affiliated with them? Whatever Congress and the President do wonít be pretty. Truckers are NOT covered by the RLA! There is no law against truckers interrupting commerce.
There is a rumor that the nationís carriers will be seeking to implement a one-person crew on an over-the-road train in the next round of bargaining. Yes, the technology is there to have the trains move via a GPS-connected computer. Efficiently? Probably not. Rest assured the carriers will be willing to spend any amount of money to get out from under the burden of what they consider excessive employee expense. While the next Section 6 notices have yet to be served, this is probably a true rumor. GPS and computers would replace the engineer, not the conductor, just as it was arbitrated in RCL operations that the trainmen gave signals to a microprocessor rather than an engineer.
When the UTU has negotiated contracts involving crew reduction, history has shown that all employees on board when the contract is consummated are protected. The 1984 and 1991 crew consist agreements and the RCL agreement are three examples. If the UTU negotiates the one-man, over-the-road crew agreement, protection will be provided, buyouts will be negotiated, reserve boards will be implemented. We have done it in the past; we will do it again. Our heritage as a labor organization that protects its members (and others) will prevail. Even though the other organization doesnít want to admit it, the RCL agreement negotiated by the UTU even afforded protection for members of that other organization, should they be affected by the reduction of in the number of yard engineers. Did the UTU have to do this? No, it did it because it was the right thing to do.
Undoubtedly you will, if you havenít already, hear arguments proffered by members of this other organization that they can do a myriad of things for you, if only they held the contract for the trainmen. Most likely the younger members will bear the brunt of these ramblings. If nothing else, bear in mind that this organization has younger members in its own ranks, and it has not delivered on any of these idle promises for its younger members. Itís better that they walk the walk than talk the talk. But the leadership of the other organization doesnít want to walk, they want to ride; that is why they are so good at getting "me too" agreements from the carriers, agreements that the UTU has already negotiated for them. Without the contract, they cannot legally even process a time claim in a trainmanís behalf or seek redress from an unjust discipline. (An exception was the 1982 contract that resulted in the Van Wart Study Commission).
They might present you with an "A-card" in an attempt to get you to sign it. An A-card is a petition for a certification election to be held on a property, i.e., Union Pacific. If a sufficient number of A-cards are returned to the National Mediation Board, a representation election will be held. If that comes to pass, then either the UTU or the truckerís union will hold the contract for both trainmen and enginemen. In the event neither organization would get a majority of the ballots returned, both unions would become decertified, and we would all become "at-will" employees. All of our current agreements would be trashed and the carrier(s) would be free to set your pay and your working conditions as they deem proper! You would have no person to appeal your dismissals and your pay shortages. But then you would be on a salary and you would work every dayÖit would be terrible!
If one organization is selected in a representation election, the other organization turns its contracts with the carrier over to the winner. The other organization will not be as zealous in guarding the trainmenís contracts as it would the engineerís contracts; their members will come first. The UTU has craft autonomy that protects engineers equally as well as trainmen. Nothing like that exists in the engineerís union!
President Thompson of the UTU stated in a letter to me dated August 5, 2004, "While I cannot specifically direct individuals as to whether or not to sign an "A-card", I would strongly urge them not to do so." I had previously asked him specifically what actions we UTU members should take if presented with the dilemma of signing an A-card.
This other organization will make every attempt to discredit the UTU in its effort for survival. There is basically only one answer we can give to any of their arguments: "If your organization is worried about survival and having strength in numbers, you should merge with the UTU to achieve those goals. We work together on the job for our employer, we can work together as one organization for ourselves!"
So please do not be misled by their "talking points and yeah buts," as that is idle chatter. If you look behind each one of their talking points, you will find the rest of the story, not quite like they portray it. The engineers are being misled by the truckerís union, which is struggling financially; they only see railroaders as a financial shot in the arm for their organization. They want to raise dues and steal the Railroad Retirement Funds, through a change in the law. Look at the other unions that disaffiliated with the truckerís organization when they found out that the truckerís wasnít really going to represent them. Look at the fact that the truckers organization could not even organize Overnite Trucking (something the UPRR is very proud of Ė the ONLY union trophy on Dick Davidsonís wall). History does not need to repeat itself.
Yet the UTU was able to successfully finish negotiating the current contract, which did rectify much of the disparity between the post and pre-1985 employees through trip rates. They did this in spite of the fact that the current administration and congress is very labor unfriendly; the carriers could have thumbed their nose at us, forcing a strike, but it didnít happen. The UTU ratified the contract; the carriers thought (and hoped) we would not ratify. It is the same contract that the other organization publicly denounced when we first initialed, but were all too glad to accept when they realized what their other options were. They have yet to prove they can do better than the UTU!
The bottom line is that we need to be proud of our UTU membership. It is the cornerstone of a very decent employment relationship. The same RLA binds the carriers into cooperating with its unions to avoid the interruption of commerce. Please do not throw it away on a whim that you might be able to do better down the street. The other organization has refused repeatedly attempts to merge with the UTU (which would have been strength in numbers) because their egotistical stance that they are "better" (at the organization level, not necessarily by individual persons) than trainmen. They have only recently changed their name to include your occupation, and thatís what they want to do, is to occupy the craft of trainmen in the same manner that nazi Germany occupied Europe.
We in the UTU have the strength in numbers and knowledge to successfully negotiate with the carriers. But we cannot let our guard down. Remember that the carriers have the unlimited resources to thwart many of our desires, so negotiating is never any easy process for any organization. The organizations rely on dues contributed by their members as their only resource.
When the time comes to test our resolve, please represent the UTU as the UTU has represented you. Please be proud of your UTU membership. And remember, you only find utopia in the dictionary.