Louisville & Indiana members say change in representation like ‘night and day’

June 20, 2024

SMART News recently released a story regarding organizer Andy Goeckner’s thoughts on how the Louisville & Indiana (L&I) Railroad members became a part of our union. One would expect the lead organizer to paint a positive picture, so in efforts to get a different perspective, we reached out to a few of our new brothers at the L&I and asked them the very same questions.

Brother Steve McBroom is a 32-year veteran of the railroad industry who has seen more than his fair share of territory. McBroom worked for BNSF until 2020 and has worked for a handful of different short line railroads. He has been a member of our predecessor union, the UTU, SMART-TD, and the BLE.

Brother Dustin Dudley is the newly elected Vice Local Chairperson for the L&I’s LCA in Indianapolis’ Local 1518 and has over 20 years of railroad experience working for Norfolk Southern from 2003 through 2023. Last summer, he left the NS and joined the Louisville and Indiana Railroad, looking for a change in quality of life and hoping to avoid a career sleeping in hotels.

In the two decades Dudley was with NS, he was local chairperson of SMART-TD Local 1328. When he came to the L&I in the summer of 2023, there was already plenty of interest in the crew base about joining the SMART railroad union. When his new coworkers approached him about the idea of leaving the BLE in favor of SMART-TD, he tried to stay out of the conversation initially. “I told those guys I’m a trainee. I don’t even have a vote right now.” But the more Dudley learned about his new surroundings, the more difficult it became for him to remain silent.

When asked what some of the issues were that made the members of L&I consider changing representation, McBroom and Dudley had several examples to share.

“It all boiled down to a lack of trust,” McBroom said. “We saw how our previous leadership team handled our last contract negotiation. With our next contract negotiation coming up, we knew how important it was for us to be with an organization that would stand up for us.”

Predecessor’s contracts, communication fell short

McBroom said that, for starters, the contracts being achieved by their former union weren’t to members’ satisfaction.

“In the last round of negotiations, our general chairman from the BLE settled for $4 a day for our guys to work an RCO job. Apparently, that was where the company started, and our GC agreed with it.” he said. “Additionally, our assigned BLE GC signed a side letter with the railroad without consulting any of our members and to make it worse, he never bothered to inform us that he had signed it. We operated for two months without knowing we had a new agreement. It cost our members hundreds of dollars in runaround claims that we had no idea we were owed or should be putting in. When it came to light at a meeting, his response was, “My bad. I forgot to tell you.” Like I said, we lost faith in their organization’s ability and will to properly represent us. That’s the long and short of it.”

Much like Brother McBroom, Dudley also took offense to the BLE’s lack of communication on contract negotiations. He pointed out the same two examples that McBroom provided, stating that the BLE general chairman did not take the time to inform the members that their agreement had changed or ask for their thoughts on the RCO pay issue.

“We’ve always come back on the board first out after a rest day. The GC signed an agreement in October of 2023 that changed that to where we would come off our rest days last out,” he said. “That is a good thing, but he didn’t bother to tell any of us about it until January of 2024! That is not leadership and is simply disrespectful. And it isn’t like we can look back on the computer system and figure out who is owed what claims because our extra board is kept on a chalkboard! There’s no accounting for what our guys lost from that mistake.”

Dudley also reiterated that they were not part of the discussion on how much of an allowance they should receive for operating an RCO box. “Again, that is simply disrespectful.”

Misinformation and baseless threats

On top of the lack of trust in the ability of their prior organization to represent their best interests, the crew base on the L&I said they lost faith that they were being told the truth from BLE leadership. Once the BLE learned they were in jeopardy of losing L&I as members, workers there said they pulled out all the stops with BLE President Eddie Hall making personal calls to members trying to sell them on staying with his union.

Brother McBroom stated that when Hall called him about staying with the BLE, he used scare tactics by saying, “SMART-TD could easily abandon you like they did to the Arizona Eastern Railroad. If they do that, you would all be (at-will) employees when they decide to walk away from you.” Curious, McBroom took the time to investigate that accusation himself.

McBroom said what he found was that “the story Hall told us about the Arizona Eastern Railroad and SMART-TD was a total misrepresentation of what happened. Those guys in Arizona thought they could get a better contract if they dropped the union, and SMART told them they disagreed, but wouldn’t hold them hostage. So, they allowed them to vote and abided by the result. SMART-TD didn’t abandon those guys, they got tricked by their carrier and walked away from the union. I didn’t appreciate his scare tactics or his twisting of the truth, and it didn’t help with the trust issues we already had with him or the organization.”

Dudley stated: “When I got to the L&I, there was already some distrust of the BLE going around. Once they heard we were considering leaving, that’s when they came in trying to scare us with their half-truths. Actually, I don’t even know if I can call them half-truths, they were downright lies.

“First, Hall tried to tell us we would lose our contract and have to start over from scratch, which simply was not true. Then he tried to scare everyone with his fabricated Arizona & Eastern story.”

When Hall attended a town hall meeting with L&I workers to win them back, McBroom and Dudley said that those in attendance called him out on his “misinformation of facts.”

“Eddie Hall, the president of the BLE, came to talk with us and started telling our guys lies about SMART-TD and how it treated the Arizona and Eastern Railroad. I was so mad, I was shaking,” Dudley said. “It was hard to imagine he thought we would actually believe what he was trying to sell us. What he claimed SMART did doesn’t even line up with Department of Labor regulations.”

SMART-TD had the documented proof to prove otherwise (see below), and when it was presented to Eddie Hall, he didn’t have a thing to say and left.

Unfortunately, President Hall continues to try and sell his Arizona & Eastern story.

“Just more lies,” Dudley said.

Improved accessibility and open lines

Dudley and McBroom were asked if they have seen any changes or improvements in the month since they came on board with SMART-TD. They were quick to point out that the level of communication and access to information have been the biggest immediate changes.

“The difference is night and day with our level of access to information and to officers. Since we joined SMART-TD, any one of us can call Andy Goeckner, Rick Lee, or even President Ferguson. Our questions get answered, or someone calls us back with an answer. The access to the information our guys need has been remarkable. I’m not an officer in this local, just a member, but that doesn’t seem to matter to these guys. They really want us all to have what we need to be successful.”

VLC Dudley agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiments from Brother McBroom.

“The level of communication is a big change. I can call Andy (Goeckner), Rick (GC Lee), or even Tommy (GC Gholson of GCA 898), hell I was just texting back and forth with Jeremy (SMART-TD President Ferguson) the other day,” Dudley said. “They are doing everything they can to get our guys where they need to be. The culture and the attitude are a huge change for us. These guys all go out of their way to be helpful. This is what true union representation is all about.”