LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit brought by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen against Los Angeles Metrolink to eliminate inward-facing video cameras in the cab has been dismissed by a judge here.

Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin said the inward-facing cameras, which monitor crew activities in the cab, do not violate privacy rights, reports the Associated Press.

Metrolink ordered that inward-facing cameras be installed in commuter-train cabs following a September 2008 catastrophic accident in Chatsworth, Calif., in which a Metrolink train ran a red signal and collided with a freight train, killing 25 and injuring more than 100 on the Metrolink train. The Metrolink engineer, who died in the crash, was found to have been texting repeatedly.

Following that accident, the Federal Railroad Administration banned the use by train crews, nationwide, of most electronic devices.

BOSTON — UTU-represented conductors and assistant conductors on Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) have ratified a four-year agreement covering wages, benefits and working conditions.

The agreement is retroactive to July 2009, and may be reopened for amendment in July 2013 under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.

BLET-represented engineers on MBCR also ratified a new four-year agreement. The UTU and the BLET negotiated jointly to reach those separate craft agreements, with the expectation that a better agreement for each craft would result if negotiations were held jointly.

Included in the UTU amended agreement with MBCR are retroactive pay, a signing bonus, a 13.7 percent overall increase in wages by July 2013, certification pay for conductors, a cap on health care cost-sharing, and a provision that discipline records will not be retained beyond a maximum of 36 months (other than substance abuse violations, which are subject to record-keeping under federal law).

The agreement also includes an increase in compensation for release-time — from the decades-old 50 percent of the full-time rate to 62.5 percent.

UTU International Vice President John Previsich, who assisted with the negotiations, commended General Chairperson Roger Lenfest and Assistant General Chairperson Dirk Sampson (both, Amtrak, GO 769), along with Local 898 Chairperson Don Wheaton “for their participation in securing substantial improvements to wages and working conditions in today’s difficult economic environment.

“It is through their extraordinary efforts that the negotiating team was able to add groundbreaking enhancements such as conductor certification pay and increased pay for release time,” Previsich said.

The Transportation Communications Union and shopcrafts previously were released from mediation with MBCR by the National Mediation Board, but the sides have returned to the bargaining table.

MBCR, operated under contract by Veolia Transportation, transports more than 131,000 riders daily between Boston and outlying areas.

A BLET special representative was charged by the U.S. Justice Department March 8 in a continuing investigation into alleged corruption involving bribery.

Thomas E. Miller, 64, of Dunlap, Tenn., was charged in a “criminal information” with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federally funded programs, according to Steven M Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

The “criminal information” filed by Dettelbach charges that Miller, while serving as a special representative of the BLET, “took bribes from an attorney seeking to represent injured union members.”

Said Dettelbach in a press release:

“The information charges that Robert L “Pete” McKinney, 59, a Houston plaintiff’s personal injury attorney specializing in representing injured railroad workers, paid the bribes to Miller and Edward W Rodzwicz, [former] national president of the BLET. Labor union corruption will not be tolerated and should be a thing of the past,” Dettelbach said.

In January, Dettelbach charged McKinney with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federally funded programs. Dettelbach alleged at the time that “McKinney delivered large cash payments” to a BLET official then identified as “Official No. 1.” Dettelbach alleged that Rodzwicz and BLET Official No. 1 “would then split the cash payments.”

 Rodzwicz, formerly of Avon, Ohio, is currently in federal prison for his role in an unrelated crime.

A “criminal information” is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt, Dettelbach said. “A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Said James Vanderberg, special agent in charge for the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Labor Department:

“Today’s action highlights the efforts of the Office Inspector General to identify and bring to justice a union official who allegedly solicited and accepted bribes from an attorney seeking access to the union. The union official’s actions represent a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the union members.

“As national president, Rodzwicz had authority over the designation status of designated legal counsel attorneys.

“From in or about June 2006, and continuing until in or about October 2009, Miller conspired with McKinney and Rodzwicz to unjustly enrich himself and Edward W Rodzwicz by receiving cash bribes in exchange for placing McKinney on the designated legal counsel list for BLET workers and to have BLET workers directed to his firm, according to the information. The conspirators referred to these payments as ‘campaign contributions’ in an effort to conceal the true nature of the payments.”

BOSTON — A coalition of Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) unions, including those representing clerks, carmen, supervisors, signalmen and shopcraft workers, have been released by the National Mediation Board (NMB) from mediation.

The release paves the way for appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to make settlement recommendations for a wage, benefits and work-rules contract settlement under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.

The coalition unions rejected an NMB offer of binding arbitration.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are negotiating separately with the MBCR and are not included in the release. BLET members previously failed to ratify a tentative agreement, and the BLET and MBCR returned to the bargaining table.

Under special commuter railroad provisions of the RLA, a second PEB is possible if the sides cannot accept the recommendations of the first PEB. Self-help is not permitted until 30 days after a second PEB (should it be appointed) has made its recommendations.

(Note that Amtrak and freight railroads are governed by another provision of the RLA that provides for just a single PEB.)

An educational website focusing on sleep, sleep disorders and fatigue management is being created in a collaborative effort among the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Federal Railroad Administration, sleep medicine experts at Harvard Medical School, and Boston Public Radio station WGBH, which is Public Broadcasting’s largest producer of education  web and television content.

Input from UTU rail members, nationwide, is essential to the project.

UTU members are encouraged to complete an anonymous, online survey that should take no more than 15 minutes.

To respond to the question and complete the survey, click on the following link:


Additional information on the project and its website — Sleep Health for Railroaders — is available by clicking on the following link:


A Norfolk Southern sought lease of trackage to a newly created short line railroad in Michigan is being opposed by the UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represent affected train and engine workers.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) is being asked by the UTU and the BLET to revoke an exemption from regulatory review previously provided a proposed transaction of NS and Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road, a holding company intending to create a new shortline to lease and operate almost 45 miles of NS track near Lansing.

The new short line, to be called Jackson & Lansing, is expected — as is the case with virtually all upstart shortlines — to hire a new workforce that will be paid lower wages and benefits than NS now pays the five trainmen, three engineers and three other employees now assigned to that trackage by NS.

The UTU and the BLET are asking the STB to revoke a previously granted STB exemption that would permit the transaction to move to completion without regulatory scrutiny. Such exemptions are permitted if the STB is satisfied that neither competition, continued rail service, safety nor other so-called public interest considerations will be jeopardized as a result of the transaction.

In fact, STB Vice Chairman Frank Mulvey filed a dissent in the previous 2-1 decision granting the exemption, saying that the outward written commitments imposed by the parties require more information, “particularly when they contain outright bans on interchange with third party carriers or, as here, economic incentives that can only be evaluated with the provision of additional information.”

Specially, the UTU and the BLET ask the STB to reconsider its granting of the exemption for the following reasons:

  • Competition and reasonable rates: The transaction, as proposed, would exclude third party carriers (other than NS) from operating over the line, and limit interchange to and from other carriers. Also, the transaction, as proposed, appears to limit competition in order that Jackson & Lansing be able to increase freight rates to fund upgrades to the leased track and facilities. This would be in violation of congressionally imposed national rail transportation policy that supports rail-to-rail competition and fair and reasonable freight rates.
  • Safety: The so-far known facts of the transaction suggest it is highly unlikely either the holding company or its shortline, Jackson & Lansing, currently have sufficient funds and cash flow to upgrade the leased track and facilities to provide safe and reasonably timely operations. As expected carloadings will contain industrial waste, track and rail operating safety must be of significant concern.
  • Fair wages and working conditions: In the current economy — especially in Michigan, where unemployment is twice the national average — the affected employees and their families, and the State of Michigan, will suffer significant economic harm. By granting an exemption from regulatory scrutiny, the STB is permitting the transaction to move forward without imposing labor protection.

This also would violate national rail transportation policy, as it requires “fair wages and suitable working conditions.” The STB is obligated to consider (which can only be done by revoking the exemption and investigating the transaction) whether the new entity will impose substandard wages and working conditions, thereby significantly circumventing the terms and conditions of current collective bargaining agreements under which the affected employees are now covered.

Click here to read the joint UTU/BLET filing.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 made the first significant amendments to hours-of-service laws in nearly 40 years.

In response, the FRA issued an interim statement of agency policy and interpretation, which poses significant problems for train- and engine-service employees with regard to employee safety and earnings.

The UTU and the BLET now have jointly asked the FRA to reconsider portions of their interim statement of agency policy and interpretation. The new rules would impact more than 85,000 train- and engine-service employees who are members of the UTU and BLET.

Significantly, the UTU and BLET are asking the FRA to revisit its interpretation of how to determine whether an employee has received the statutorily required amount of off-duty time as prescribed by the Rail Service Improvement Act (RSIA).

The RSIA amended the statutory off-duty period by eliminating the option of eight consecutive off-duty hours, and required that the minimum statutory off-duty period be 10 consecutive hours in all cases (except in intercity passenger and commuter service).

The UTU and BLET assert that, “on its face, this change did nothing to force FRA to change its longstanding interpretation of how sufficient off-duty time is determined.”

Under the existing FRA method, a railroad is required to look back 24 hours at the employee’s on-duty time and determine if the employee had 10 hours of undisturbed rest in that window. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the employee can work a full 12 hours. That approach is called the “fresh start look back” analysis.

But the FRA, in its interim statement of agency policy and interpretation, proposes to scrap the “fresh start look back” analysis and substitute what is called a “continuous look back” analysis.

A “continuous look back” analysis would require the railroads to look back at every moment during a duty tour to determine if the employee has had 10 consecutive hours of undisturbed rest in the 24 hours prior to that particular moment.

This new “continuous look back” approach would prohibit an employee from working the full 12 hours that are permitted by the law if they were to have more than a two-hour call.

The FRA’s proposed “continuous look back” approach not only adversely impacts an employee’s earnings, but interferes with a railroad’s need to maximize employee productivity.

In fact, the “continuous look back” approach also could result in more employees being forced to remain at away-terminal locations rather than returning home, which adversely impacts family life and imposes greater costs on a railroad.

For example, if an employee has a three-hour call — and this is generally of necessity in large metropolitan areas where commute times are long — the employee could only work 11 hours, because when the first minute of the 12th hour arrives, the railroad could not look back 24 hours and find 10 consecutive hours undisturbed hours off duty. (11 work + 3 hour call + 10 hours rest = 24 hours) Thus, the longer the call time, the less work the employee can legally perform.

For assignments with an interim period of rest, the most an employee could ever work is 10 hours. For an unassigned (extra board) employee who is working on call, the call time further reduces the amount of work time proportionally. If they get the typical two-hour call, the interim period of release is rendered moot.

10-hour call is best

The better solution would be to require a 10-hour call, which would permit 12-hour on-duty shifts, the UTU and BLET told the FRA. “It is obvious that an employee who is aware that they will be required to report for work in 10 hours is best able to schedule their rest so that they arrive at work in the most alert condition possible.

“The best medical evidence available establishes what the labor organizations have known for years: that employees will be most alert just after they wake up,” the UTU and BLET told the FRA. “We contend that an employee who sleeps or naps as close to their reporting time as possible, within reason, is the best rested employee and therefore the safest.”

In the joint statement signed by UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET Acting National President Paul Sorrow, the FRA is asked to “reaffirm the long-standing ‘look back fresh start’ interpretation, which has served both safety and the industry well, and decline to adopt the proposed ‘continuous look back.'”

Click here to read the joint UTU/BLET submission to the FRA.

In a joint submission aimed at improving safety and the security of member paychecks, the UTU and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have asked the Federal Railroad Administration to clarify and simplify its interim policies relating to, and interpretations of, the Rail Safety Improvement Act’s changes to hours-of-service limitations that went into effect July 16.

The sought-after clarifications and simplifications fall into three categories:

  1. The Rail Safety Improvement Act’s (RSIA) prohibition of communication with employees during statutory off-duty periods;
  2. The RSIA’s provisions pertaining to mandatory off-duty time following the initiation of an on-duty period for a specified number of consecutive days; and,
  3. The maximum number of hours that may be worked in a calendar month.

The joint UTU/BLET comments observe that the hours-of-service provisions in the safety act “produced the most far-reaching effects on hours-of-service of safety-critical railroad workers since enactment of the original Hours-of-Service Act in 1908.” In fact, the FRA, itself, observes that the hours-of-service amendments “are extraordinarily complex and comprehensive.”

Because of the complexity, said the UTU and the BLET, “the statute itself fails to adequately address a number of important issues that will almost certainly have a substantial effect on our members. Moreover, FRA has been forced to provide interpretations that must address goals that sometimes are in conflict. It is our sincere hope that these [joint UTU/BLET] comments will provide a basis for improvement of FRA’s policies and interpretations in a way that is faithful to the intent of Congress.”

The UTU and the BLET also asked the FRA “to further clarify their stated interpretations in plain language to the maximum extent possible, so there is no room for debate concerning the application of those interpretations.”

The UTU and the BLET noted also that they were not commenting on each policy and interpretation “because we do not want to unnecessarily burden the record. However, FRA should not conclude that we concur with each of the policies and interpretations with which we strongly disagree, but we are withholding comment concerning them because FRA’s position has been dictated by the statute itself, and FRA cannot depart from statutory requirements; therefore, comments concerning these subjects would be futile.

“The comments are intended to provide greater clarity to the sometimes confusing provisions of the law, and to assist UTU and BLET general committees in their efforts to negotiate a better balance between maintaining earnings and the new requirements,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz in a joint statement.

To read the joint UTU and BLET submission to the FRA, click here.

The UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen filed on Nov. 14 a joint petition for review by the Federal Railroad Administration of the FRA’s so-called emergency cell phone order, requesting that the FRA make additional exceptions to the order in the name of safety.

The ban, effective Oct. 27, applies to any electronic device that was not provided to the railroad operating employee by the employing railroad for business purposes. (For more detail, see www.utu.org and click on “FRA cell phone ban” at the bottom right corner.)

The UTU and the BLET are seeking exceptions to the order banning the use of personal electronic devices while deadheading; the use of cameras that can document safety hazards or safety law violations; and the use of electronic calculators and global positioning satellite (GPS) devices that can aid safe train operation.

“It is not our intention to unnecessarily complicate a fairly bright-line rule regarding the use of electronic and electrical devices,” UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET President Ed Rodzwicz jointly in the petition for review. “However, we do believe FRA should seriously consider those atypical situations in which [the emergency order] as currently written could inadvertently result in a diminution of safety, as compared to operating conditions and practices in effect prior to its promulgation.”

As for deadheading, the two unions argue that since deadheading crews have fulfilled their safety-related responsibilities — and in many cases are not on duty — their use of electronic devices should not be restricted to business purpose use only.

To that end, the unions ask the FRA to rewrite a portion of the emergency order to read: “A railroad operating employee who is deadheading may use a cell phone while within the body of a passenger train or railroad business car, or while inside the cab of a locomotive that is not the lead locomotive of the train on which the employee is deadheading.”

As for cameras, the UTU and the BLET argue that the emergency order appears to forbid photographic documentation by a train employee of safety hazards or violations of rail safety laws, regulations, orders or standards, which would actually diminish railroad safety.

The two unions ask for an exemption, which would read:

“An electronic still or video camera may be used to document a safety hazard or a violation of a rail safety law, regulation, order or standard; provided, that (1) the use of a camera in the cab of a moving train may only be by a crew member other than the locomotive engineer, and (2) the use of a camera by a train employee on the ground is permissible only when (a) the employee is not fouling a track, (b) no switching operation is underway, (c) no other safety duties are presently required, and (d) all members of the crew have been briefed that operations are suspended. The use of the photographic function of a cell phone is permitted under these same conditions.”

Third, the unions question a section of the emergency order that prohibits the use of electronic devices such (as calculators) to make computations. The UTU and the BLET point out that a number of safety-critical computational functions are required in numerous circumstances if on-board systems fail or are not provided. These include managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length for speed restrictions and clearing track authorities.

A new section regarding exceptions to this portion of the emergency order should be added as follows:

“When mathematical calculations are required for safe train movement (e.g., managing correct horsepower per ton, calculating tons per operative brake, dynamic brake and tractive effort compliance, and correcting train length), it is permissible to perform such calculations by using an electronic calculator, or by using the calculator function of a cell phone or electronic timepiece.”

Fourth, the two unions petition the FRA to allow the use of global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices in order to gauge the accuracy of locomotive speed indicators, particularly when the designated measured mile lies within a temporary speed restriction of less than 30 miles per hour.

One effect of the emergency order is to preclude the use of a GPS device to calculate the speed of a train that is not equipped with a speed indicator because the train will not exceed 20 mph. Another is that the accuracy of a speed indicator determined within a slow order of 30 mph or less cannot be correlated with its accuracy at speed above 30 mph. Maintaining proper train speed is both safety-critical and demanded of a locomotive engineer.

The UTU and BLET ask the FRA to consider an exception to the emergency order for GPS devices, requesting that GPS tracking devices be allowed to verify the accuracy of the speed indicator in a controlling locomotive.