An arbitrator’s recent decision in a Public Law Board case brought by the SMART Transportation Division against BNSF resulted in a victory over the carrier.
In September 2017, BNSF unilaterally altered the working conditions for SMART-TD members in GO-386, who serve in and around Superior, Wisconsin, under the guise of Article IX of the 1985 UTU National Agreement (ID service notice), after the parties were unable to reach an amicable agreement. The changes included consolidating many Thru-Freight Service Pools into a single pool, as well as altering working rules under the collective bargaining agreement.
General Chairperson Larry Miller (GO-386) initiated Section 3 arbitration with the assistance of SMART-TD Vice Presidents John Whitaker and Jamie Modesitt. The union argued that BNSF’s ID Notice and changes to the working conditions were improper under the conditions allowed by Article IX of the 1985 National Agreement.
After hearing the case Dec. 14, 2021, arbiter Joshua M. Javits issued his decision April 14, 2022. He found:
- that BNSF utilized the Article IX process to make efficiency changes, even though there was no new Interdivisional Service established;
- that all of the evidence presented at the hearing suggested that BNSF was attempting to alter existing rules and agreements between the parties in a manner not intended by Article IX; and
- that BNSF’s unilateral changes to employees’ negotiated working conditions were unreasonable, or justified under the Article IX process, and that the BNSF’s actions had improperly altered the work conditions of previous collective bargaining agreements.
Javits directed BNSF to reinstate the rules and working conditions that were in effect prior to the carrier’s imposition of the changes in October 2017.
“GC Miller and the rest of GO-386, as well as Vice Presidents Whitaker and Modesitt, should hold their heads high and be proud of this win,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “These types of victories are the building blocks for labor’s future success. These battles surely are not glamorous and they take time. We need to remain focused, persistent and maintain our determination that we all will hold carriers accountable while battling as a unit against their unjust impositions such as these. This is a huge success for SMART-TD once again and shows we are defending the agreements and protecting members rights to a fair and reasonable interpretation of agreements, especially as we start down the same path of arbitration for the Hi-Viz attendance policy.”
In response to the decision, members of SMART-TD Local 832 (Superior, Wis.) and 1175 (Duluth, Minn.) issued the following letter:
We would like to take a moment to thank General Chairperson Larry Miller and 1st Vice Chairperson of GCA 386 Tim Flynn for their unwavering hard work which resulted in a favorable ruling for our members regarding the contested Article IX that was imposed upon us in Superior, Wis.
Our local membership as a collective felt we were being unfairly disenfranchised from longstanding agreements put in place to create equitable outcomes for all parties tasked with supporting the multiple customers who depend on our ability to service their needs year-round, 24/7. Whether it’s spring flooding events or 45 degrees below zero, the agreement stated all parties would work together to create a reliable pact that our customers and community could count on.
Somewhere along the way, that alliance was broken, and with it our resolve. A feeling of isolation, dismay and resentment fell over the membership, yet we carried on for multiple years. So did Larry, Tim and others to make our voices heard. It would be easy to dwell on the negative impacts and feelings of animosity that soon arose after and during this time. Looking forward, hopefully with collaboration this ruling creates an opportunity to once again bring everyone into the fold and create an environment of inclusivity instead of isolation.
To Larry, Tim and everyone behind the scenes we haven’t named, we want to thank you for never losing sight of what this favorable outcome would mean for the working environment and overall mental well-being of the Superior, Wis., terminal and their families. Once again THANK YOU!
We are proud to have you in our corner and grateful for your representation throughout this time.
Your Brothers and Sisters
SMART-TD Locals 0832 Superior WI & 1175 Duluth, MN
The full case, Public Law Board 7986, Award No. 1, is available to view below in PDF form.