After the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) flip-flop last week led to it becoming the second Teamsters union deciding to buy in with a hedge fund, everyone wondered what its leadership thought they would get out of the deal. 

It has now come to light that the BLET has entered into a “memorandum of understanding” (shown below) with Ancora’s aspiring Norfolk Southern (NS) management. This group has no authority on NS and the deal for BLET is based solely on promises “if” successful in a takeover bid.

They’re hopeful that by cheerleading this hostile takeover that Ancora will give them what SMART-TD already has achieved. Our NS general chairpersons’ professionalism and quality leadership have achieved superior agreements to what the BLET has. They’ve decided to sell out to catch up.

The attached memorandum shows BLET’s desperate attempts to take over certain remote-control operations already belonging to SMART-TD. BLET is also attempting to inject their officers into the conductor new-hire training process and the locomotive engineer training process. SMART-TD already holds the contracts on these arrangements.

Furthermore, they are also trying to get “me-too” improvements to their on-property agreements following SMART-TD’s successful negotiations of Articles 6 & 7 in the 2022 National Agreement. 

BLET and BMWED have chosen to blatantly sell out SMART-TD AND the 10 other rail labor groups who oppose Ancora’s takeover. Most importantly, they are selling out RAIL SAFETY and QUALITY OF LIFE for thousands of workers to serve their own purpose.

Ancora promised to hand BLET President Eddie Hall and the BLET GCs everything SMART-TD worked to gain. All he had to do was sell out the men and women working for Norfolk Southern. 


Here are the repercussions

Ancora hasn’t hidden that, if successful in their hostile takeover, they are bringing Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) back big time. SMART-TD and the majority of rail labor unions (and BLET — up until two days ago) had stood together in solidarity for two months and said no. Meanwhile, BLET is playing Judas and has chosen to sell out workers so they can get a do-over on past negotiations their organization fell short on with NS.  

Eddie Hall and everyone associated with BLET’s decision should be ashamed. They were willing to hand over everything our movement has done to defend our men and women against PSR at NS. 

A display of blatant hypocrisy

For the record, less than one day before BLET announced they were backing Ancora, they had given their word to the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department that they were standing with us. Apparently, the attached agreement was an effective sweetener. Eddie Hall and his NS general chairpersons have turned on us. 

Prior to succumbing to Ancora’s temptation, BLET’s stance was clear. Featured on their website since late February and even after the April 26th announcement went public was an infographic of BLET General Chairman Dewayne Dehart with the quote, “Ancora would be bad for investors. It’s easy to imagine a train wreck under their proposed plans, both literally and figuratively speaking.” A second quote from Dehart says, “I can assure you I will be voting all shares in favor of Alan Shaw and his team.”

The two other BLET GCs shared similar sentiments in a Feb. 29 press release. All three were highly critical of Ancora’s executive selections, including proposed COO Jamie Boychuk, a former CSX executive.

“From our vantage point and from what we’ve learned from our union brothers and sisters at CSX, Boychuk was reckless and ran CSX operations into the ground before he was run out by CSX’s management team,” said BLET General Chairman Scott R. Bunten (NS-Eastern Lines GCA). “Ancora wants to turn back the clock and return to the failed Precision Scheduled Railroading business model with Boychuk’s help that the other Class I railroads are now abandoning.”

“Ancora has been pointing to the East Palestine derailment as a failure by Alan Shaw and his team, but we believe that the PSR model is directly linked to the East Palestine failure. Shaw was only on the job for a few months prior to the disaster. Since the derailment last year, NS’ CEO has risen to the occasion and, through his leadership, NS has become a safer, more efficient and customer focused company again,” said BLET General Chairman Jerry G. Sturdivant (NS-Southern Lines GCA).

“Having a CEO like Barber with zero railroad experience and a Chief Operating Officer such as Boychuk wedded to the worst aspects of PSR would likely lead to more, not fewer costly train wrecks,” said Sturdivant.

Dehart also had seemed very steadfast in the February statement, adding:

“I am a shareholder and I also vote hundreds of thousands of shares of NS stock for BLET as a fiduciary of the BLET NS 401(k) Plan. I can assure you I will be voting all shares in favor of Alan Shaw and his team. The leaders of our union and our members see the potential for increased revenue for Norfolk Southern with him at the helm,” said BLET General Chairman Dewayne L. Dehart (NS-Northern Lines), who has been with Norfolk Southern for 28 years.

But a private closed-door meeting with Ancora out of sight of its members changed their minds and made them flip the switch to support the group they had demonized.

Said BLET President Hall in an April 26th statement published by Trains Magazine attributed to him: “BLET’s three elected General Chairmen representing locomotive engineers and trainmen at Norfolk Southern met with Ancora’s leadership team yesterday and determined that they are the right leaders for Norfolk Southern moving forward. After the railroad’s CEO Alan Shaw hired COO John Orr and following the public comments of both those executives on their strategy for NS, our General Chairmen determined that a change at the top is needed. Although this decision was not easy, the General Chairmen believe it is necessary.”

A failure to communicate and serve its membership

What is not featured on the BLET website is any reference to the announcement they made switching their allegiance to Ancora. One would think that a labor organization making that big of a change in direction would want to inform its members, rather than having them find out from the press.

BLET appears to not want to talk about this abrupt decision, nor to be transparent to members who pay union dues for their protection and representation.

In contrast, their membership has been willing to talk about it this weekend. A 36-year BLET Division 110 Member, engineer Scott Pendygraft, spoke to one of our NS general chairpersons over the weekend and said,“I cannot pay dues to a union that would sell out for what’s probably an empty promise and not consider all of the membership.” 

Brother Pendygraft has joined SMART-TD Local 1190.

Please take the time to read the signed agreement between BLET and Ancora below to see what a backroom sellout of rail labor looks like. 

Our lines of communication are open.

BLET President Dennis Pierce (center, in black) and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson at right, in blue, speak with the hundreds of attendees at the Houston Solidarity Rally on Oct. 17.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they answered direct questions from a standing-room-only crowd Oct. 18 at the annual Solidarity Rally for Rail Labor in Houston, Texas.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson speaks during the Houston Solidarity Rally Oct. 17.

Hundreds of members and officers from SMART-TD, BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) — the nation’s three largest freight rail labor unions — gathered to address hot-button issues in the industry, including the tentative National Rail Agreement (TA), to be voted upon soon by TD members.

“It was a great opportunity again to collaborate with BLET President Pierce, to get the facts out there at a face-to-face event about what’s going on in our industry,” President Ferguson said. “SMART-TD, BLET and other unions went through more than two and a half years of negotiations. There’s a lot to unpack about where the industry is right now, and it was good for us to have a factual presentation about the PEB and how the tentative agreement was constructed.

“This was a very lively event, and one where we were able to get right down to an honest discussion about our members’ upcoming ratification process and the decisions that lie ahead,” he said. “Years ago, I don’t know if the degree of solidarity among these different unions would have existed. It’s open dialogue like this that’s a healthy way to combat some of the untruths that’s been floating out there regarding the tentative agreement. Both President Pierce and I are absolutely committed to working together as we continue to move forward, in solidarity.”

Along with President Ferguson, SMART General President Joseph Sellers and other officers enjoyed the hospitality of the Houston rally’s organizers. Special recognition goes out to General Chairperson Roy Davis and GCA Secretary Buddy Piland (GO 577) for putting the event together. As always, Local 1892 out of Houston was heavily involved in the hometown event, including Vice Local Chairperson Keith Green (LCA-577), Local Secretary & Treasurer Robert Maldonado, Legislative Representative Butch Boggess and retiree Dan Holak. General Chairperson Chris Alston (GCA-803) out of Local 1686, GCA Secretary Buddy Piland (GCA-577) out of Local 1205 and Darvin Scott of Local 524 also put in hard work at getting things rolling at the headquarters of SPJST Lodge 88.

Representatives from the SMART-TD Auxiliary, AFL-CIO, UTUIA, Railroad Retirement Board and NARVRE as well as United Healthcare, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and a number of SMART-TD Designated Legal Counsel attended as well.

Local 1892’s Maldonado estimated that there were anywhere from 250 to 300 people in attendance, giving it the air of a “mini-regional” meeting, even after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID pandemic.

“GC Davis was telling me that 30 to 40 general chairpersons from throughout the country were in attendance and are looking forward to this event next year already,” Maldonado said. “Quite a few BLET GCs from the Texas/Gulf Coast area were in attendance as well. This rally is a multi-craft and multi-railroad (UP/BNSF/KCS/PORT TERMINAL RR) and from what I’ve been told, the biggest and best one held throughout the country.”

Maldonado said nine SMART locals participated as well as four BLET lodges and BMWED Lodge 1058.

“A big thank-you goes to the Houston-area Designated Legal Counsel Marc Zito, Sara Youngdahl and Clint McGuire for their continued support and sponsorship of this huge event. I don’t want to forget to thank SMART-TD Auxiliary 281 for their help with the decorations and SMART-TD Texas State Legislative director Kamron Saunders for sponsorship and support as well,” he said.

“I was told that this year’s rally was the best one yet and that having Presidents Ferguson and Pierce attend was a home run,” Maldonado said. “So we will start prepping for the 2023 Solidarity Rally next year. Everything is BIGGER in TEXAS.”

Next on President Ferguson’s schedule is a discussion at the Tacoma Regional Training Seminar occurring this week.

Union officials say tougher inspection and maintenance standards for railroad tracks could help prevent dangerous derailments of trains carrying crude oil.

While lawmakers and regulators focus on the strength of oil tank carsand volatility of crude oil, officials of the rail inspectors’ union say track flaws and train speed can be significant factors in accidents.

Read the complete story at The Washington Times.

WASHINGTON – Senior House Republicans Nov. 29 said they would act to head off a railroad work stoppage if rail unions that so far have not settled with the carriers do not have a voluntary settlement in place by the end of a final 30-day cooling off period that expires Dec. 6.

The UTU has a ratified national rail agreement in place, while the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts have reached tentative agreements. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the American Train Dispatchers Association have not reached a tentative agreement following recommendations for settlement by a Presidential Emergency Board.

(The BLET has ratified wage agreements in place with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern — and is in separate wage negotiations with Union Pacific — but is in national handling for health care. The BMWE and the ATDA are in national handling for wage and health care agreements. Carriers in national handling include BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and many smaller railroads. The carriers are represented by the National Carriers Conference Committee.)

If a national agreement between the BLET, the BMWE, the ATDA and the carriers is not reached by Dec. 6, the Railway Labor Act has run its course and the parties not yet in accord will be free to engage in self-help – a strike by labor or lockout by railroads.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said if tentative agreements involving the BLET, the BMWE and the ATDA are not reached by Dec. 6, they would act to prevent a work stoppage.

Typically, Congress intervenes with a back-to-work order almost immediately following a work stoppage, but there is nothing to prevent Congress from acting in advance to head off a strike by, for example, legislating the PEB recommendations or even its own settlement terms.

The three senior House Republicans told The Hill newspaper Nov. 29, “We are following with concern the situation involving our nation’s railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardize American jobs and cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2 billion per day.

“While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary,” Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy said.

“A shutdown of our nation’s railways, which would harm our economy and endanger many American jobs, is unacceptable,” they said. “We are confident President Obama and the leaders of the Senate agree.”

The National Carriers Conference Committee earlier agreed to extend the cooling off period until at least February if all three of the remaining unions that have not yet settled agreed to the extension. The BLET declined Nov. 29 to agree to an extension of the cooling off period.

The nation’s largest shipper organization, the National Industrial Transportation League, as well as the Retail Federation of America and numerous other shippers have made pleas to Congress to head off a railroad work stoppage.

“For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating,” the National Retail Federation said in a letter to Congress. “It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers.”