The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), in an April 1 letter to the Sheet Metal Workers International Association and its General President Mike Sullivan, has recognized the requirements of status quo under the Railway Labor Act and said all carriers will continue remitting UTU member dues to the UTU.

“The deduction and remittance of dues are governed by the requirements of Section 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act [which] requires railroads to deduct and remit dues in accordance with union security provisions contained in collective bargaining agreements and written authorizations from individual employees authorizing the deduction of dues from their pay,” said the NRLC.

In addition, said the NRLC, the carriers recognize that there is additional merger-related litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

To court, again, over crew consist

The UTU has asked a federal district court in East St. Louis, Ill., to rule, yet again, that the UTU has no obligation to bargain nationally over crew consist, or what the carriers now are terming, “staffing and consolidation.”

That same federal district court so ruled on March 10, 2006, after the railroads’ bargaining agent, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), demanded that the UTU negotiate, at the national level, that crew size be reduced. The carriers had sought, during the 2005 round of negotiations, to eliminate conductor and brakemen positions on all through-freight trains.

The UTU successfully contended that existing agreements relating to minimum train crew size are negotiated on a railroad-by-railroad basis through UTU general committees of adjustment, and any attempt by the carriers to change those agreements must be handled at the general committee level and not in so-called national handling where the major railroads coordinate their bargaining through the NCCC.

The court agreed in 2006.

But in serving on the UTU their latest intended amendments to agreements affecting rates of pay, rules and working conditions, the NCCC on Nov. 2 said it wants to “Explore opportunities for mutually beneficial alternatives to existing staffing models that enhance safety and productivity, fairly address employee interests and concerns, and recognize the unique opportunities still available to the parties to negotiate meaningful changes.”

Citing the March 10, 2006, decision of the federal district court, as well as similar court decisions dating to 1967, the UTU asked that yet another ruling be made that “crew consist or ‘staffing and consolidation’ is not subject to national handling” and that the court award the UTU its costs and attorney’s fees incurred in this proceeding, as well as “such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.”

To keep current on this round of national handling, click on the “National Rail Contract” link at, where the so-called Section 6 notices of the UTU and the NCCC — intended amendments to agreements affecting rates of pay, benefits and working conditions — are also posted.

By Mike Futhey
UTU International President

Brothers and Sisters:

The tentative national agreement with BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific, which you will vote on soon, was hammered out in an intense two-day bargaining session Jan. 22-23 because the carriers recognized the unity the UTU brought to the negotiating table.

Equally important to the process was our return to interest-based bargaining, whereby both sides choose mutual problem solving to confrontation.

A year had gone by without a single meeting between the two sides, and the situation looked bleak. There were credible signals from the carriers that they intended to cash-in their Bush administration IOUs and move for a presidential emergency board (PEB) by spring. After all, the carriers had established a pattern, holding ratified agreements from most of the other labor organizations.

The carriers reasoned they could count on a carrier-friendly PEB to recommend that the pattern be forced on us. In an election year, with Congress not wanting a rail strike dumped in its lap, the odds were similarly high that lawmakers would quickly pass legislation ordering us back to work under the precise recommendations of the Bush-appointed PEB.

With that unhappy chain of events looming, I met with CSX CEO Michael Ward and made clear that the UTU’s intent was to craft a win-win agreement. We both agreed that a mutually negotiated settlement is preferable to one imposed by a third party – even if the carriers thought the White House is on their side. I asked Mr. Ward to relay our message to the other CEOs and the industry’s labor negotiators.

Our bargaining team reaffirmed our intent to reach a negotiated settlement when we sat down Jan. 22 with the carriers’ chief labor negotiators in Jacksonville, Fla. We were told that they and their CEOs had been reading our leadership messages on the UTU Web site, and sensed a more positive approach from the UTU — and they were prepared to respond in kind.

Before the sun set on the second day, we had that win-win agreement. The carriers acknowledged that prolonged warfare in Congress and before the federal courts was counterproductive.

The carriers agreed to go beyond the pattern. They offered the UTU — and only the UTU — a continuation of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) during the period new agreements are being negotiated. The UTU also was the only union to achieve, in national negotiations, an increase in the meal allowance.

Also, the carriers agreed to provide full health-care insurance to new hires and their families after only one month, rather than four; and agreed to arbitrate the dispute over entry rates tied to training; and, for the first time, to make contributions to the yardmasters’ supplemental retiree medical insurance program.

We busted the pattern. But if we fail to ratify this agreement, we could lose it all — and more, because a PEB and Congress could embrace the carriers’ desire for one-person crews and elimination of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

In the days ahead, we will be providing much more information on the tentative agreement, including answers to questions posed by general chairpersons. Please, stay informed. This agreement deserves ratification. The alternative is unthinkable.