NMB logo; National Mediation BoardThe National Mediation Board yesterday released from further mediation every commuter union on New Jersey Transit (NJT).           

The unions, working together in the New Jersey Transit Rail Labor Coalition, immediately announced their intention to invoke a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), which will make non-binding recommendations to settle the four year old contract dispute. 

The Coalition includes every rail union on NJT, representing more than 4,000 commuter workers. 

Coalition spokesmen said, “By announcing our intention to invoke a PEB, we want to remove any fears the riding public may have that a strike could occur in July. Our goal is to reach a voluntary agreement. We are optimistic that a neutral PEB will find reasonable our proposals to follow the pattern settlements reached on New York commuter railroads. There is simply no justification for the workers we represent to fall further behind their counterparts on Long Island and Metro-North railroads.” 

Negotiations for new contracts opened on July 1, 2011. NMB efforts at mediation failed to produce agreements, prompting today’s releases. Under the governing Railway Labor Act, a strike would be possible at 12:01 AM, July 16, 2015, unless one of the involved Governors, the commuter agency or unions request the President to appoint an Emergency Board. Once appointed, the PEB will have thirty days to hold hearings and issue non-binding recommendations to settle the dispute. Creation of the PEB will start a 120 day cooling off period during which neither side can resort to self-help.

PrintSMART Transportation Division’s General Committee of Adjustment  GO 610 representing conductors and trainmen, General Committee of Adjustment GO 340 representing yardmasters and SMART Sheet Metal Mechanical and Engineering Local 396 representing mechanical workers have joined the New Jersey Transit Rail Labor Coalition in asking the National Mediation Board (NMB) to proffer arbitration to its members after reaching an impasse in contract negotiations with New Jersey Transit (NJT).

The 10 unions in the NJTRLC have requested that NMB release them from further mediation.

In the requests to the NMB, the coalition wrote, “… the Coalition’s proposal is consistent with all other commuter railroad settlements this round. The company’s proposal … calls for employee health insurance contributions well above the level at every other commuter railroad, while offering wage adjustments far below those achieved at every other commuter railroad during this round … It is clear an impasse exists.”

On March 23, the NMB forwarded the coalition’s release request to NJT and sought a response by April 6.

If the NMB agrees to release the coalition unions, it will proffer binding arbitration to the unions and NJT. When either side notifies the NMB that it rejects binding arbitration, that will begin a process that could take as long as 270 days if no voluntary agreement is reached, including two Presidential Emergency Boards. The first PEB would be appointed within 30 days of either side’s rejection of the proffer of arbitration. At the end of the 270 days, both sides may resort to self-help.

The coalition elected to seek release after it became clear that NJT would not make a reasonable offer. The coalition has proposed a settlement patterned after the contracts achieved this round on Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. NJT insists on concessionary contracts, with employees with families paying more than four times what they currently pay for health benefits.

The coalitions’ goal is to achieve a fair, voluntary agreement. It believes it has a strong case to present to a PEB. In most commuter railroad labor disputes in the past, the PEB’s recommendations led to a voluntary agreement. However, unlike arbitration, a PEB’s recommendations are not binding.

The coalition formed over the last several months after three years of each union bargaining unsuccessfully with NJT. The member unions believe working together maximizes their potential power. The coalition unions represent 88 percent of NJT unionized workers.

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The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Oct. 21 rejected a proffer of arbitration from the National Mediation Board to SMART Transportation Division’s General Committee of Adjustment GO 505, which represents a variety of crafts on the Long Island Rail Road in New York.

“After three years of difficult negotiations, the two sides are far apart on the major issues of wages, health and welfare and pension contributions,” said GO 505 General Chairperson Anthony Simon. “This release is a major step in getting us on the right path to obtaining a fair deal.”

Simon thanked Transportation Division President John Previsich for his continued assistance throughout the negotiations and SMART General President Joe Nigro for his ongoing support.

“Our organization has been working closely with SMART Sheet Metal Division General Chairperson John McCloskey and the leadership of the Transportation Communications Union and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers in obtaining a positive outcome for LIRR workers,” Simon said. “Together in solidarity, our organization will continue to work at obtaining a fair contract for our members. I ask for the continued support of our membership as we go through these very challenging times.”

GO 505 represents conductors, car inspectors, car repairmen, car appearance maintainers, track workers, track supervisors and special service attendants employed by LIRR.

NMB logo; National Mediation BoardWASHINGTON – The National Mediation Board (NMB) announced June 25 that Larry Gibbons, director of NMB mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution services, will retire in September.

Gibbons has overall responsibility for managing the agency’s mediation program. He is credited for improving staff training and development and the effectiveness of the NMB mediation and ADR programs.

The NMB reports that during Gibbons’ 16 years, the mediation department has guided the parties to resolution of their collective-bargaining disputes in more than 99 percent of the hundreds of cases that have come before the board, including cases on all the major U.S. airlines and national handling of Class I railroads. During his watch, there have been only two work stoppages among the major airlines and none in the railroad industry. Gibbons joined the agency in 1997 as a senior mediator and became director of mediation services in 2003. He became director of the Office of Mediation and ADR services in 2011.

“This decision was not easy, nor was it made in haste,” Gibbons said. “After working full time for the past 45 years, the last 16 at the NMB, it is time to slow down a bit and enjoy life, while I’m still healthy and able to do so.”

Gibbons joined the agency in 1997 as a senior mediator and became director of mediation services in 2003. He became director of the Office of Mediation and ADR services in 2011.

Gibbons brought to the board 25 years of experience in personnel and labor relations under the Railway Labor Act and the National Labor Relations Act. Immediately prior to joining the NMB, he headed human resources and labor relations with ABX Air, Inc., for 12 years and for two years was an independent labor relations consultant. He is a past president and member of the AIRCON Executive Board.

The National Mediation Board is an independent federal agency established by the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor-management relations within two key transportation sectors of the United States and U.S. territories: the railroads and airlines.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the National Mediation Board is assigned the task of assisting carrier and union officials in reaching voluntary agreement on wages, benefits and working conditions after the parties themselves have reached an impasse.

NMB logo; National Mediation BoardWASHINGTON — President Barack Obama last week re-nominated three individuals to serve on the National Mediation Board, which administers the Railway Labor Act affecting railroads and airlines.

Nominees Harry Hoglander and Linda Puchala are current members of the board. The third nominee is Nicholas C. Geale, a Republican staff member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Hoglander, an attorney and NMB member since 2002, previously was a senior staff member for former House member John Tierney (D-Mass), an executive vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, an airline captain flying for TWA, and a U.S. Air Force pilot.

Puchala, an NMB member since 2009, previously was an NMB mediator and International President of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Prior to his work with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Geale was an attorney in the Labor Department.

Democrats Hoglander and Puchala hold expired seats on the board and await Senate reconfirmation. The law permits NMB members to continue serving, following expiration of their term, until a successor is confirmed or they are reconfirmed.

President Obama previously nominated Geale on Dec. 17, 2012. Because the Senate failed to act on his nomination prior to Dec. 31, the president had to make new nominations when the new Congress was seated in 2013.

If confirmed Geale will succeed Republican Elizabeth Dougherty, who resigned in July 2012 following expiration of her second term. Obama nominated Republican Thomas Beck to succeed Dougherty, but after the Senate failed to hold a confirmation hearing on his nomination, he withdrew his name.

Typically, Republican and Democratic nominees are paired for confirmation.

NMB logo; National Mediation BoardWASHINGTON – Most Railway Labor Act Section 3 arbitration cases will grind to a halt Sept. 30 if Congress does not pass a new appropriation for the National Mediation Board.

The federal government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and Congress has not passed an appropriation to fund NMB-financed arbitrations for the 2012 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The NMB  has thus advised arbitrators that they “cannot engage in any Section 3 work for fiscal year 2012 [beginning Oct. 1] until you have received a work order for fiscal year 2012, and that order has been signed and returned to the NMB.

“As a result, arbitrators do not have the authority to schedule any hearings for fiscal Year 2012. All arbitrators and parties are notified that no funds will be authorized for travel for the month of October,” said the NMB.

In the absence of a fiscal year 2012 appropriation, Congress could still pass – prior to Sept. 30 — what is known as a “continuing resolution,” which would extend fiscal year 2011 funding into fiscal year 2012. If that occurs, the NMB said it “will immediately issue work orders to arbitrators.”

The NMB said it “will make every effort to authorize some days that may be utilized for decisions in accordance with the NMB’s policy for the past five fiscal years. However, these authorizations will be made with minimal advance notice. These days may be used for hearing cases if no travel is involved (either because the parties travel to the neutral, or because the case is heard using the NMB’s online technology). The Anti-Deficiency Act precludes arbitrators from hearing cases for free,” said the NMB.

Questions should be directed to Darrell Dancer at the NMB at (202) 692-5055.

WASHINGTON — Democrat Harry Hoglander has been nominated by President Obama for a fourth three-year term — this one to expire in June 2014 — on the three-member National Mediation Board, which administers the Railway Labor Act.

Earlier this year, Obama nominated Republican Thomas M. Beck to succeeded Republican Elizabeth Dougherty for a term expiring in June 2013.

It is expected the two nominations will move forward in tandem for Senate confirmation.

Democrat Linda Puchela is the third member of the NMB, serving a term that expires in June 2012.

Prior to Senate confirmation to his first term in 2002, Hoglander was a legislative aide to Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), where he focused on aviation and rail issues. Previously, Hoglander was a Trans World Airlines pilot and executive vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association. Educated as an attorney, Hoglander was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Beck, an attorney, has been serving as a Senate-confirmed member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which administers labor-management relations for non-Postal Service federal employees. Previously, Beck practiced labor law in the private sector and was a part-time professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

WASHINGTON — A former John McCain aide, Ann Begeman, has been confirmed by the Senate as the one Republican on the three-member U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Two other presidential nominees — Walt Barrows to become the labor member on the Railroad Retirement Board, succeeding Butch Speakman; and Republican Thomas Beck to the National Mediation Board, succeeding Elizabeth Doutherty — are awaiting hearings before the Senate Labor Committee. If the committee recommends confirmation, the nominations will move to the Senate floor for a vote.

Begeman succeeds Republican Chip Notthingham, who departed the STB following expiration of his term. Begeman’s term expires in December 2015. She joins Democratic Chairman Dan Elliott and Democrat Frank Mulvey.

Most recently, Begeman was Republican staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee, which recommended her nomination. From 2004-2009, Begeman was McCain’s legislative director and served as a McCain spokesperson during McCain’s unsuccessful run for the White House against President Obama. Earlier, she was a legislative aide to Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), who made an unsuccessful run in 1980 for the White House.

Begeman earned a degree in business from the University of South Dakota.

The three-person STB has regulatory authority over railroad mergers and labor protection for rail employees adversely affected by mergers, line sales and leases, and line abandonments. The STB also regulates railroad freight rates and freight-railroad dispatching of intercity Amtrak passenger trains.

WASHINGTON — Although 16 Republicans refused to be cowed by their conservative leadership, the House of Representatives last week succeeded in another attack on collective bargaining by voting to nullify a National Mediation Board ruling making representation elections for airline and railroad workers more democratic.

All Democrats in the House stood with the NMB and labor, and 16 Republicans crossed over to do the same; but it was not enough given the Republican majority.

The House action, nullifying the NMB ruling in favor of more democratic representation elections, is contained in a Federal Aviation Administration authorizing bill.

The 220-206 vote to nullify the NMB ruling through legislation is not the end. The anti-union provision does not appear in a companion bill previously passed by the Senate, which means a House-Senate conference committee will have an opportunity to remove the anti-union provision from the bill before it goes back to the two chambers for a final vote.

President Obama said he will veto the FAA authorization bill if the anti-labor provision appears in the final bill.

The provision in the bill, inserted at the request of airlines, is to overturn an NMB ruling last year that scrapped the undemocratic means by which airline and railroad representation votes, under the Railway Labor Act, are counted.

Prior to the NMB ruling, those not voting in representation elections were considered to have cast a “no” vote for representation. The NMB changed the rule to provide that a simple majority of those actually voting determine the outcome of representation elections.

Were Congress to succeed in overturning the new NMB representation election rule, the NMB procedure would be counter to all other elections.

Neither elections for Congress, the White House or even the PTA count as “no” votes those not voting. In fact, as documented by the Communications Workers of America, had the Republican-desired provision been in effect for 2010 congressional elections, not a single member of Congress would have been elected.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) introduced an amendment to remove the anti-union provision from the FAA reauthorization bill, and it was that amendment that was defeated by the 220-206 vote. The FAA reauthorization bill then passed the House by a 223-196 vote.

In threatening a veto of the FAA reauthorization bill if the anti-union provision remains, President Obama said the provision “would undermine a fundamental principle of fairness in union representation elections — that outcomes should be determined by a majority of the valid ballots cast.”

Earlier, airlines were turned back by a federal court in an effort to invalidate the NMB ruling, with the court giving deference to the experts at the NMB.

Republican members of the House, who refused to cast an anti-labor vote and joined with House Democrats were:

Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.)

Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.)

Chris Gibson (N.Y.)

Michael Grimm (N.Y.)

Timothy Johnson (Ill.)

Walter Jones (N.C.)

Peter King (N.Y.)

Steven LaTourette (Ohio)

Frank LoBiondo (N.J.)

Todd Platts (Pa.)

Dave Reichert (Wash.)

David Rivera (Fla.)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)

Jon Runyan (N.J)

Christopher Smith (N.J.)

Don Young (Alaska)

WASHINGTON — As the House of Representatives later this week decides whether to second-guess the expert National Mediation Board, lawmakers must ponder voting for a double standard.

At issue is an NMB decision last year to make union representation elections more democratic.

The NMB reversed a decades-long practice of adding to the “no” column in airline and railroad representation elections all eligible voters who failed to cast a ballot.

Instead, the NMB ordered that airline and railroad representation elections henceforth would be decided by counting only the votes of those actually voting — a simple majority as is the case in all American democratic elections, from the local PTA to Congress to the White House.

A federal district court turned back a challenge by airlines to that new NMB policy, deferring to the expertise of the NMB and its decision to treat representation elections for airlines and railroads in the same manner that democratic elections for Congress and other elective offices are determined.

Yet some in Congress want to legislate a turn-back — a turn-back that, if applied to congressional elections, would have resulted in the defeat of every member of Congress who won an election in 2010.

As a study by the Communications Workers of America revealed, not a single congressional lawmaker would have won an election in 2010 had those not voting been considered to have voted against the candidate.

Clearly, the efforts of those lawmakers wanting to second-guess the NMB and trash democratic principles in representation elections is nothing more than a union-busting measure.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) unmasked the union-busting agenda in a statement to her fellow House members:

“Before I came to Congress, I spent eight years as Michigan’s secretary of state. In that job, one of my prime responsibilities was to serve as my state’s chief elections officer. I’d like to think I know a little something about conducting free, open and fair elections,” Miller said.

“Each of us who has the honor to serve in this House does so with the consent of those we serve in free elections. All we have to do is win this privilege is receive more votes than our opponent. That is the fundamental caveat of our democracy, and how we conduct elections. Why should a union election be any different?” she asked her fellow House members.

To help block this latest union-busting initiative, call or email your House member and politely urge them to oppose the provision in a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that would legislate an undemocratic process for union representation elections in the airline and railroad industries.

Go to www.utu.org and click on “Washington” in the red tile box on the top. Then scroll down and click on “Contacting the Congress.” Insert your home address, click “Submit It” and then click on the name of your representative for their phone number and email address.