The danger of a 'no' vote on the agreement

March 6, 2008

Brothers and Sisters:

In a few weeks, the tentative national rail agreement with the major carriers on wages, rules and working conditions will be distributed to affected members for a ratification vote.

The negotiating committee recommends a “yes” vote, and on March 25 — before the mailing of the agreement — general chairpersons representing members on the major carriers will be given a briefing on details of the agreement and asked to provide their support. We also intend to hold briefing sessions around the nation to which members will be invited to participate.

Some members have sent e-mails and letters, and made telephone calls, to the International office expressing displeasure that the tentative agreement doesn’t provide “enough,” and that it should be rejected, and the negotiating committee instructed to go back to the bargaining table to demand more.

We firmly believe that this contract should be ratified on its merits, and in the coming weeks we will make that case to general chairpersons and the membership.

And while we neither wish nor intend to seek “yes” votes based on fear, there are certain facts members should consider carefully before choosing to vote against the agreement.

Railroad industry labor relations are governed by the Railway Labor Act, which provides that rail industry contracts never expire, but continue in force until a new contract is ratified by the membership, or imposed on the parties by Congress.

And therein lays the danger of rejecting this contract.

When the UTU negotiating team reached its tentative agreement with the carriers in late January, other rail labor organizations already had ratified new agreements — a so-called pattern settlement. Pattern settlements historically establish a ceiling that has rarely been busted, owing to the mechanisms of the Railway Labor Act.

The UTU, in its tentative agreement, was able to better the pattern in several areas because the carriers were anxious to put this round of bargaining behind them and avoid the delay and cost that typically involves creation of a Presidential Emergency Board and congressional action.

What the UTU gained over the other organizations includes arbitration to settle the dispute over entry rates tied to training, contributions to the yardmasters’ supplemental retiree medical insurance program, continuation of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) during the next round of bargaining, and an increase in the meal allowance.

More information on these provisions can be found at by clicking on the “Rail Contract Negotiations” link.

Otherwise, the UTU agreement mirrors the pattern settlement achieved by the carriers with the other organizations.

In the past, after a pattern was established and one or more unions rejected the pattern already established, the carriers refused to budge; and, under provisions of the Railway Labor Act, the stage was set for binding arbitration or creation of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB).

Binding arbitration is a “roll-the-dice” game, because that allows a third party to impose an agreement without a ratification vote by the membership. Moreover, binding arbitration almost always results in the imposition of the pattern settlement, meaning arbitrators likely would reject the pattern-busting additions the UTU negotiating team achieved.

If binding arbitration is rejected, we can expect creation of a PEB by late spring — appointed solely by President Bush. We would not expect any labor friendly members on that PEB. Those recommendations likely would also mirror the pattern settlement.

Yes, we could strike rather than accept those recommendations, but the congressional leadership, which includes labor’s friends in Congress, has made clear to us that Congress does not want a railroad strike, with its devastating effects on an already weakened economy.

This would mean immediate congressional action to halt a work-stoppage; and given that we have already been warned by our labor-friendly friends in Congress that they do not want a railroad work-stoppage, the writing is on the table that Congress would quickly impose the recommendations of a PEB. Congress likely would be acting in a fit of anger against the UTU, and the outcome could be even worse than the recommendations of a PEB.

Those are the facts, whether we like them or not. And those facts should be considered very carefully when this tentative agreement is sent to you for ratification.

In solidarity,

Mike Futhey, International President

Arty Martin, Assistant President

Kim Thompson, General Secretary & Treasurer