Two rail unions continue contract negotions; others reach tentative agreement

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) remain at odds with the nation’s rail freight carriers, but nine other rail unions last week announced tentative agreements with the carriers based on recommendations made November 4 by a Presidential Emergency Board.

Unions are sending details about the agreements to members, who will have a chance to accept or reject the deals. “It (has) been two years of difficult bargaining, but in the end, we have prevailed,” said Joe R. Duncan, IAM District 19 president. “We achieved more than what the carriers claimed was the pattern settlement. By any measure, this agreement delivers excellent increases in compensation while holding the line on health care costs.”

The PEB’s recommendations closely mirrored the contract between the United Transportation Union and the carriers ratified last summer. The carriers said the UTU contract set an industry pattern for labor contracts. The other unions representing rail workers rejected this notion.

The PEB recommended a five-year pay increase of 15.6 percent retroactive to 2010. The UTU contract called for a 14 percent five-year increase. The 11 unions that rejected the UTU contract said that a 19 percent increase would more fairly represent the contribution that increased worker productivity had played in the record profits reported by the carriers.

The PEB also recommended that workers pay the same higher out-of-pocket health care costs that UTU agreed to last summer; although, the PEB did recommend a phase-in period for the higher costs. There is no such phase-in period in the UTU contract.

Both the UTU contract and the PEB recommendations cap monthly worker health care premiums at $200 per month until 2016; The PEB also recommended that the cap be increased slightly but maintained after 2016.

The carriers and two coalitions of rail unions had been in contract negotiations for 22 months. The PEB addressed the major issues that stalled negotiations but recommended that the carriers and unions resolve union specific issues through further negotiations.

For example, the board recommended that the BMWED and carriers continue to negotiate on away-from-home expenses. BMWED wanted carriers to increase reimbursement that workers receive for expenses while away from home. The company wanted to maintain current reimbursement rates.

In a bargaining update to members, BMWED said that the carriers were “stonewalling” on this issue. “The BMWED remains committed to reaching a voluntary agreement,” said F.N. Simpson, BMWED president. “We see no reason why the railroads would risk a nationwide disruption to the economy over the matter of reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by employees while working away from home. Our traveling members have not received an increase in meal or lodging per diem since January 1, 2005, and they have not received an increase in travel allowances for over 15 years.”

With the 30-day cooling off period required by the Railway Labor Act after the PEB makes its recommendations set to expire on December 6, BMWED sent staff to Capitol Hill to win congressional support for increased away-from-home expenses. If no agreement is reached by December 6, a work stoppage is possible. If that occurs, Congress could impose a settlement to end the work stoppage.

Simpson said that after the Thanksgiving Holiday, BMWED will return to Congress “en masse” to press its case for increased away-from-home expenses.

BLET President Dennis R. Pierce said that the union is continuing to bargain over the health care cost increases. In a newsletter to members, he said that some members work on properties where wage and work rule issues have been settled, and those members agreed to the settlement not expecting to pay additional out-of-pocket health care expenses.

Pierce cautioned members that if a voluntary agreement could not be reached, Congress could intervene and that he had concerns about “what those leading the war on workers in Congress will do” should Congress intervene. He went on to say that it is difficult for many members to reconcile the gap between how corporate employers treat themselves and how they treat their workers.

The unions that reached tentative agreements are the Boilermakers, Firemen and Oilers, IAM District 19, IBEW, Railroad Signalmen, Sheet Metal Workers, Transport Workers Union, and Transportation Communications Union.

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