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Rail News: Labor

Carriers committee faces UTU lawsuit, mediation with union coalition

On Tuesday, the United Transportation Union (UTU) filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois claiming the union has “no statutory duty to bargain or participate in mediation with respect to the carrier demands regarding abolition of conductor jobs” or the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). The UTU is negotiating a contract with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which bargains for more than 30 U.S. railroads, including the Class Is.

The union filed the suit following a second bargaining session with the carriers, during which NCCC officials proposed eliminating FELA and operating one-man crews. Crew consist agreements — which were negotiated on a property-by-property basis during the 1980s and 1990s in exchange for a reduction in crew size — are a “local issue as a matter of law and changes to crew size must be negotiated with the UTU general committees of adjustment on the appropriate railroad property," UTU officials said in the court filing. "In other words, the issue of crew consist is not subject to national handling."

"It should shock every American in this age of terrorism that the railroads … want the flexibility to run trains with only one person aboard,” said UTU International President Paul Thompson. “The carriers … cannot play roulette with the nation's safety and security or with their employees' well being for the sole purpose of fattening the bottom line."

NCCC officials released a statement expressing disappointment that the UTU “decided to misuse the legal process to raise issues that properly should be addressed at the bargaining table and not in the courtroom.”

“We are dismayed by the union’s irresponsible and false characterization of the nation’s rail system, which remains the safest in the world,” NCCC officials said. “We hope that during the course of these negotiations the UTU will commit to helping the railroads meet the transportation challenges of the future rather than defending the outmoded work rules of the past.”

Meanwhile, the NCCC recently filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board because the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC) “refused to bargain on issues of substance until a detailed set of needless ground rules are resolved,” NCCC officials said, adding that the mediation filing will “block any possible strikes or job actions.”

The ground rules are needed to clarify the process under which the coalition’s seven rail labor unions can bargain in concert, RLBC officials believe.

The coalition insisted that its “proposal on ground rules be resolved before commencing bargaining,” said NCCC Chairman Robert Allen. “It’s time to put rhetoric and tactics aside and get on with the real business at hand — working toward voluntary agreements that fairly and equitably address the serious challenges to the future success of the railroad industry and its employees.”

The coalition comprises the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference; National Conference of Firemen and Oilers; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; and American Train Dispatchers of America.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/17/2005