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U.S. district court stalls BLE's LRC-related strike plans

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division Jan. 14 granted Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Conrail, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railroad an injunction against Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers regarding strikes tied to locomotive remote-control (LRC) use.
BLE allegedly threatened to conduct strikes at the railroads as LRCs are introduced at their properties and remote-control work is assigned to conductors and trainmen now represented by United Transportation Union.
The railroads and UTU Sept. 26 entered into a letter of intent, under which remote-control technology is assigned to UTU-represented employees.
BLE International President Don Hahs Oct. 5 sent a letter to the railroads objecting to their LRC plans; the railroads viewed the letter as an explicit strike threat, according to the court’s decision.
The railroads, among other issues, contend that there is a past industry practice that permits LRC introduction without prior negotiation and that LRC use wouldn’t impact current bargaining agreements.
However, part of BLE’s argument states that locomotive engineers traditionally have held exclusive jurisdiction over the operation of locomotives in terminals, and therefore there’s an implied agreement that the railroads may not assign LRC technology to non-BLE members.
"It's been our position all along that locomotive engineers should run locomotives, regardless of whether they're in the cab or on the ground," said Hahs in a prepared statement.
BLE officials wanted the court to view the case as a major dispute, however the court ruled it a minor dispute requiring arbitration.
"It is unknown at this early stage what form the arbitration will take, or how soon a hearing will be held," said Hahs. "But we will take every possible action to prevail in the fight to retain what is historically our work."
The court plans to hold a brief hearing Jan. 16 at 10 a.m. to discuss injunction-order terms.

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More News from 1/15/2002