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BMWE members skeptically sanction tentative NCCC agreement

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes members May 30 ratified a tentative agreement with National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) of the National Railway Labor Conference, ending a national bargaining round that began Nov. 1, 1999.
NCCC is the national bargaining agent for 32 U.S. railroads — including all major freight rails — and is involved in a current bargaining round with 13 railroad unions.
Out of 27,982 ballots BMWE sent to eligible voters, 12,691 were returned, revealing that 69 percent of ballots approved the agreement, 30 percent were against the deal and 1 percent were either void, unidentifiable or misdirected ballots.
Terms of the agreement — which BMWE officials believe could have been better — weren’t disclosed.
"As we stated to our members during the ratification process, this is not a good agreement," said BMWE President Mac Fleming in a prepared statement. "However, given the overt anti-labor animus and pro-management bias of members of the National Mediation Board and the administration they serve, this agreement is far better than we would have received from the political emergency board that would be recommended by NMB and appointed by President Bush."
A NCCC official believes its agreement with the nation’s second-largest rail union — and the first to be ratified in the current bargaining round — sets a pattern for resolving negotiations with other unions.
"[The agreement] clearly demonstrates that voluntary bargaining works in today’s rail industry," said NCCC Chairman Robert Allen. "It sets a groundbreaking precedent because it further reflects that the parties recognize that cost sharing is a necessary part of the solution to spiraling increases in health and welfare costs."
However, United Transportation Union International President Byron Boyd Jr. disagrees with Allen, saying NCCC’s agreement with BMWE would not serve as an industry pattern.
"The members of the UTU National Negotiating Committee join me in cautioning NCCC’s Conference Committee not to make any assumptions about the effects BMWE’s contract may have on continuing UTU negotiations," he said. "The BMWE settlement should not be viewed as a pattern in either wages or health care issues, as it deals solely with areas of bargaining that are peculiar to BMWE members and their working conditions."
While negotiating the settlement, BMWE members faced federal recommendations, which would have provided low wage increases, high health-care cost sharing and deteriorating work rules, leading to lower away-from-home expenses and higher production and maintenance outsourcing, said BMWE’s Fleming.
"Under this agreement, we received modest improvements in our health care plan and away-from-home expenses, and no deterioration in our work rules," he said. "We also gained five wage increases, however, four are subject to cost sharing for increases in health care premiums — increases that could eat up to half those wage increases."

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More News from 6/4/2001