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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Arbitrator rejects BLE's position on locomotive remote-control assignment


On Jan. 10, an arbitrator ruled that there's no national rule or precedence in national bargaining that "specifically reserves remote-control operations to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers or that prohibits the carrier from assigning such work to other crafts or that prohibits the elimination of engineer jobs as a result of technology," according to a written decision.
Last year, BLE, United Transportation Union and National Carriers' Conference Committee (representing six Class Is) agreed to resolve their LRC dispute through arbitration. Oral arguments were presented to an arbitration panel in November.
"The evidence supports the proposition that the operation of the remote control unit by UTU groundsmen does not constitute an infringement on the traditionally exclusive duties of an engineer," wrote arbitrator Gil Vernon. "It could be said that a traditional engineer operating an engine is like a highly skilled French chef preparing a seven-course meal from scratch (adding various combinations of ingredients and cooking them in various ways) and the remote-control operator in yards and terminals just puts the TV dinner in the microwave, sets the time and pushes the start button (set it and forget it)."
BLE officials, who believe locomotive engineers should operate LRCs, said the ruling "opens the door for the nationwide operation of unmanned remote-control trains, a controversial practice that could compromise safety and lead to widespread job losses," according to a statement released Jan. 10. The union cited more than 30 accidents and derailments that occurred during the past 11 months and involved LRCs.
BLE International President Don Hahs, who said he was outraged at the decision, believes LRC implementation will lead to job losses of between 4,000 and 5,000 UTU members.
"There are no winners today as far as operating crews are concerned," he said. "The winners are rail management and the manufacturers of remote-control devices."
Hahs plans to set up urgent meetings with Federal Railroad Administration and NCCC to press for the resolution of BLE's safety concerns and other issues.
"The decision violates more than 150 years of established practice, ignoring federally certified locomotive engineers as the only craft responsible for moving and operating trains," he said. "The decision also fails to recognize current collective bargaining agreements, local and national agreements, and years of past practice."
UTU officials believe the decision confirms the union's position that operating employees' duties have been changing and will continue to change because of technological advancements — and that UTU and BLE should operate as one entity.
"We believe this decision supports our actions before the National Mediation Board in seeking a ruling or decision that would require single representation of the operating employees — not for the protection of either organization, but for the betterment and protection of each and every operating employee," said UTU International President Byron Boyd Jr. in a prepared statement. "Unifying the operating employees into one union is so basic and is so needed."
In October 2001, UTU officials obtained signed letters of intent from all U.S. Class Is that would assign LRC operations to UTU-represented workers; in August, UTU members ratified a new contract with NCCC that includes LRC provisions.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/13/2003