Lawsuit Seeks to Force Unions to Talk About Crew Size

A railroad union is being sued by eight railroads in an effort to force it to bargain over train crew size in upcoming contract talks.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Northern District of Texas against the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Division by BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern and three other railroads, two of which (Illinois Central and Grand Trunk Western) exist on paper because they are part of Canadian National.

The eighth railroad in the lawsuit is the Belt Railway of Chicago.

The suit contends that the union has refused to negotiate crew sizes at the national level. The union has contended that negotiating over crew size is banned under its current contracts with the railroads.

The railroads disagree with that interpretation of the contract and want the dispute to be resolved through arbitration.

The lawsuit described the issue of crew size as “one of the most contentious issues that has ever arisen in collective bargaining between the railroads and the unions.”

Negotiations for a new contract are expected to begin on Nov. 1 and the railroads want to talk about crew sizes during those sessions.

The lawsuit contends that the railroads “will be unable to progress the bargaining in the face of SMART-TD’s  . . . tactics to delay or obstruct any negotiations over crew consist. Every day that the railroads are unable to obtain new agreements is another day that they are unable to realize the benefits of more efficient and productive operations, and there is no way for the railroads to recover those lost potential savings.”

In a news release, SMART described the lawsuit as not the first time that railroads have tried to “attack” the crew size issue.

Typically, contract talks over wages, benefits and work rules are conducted by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents all Class I roads and a number of smaller ones, with 12 unions representing 140,000 railroad workers.

The last round of negotiations between began in January 2015 and drug on for three years.

Because labor contracts do not expire so there is no deadline for negotiations.

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