Posts Tagged ‘federal district court’

Courts Sides With Railroads and Against Union

February 14, 2020

The railroad industry won a court battle this week in its efforts to force a railroad labor union to negotiate over crew size.

The National Railway Labor Conference, which represents Class 1 railroads in labor talks with railway labor groups, said a federal court in Texas rejected a union contention that the issue of whether unions must negotiate on crew size must be submitted to arbitration.

Railroads are seeking to negotiate with unions over the redeployment of conductors from onboard trains to working primarily on the ground.

In a news release, the NRLC said it filed the lawsuit last October in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth against the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division.

SMART-TD contends that longtime labor agreements ban negotiations over crew staffing of freight trains.

The Texas court ruled the union’s refusal to bargain over crew size violates federal law and it ordered SMART-TD to “bargain in good faith with each of the railroads” over train crew redeployment and staffing issues.

The litigation played out as unions and the NRLC are getting started on the latest round of contract talks.

Under federal law, existing contracts do not have an expiration date and the bargaining process can take years to conclude.

An analysis published on the website of Railway Age noted that the fight over crew size is at its core about the efforts of railroads to lower their labor costs in the face of declining coal traffic and tough competition to divert containers and trailers from trucks driven by non-union drivers.

Another underlying issue, Railway Age wrote, is the use of technology such as positive train control that holds the potential to transform how railroads operate.

Railway Age said these newer technologies create job redundancies.

On the other hand, Railway Age said SMART-TD is seeking to serve the interests of its members by keeping as many of them employed as possible.

What the Class 1 railroads want to achieve in negotiations is not a new idea.

BNSF proposed in 2014 operating trains with a locomotive engineer and assigning conductors to ground-based supervisory positions.

The new operating rules would have applied only to trains operating in positive train control territory.

Those newly designated “master conductors” would have worked from a fixed or mobile location and would have overseen more than one train.

The carrier offered higher pay and career income protection but the proposal was rejected in a vote of union members.

The Railway Age analysis noted that the national union leadership urged its members to reject the work rule changes because unions by nature don’t want to negotiate on crew size.

They see those negotiations as ultimately leading to fewer jobs for their members.

Those fears are not unfounded. At one time freight trains operated with four- and five-person crews, but today two-person crews are standard.

“So mostly this is about adapting to change; and, as will be seen, it is not now going well for the labor union—and eventually may not for its members if the comparison is to be the rejected BNSF tentative agreement,” Railway Age wrote.

The negotiations over crew size are not likely to yield an agreement in the near term.

The talks may be influenced at some point by the intervention of third parties whether those are courts, regulators or legislators.

The Railway Age analysis noted that in the past unions have agreed to rule changes in exchange for a good, but not necessarily better contract as far as their interests were concerned.

They took higher pay as the trade off for lost jobs among their membership rather than have a settlement imposed on them that would be even more advantageous to the carriers.

Unions are themselves appealing to third parties to try to codify their demands for two-person minimum crew sizes nationwide.

The unions have had some headway in obtaining state-mandated minimum crew laws but those are subject to being overruled by federal law and/or regulation.

SMART-TD is appealing the Texas district court decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal Court Overrules Kentucky Blocked Crossing Law

February 1, 2020

State laws designed to discourage railroads from blocking grade crossings that have the effect of regulating railroad operations are impermissible under federal law, a judge has ruled.

The case involved a Kentucky law that was challenged by the Association of American Railroads.

A federal court in rendering the ruling in favor of AAR acknowledged that states have historically had a role in regulating local highways.

But the Kentucky law has the effect of regulating railroads and that is the province of federal law, the court ruled.

“ . . . the state does not have the authority to regulate highway safety to the extent that its laws require the railroad to effect such substantial changes,” the ruling said.

At issue was a case that began with police in Pulaski and McCreary counties issuing citations to Norfolk Southern under a state law that stated trains cannot block roadways for more than five minutes.

The Pulaski citations were issued for blocking Richardson Lane near a depot in Burnside.

Most of the citations said trains were stopped for between 15 to 20 minutes.

NS contended in court that five minutes is not long enough to perform all of the safety checks needed following a crew change.

An NS manager said that those checks can take 15 to 20 minutes if everything goes well.

Although NS entered pleas of guilty to 11 misdemeanor citations, the AAR filed a lawsuit on the railroad’s behalf in a federal court against Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield and Pulaski Sheriff Greg Speck in their official capacities, as well as the Sheriff and County Attorney for McCreary County.

After the court ruled against him, Hatfield issued a statement saying that although he was disappointed in the ruling, local authorities would obey it as they review their options for an appeal.

He said the state court cases should not be affected “until we have either exhausted our appeals, or made the decision not to appeal.”

Lawsuit Seeks to Force Unions to Talk About Crew Size

October 8, 2019

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.