Posts Tagged ‘International Association of Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers’

Panel Rules Unions Must Bargain Over Crew Size

July 31, 2021

Railroad labor unions suffered a setback this week when an arbitration panel ruled that crew size is an issue that is subject to collective bargaining.

Unions have long resisted bargaining over crew size on the national level, saying it should be a local issue.

But a federal arbitration panel decided this week that crew size is a national issue.

The decision found that standard moratorium language in decades-old labor agreements do not prohibit negotiations over crew size on freight trains.

Railroad management wants to change train crew staffing practices so that there would be one locomotive engineer per train but the job of the conductor would become more of a ground-based position with conductors having responsibility for multiple trains.

The 2-1 arbitration decision is binding and grew out of a lawsuit launched by the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents Class 1 railroads, to force unions to bargain over crew size in the current negotiations for a new contract.

The arbitration panel was made up of one member approved by labor, one approved by management and a neutral member who in this case is a California law professor and veteran arbitrator.

Contract talks have been ongoing for more than a year and in the meantime federal law requires the previous contract remain in effect until a new pact is reached and ratified by union members.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union’s Transportation Division (SMART-TD) saw a silver lining in the ruling that the arbitration panel did not mandate any particular outcome in negotiations.

The arbitration ruling also did not mandate that bargaining over crew size be done globally, meaning crew size talks with be done on a railroad-by-railroad basis.

The railroad industry and its unions began contract talks in November 2019 on wages, benefits and work rules.

Unions can be expected to continue seeking to get state legislatures to approve laws mandating two-per crews. Some Democrat members of Congress have introduced similar legislation that would apply nationwide.

The arbitration panel’s ruling requires SMART-TD to bargain with Class 1 railroads and some smaller carriers over crew size matters.

Railway Age reported the arbitration ruling affects more than 60 percent of the conductors at Class 1 railroads, including all conductors employed by BNSF and Norfolk Southern and half the conductors at Union Pacific.

Conductors employed by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and CSX are not unaffected by the arbitration ruling because their unions were not parties to legal action resulting in the arbitration.

Kansas City Southern recently voluntarily withdrew its arbitration demand and was dismissed from the award by the arbitration panel majority. 

The Railway Age report indicated that railroads was pushing for more efficient operations because of an increasing reliance by carriers on intermodal traffic that is subject to diversion to trucking company, many of which have non-union operators who work for lower wages and benefits than those paid to unionized railroaders.

Intermodal traffic provides lower profit margins that some carload traffic – coal being a notable example – that railroad once relied upon for their financial well being.

Industry observers have noted that the development of positive train control has given railroads an opening to seek to reduce crew sizes by arguing that it will provide for safer operations and thus a second set of eyes in the cab are not needed.

Frank Wilner, who writes for Railway Age, has long argued that “no labor union ever has done better than slow the introduction of new technology.”

Union Sues Mediation Board on Arbitration of Crew Size

February 1, 2020

The National Mediation Board has appointed an arbitrator to handle a case involving crew size, which has prompted a railroad labor union to sue the Board.

The  SMART Transportation Division and nearly two dozen General Committees filed the suit after the mediation board voted 2 to 1 in favor of appointing an arbitrator.

“The National Mediation Board has unlawfully and without authority initiated an arbitration process involving the SMART-TD and multiple rail carriers, contrary to the provisions of the Railway Labor Act,” the lawsuit states.

The Mediation Board had acted after the National Railway Labor Conference requested the board to forcibly appoint a representative of SMART to negotiate on the union’s behalf over crew sizes during talks for a new contract that are in the process of getting underway.

The NRLC represents a coalition of Class 1 railroads.

SMART had earlier taken the position that crew size should be negotiated at the local level between individual railroads and local committees.

The carriers have also filed a lawsuit against SMART in an effort to force it to negotiate crew size at the national level.

The Class 1 carriers have been open about their desire to operate many trains with one-person crews.

The two Mediation Board members who sided with the carriers, Kyle Fortson and Gerald Fauth, were appointed by President Donald Trump.

The dissenting member was Chairwoman Linda Puchala who said the Board’s action circumvented decades of Railway Labor Act precedent in how these disputes are handled.

A spokesperson for the Labor Conference supported the Board’s decision.

“We support the National Mediation Board’s designation of a SMART-TD representative and agree with the Board’s well-considered decision that such designation is required under the Railway Labor Act,” the spokesperson said.

He added that the carriers believe collective bargaining is the proper forum to discuss train crew staffing and joint arbitration sought by the railroads is the appropriate method for resolving the parties’ dispute over the interpretation of common contract language.

The first round of negotiations will open on Feb. 26 and 27 in Washington.

Union Wants FRA to Order Brake Valves Replaced

December 27, 2019

A railroad union wants the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order to require the immediate replacement of what it termed outdated air brake valves on freight cars.

The SMART Transportation Division said tens of thousands of model DB-10 air brake valves have remained in use beyond their fixed lifespan and during cold weather these valves can leak air, causing freight-train operators to lose braking capabilities.

In a news release, SMART TD noted the the Association of American Railroads issued a maintenance advisory in 2013 that railroads replace and repair the malfunctioning valves.
SMART TD said that although the AAR made recommendations the fixes have thus far been unsatisfactory.

Railroads have been reluctant to replace old parts in a thorough way because of the potential delays it could cause to customers, the union said and has instead used a “catch-as-can” approach.

In an unrelated development, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) have called upon the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration to to thoroughly analyze the potential impacts of transporting liquefied natural gas by rail tank car.

The congressmen sent a letter to PHMSA Administrator Howard Elliott asking his agency to conduct the analysis of public and environmental risks, and apply stringent safety protections and operational controls when LNG is transported by rail car through communities.

The letter came in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking published by PHMSA in late October whereby the agency in coordination with the FRA proposed the rule to permit the transport of large quantities of LNG throughout the country by rail tank car.

PHMSA has granted a special permit to Energy Transport Solutions to move LNG from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, “without appropriate research and analysis of the safety risks to communities and no opportunity for the public to address operating conditions,” the congressmen said.

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.

AAR, Unions Spar Over Brake Inspection Waiver

September 30, 2016

The railroad industry is pushing the Federal Railroad Administration to allow unit freight trains to travel up to 2,600 miles between air brake inspections.

FRABut the proposal being pushed by the Association of American Railroads is being resisted by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

The AAR wants the FRA grant a waiver so railroads can check if wheel temperature detectors can replace a mandatory visual inspection.

The pilot program would be undertaken on the Union Pacific on coal trains operating between the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and an unloading terminal in White Bluff, Arkansas.

Under current federal law, the air brakes on a unit train must be inspected every 1,500 miles.

Wheel detectors measure temperature of the entire wheel and railroad industry officials argue that an abnormal wheel temperature reading is a more accurate measurement of whether the braking system is working.

They note that a visual inspection does not take temperature into consideration. Railroad hot box detectors measure the temperature of the wheel’s journal.

AAR contends that relying on wheel temperature detectors will increase employee safety.

The BLET, though, counters that using wheel temperature detectors to replace visual brake
inspections is a poor use of the technology.

“BLET believes [temperature detectors] should be deployed in the field and utilized for their intended use of examining wheel temperature in between terminals. [Detectors] should not, however, be used as a pretext for dodging regulatory safety standards,” said Vincent G. Verna, BLET’s regulatory affairs director.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union, Transportation Division officials are also asking the FRA to deny the AAR’s request.

The FRA will be taking comments on the AAR proposal through Oct. 13. A decision is not expected for several months after that.

FRA Gets Earful on 2-Person Crew Proposal

June 17, 2016

More than 1,400 people and organizations have commented on a proposed Federal Railroad Administration rule that would mandate two-person crews on most trains.

Not surprisingly, two railroad trade groups opposed the rule while railroad workers – whose comments made up the bulk of the comments received – are in favor of it.

FRAThe workers, most of them locomotive engineers and conductors, told stories of incidents they had encountered on the job that would have been difficult if not impossible for one person to address.

The trade groups, included the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, have questioned the safety benefits the rule would deliver.

AAR said there is a lack of hard information showing that the rule would materially improve railroad safety.

The FRA has acknowledged it lacks data showing that two-person crews are inherently safer than one-person crews.

The AAR has cited several studies finding strong safety records of single-crew operation around the world.

The railroad trade groups contend that the two-person rule would be an economic burden on railroads that already operate trains with one crew member as well prevent hinder efforts to reduce crew sizes in the future through technological innovations or negotiation.

Supporting the rule are railroad labor unions, who contend that the two-person crew rule will make operations safer for employees and the public.

In a joint statement, the unions said the only safe way to operate a train is with a crew of at least two people, both of whom are federally certified.

The unions, which include the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation workers Transportation Division cited crew member fatigue as the industry’s top safety issue.

They pointed to unpredictable work hours and too many required tasks putting added pressures on crew members and making their work more complex.

The FRA will conduct public hearings on July 15.

Unions Back FRA 2-Person Crew Rule

March 17, 2016

Two railroad labor unions are supporting a proposed rule by the Federal Railroad Administration that would require a two-person crew aboard trains in most circumstances.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have long argued that having a second crew member in the locomotive cab enhances railroad safety.

BLET“Our view is that one-person operations are unsafe under any circumstances and we believe issuing this proposed rule is a critical first step in helping to ensure that our nation’s trains are operated fully staffed with two qualified crew members,” says SMART President John Previsich. “Airplanes are not allowed to fly with just one pilot, and for sound safety reasons trains, many hauling hazardous materials — should be no different. The check, double check, and extra set of eyes and ears watching both sides of the train and the division of tasks are safety measures that cannot be replaced by rules or technology.”

At the same time, the unions are concerned about certain provisions of the FRA rule.

Specifically, the unions are critical of the phrase “loss of situational awareness,” which an FRA report said is what occurs when a crew member is distracted by multiple tasks.

“The words ‘loss of situational awareness’ are merely management code words for blaming the employee who has been bogged down with too many tasks, duties, and distractions,” the unions said in a news release. “Task overload does lead to increased fatigue and attention capture that pose genuine and quantifiable safety risks in the railroad industry.”

Another concern raised by the union is that the FRA rule would allow single-person crews on some trains on long-haul runs.

The unions said the proposed rule would allow railroads to use one-person crews provided that they take extra steps to protect employees, the public and the environment.

The FRA has said that it is likely that railroads that already have single-person crews would be able to get approval to continue them.

The FRA is currently accepting public comment about its proposed rule. The comment period will end in 60 days.

The single-person rule has been in the works for more than two years.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Railroads said it opposes mandating two-person crews. The AAR said there is no safety case to be made for such a rule and that positive train control systems will lead to safer railroad operations, even with one-person crews.

Unions continue to promote the Safe Freight Act, which would require all trains to have at least two people in the cab.

“Technology will never be able to safely replace the eyes and ears of our highly-trained, experienced and professional two-person train crews,” said BLET President Dennis R. Pierce.

Labor Unions Opposing CP-NS Merger

January 21, 2016

Railroad labor unions are lining up in opposition to a proposed takeover of Norfolk Southern by Canadian Pacific.

Among the unions sending letters of opposition to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board and other public offices are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the Transportation Communications Union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers union.

Also announcing its opposition later in the week was the Teamsters.

In general, the unions argue that the merger would not be in the best interests of their members, shippers or the public.

The NS board of directors has spurned offers from CP to acquire NS stock. A formal merger proposal has yet to be filed with the STB.

BLET President Dennis R. Pierce’s told the STB that there is no benefit to a CP-NS merger and that it could result in layoffs at both railroads.

“CP’s proposal . . . appears designed to simply loot NS assets to generate even more cash that can be sucked out of the railroad for the exclusive benefit of shareholders and investors, and to the detriment of everyone else,” Pierce wrote.

SMART President John Previsich made similar comments, and singled out CP head E. Hunter Harrison for criticism.

“His strategy is clear; use up the current railroad infrastructure and wear out the locomotives, leaving a railroad that will need dramatic investment once he leaves,” Previsich wrote. “The railroads’ officers, investment bankers, consultants and stockholders will walk away greatly enriched at the expense of the future health of our nation’s rail service.”

Union leaders also raised the specter of a CP-NS merger triggering another round of railroad mergers.

“If other railroads are forced to respond in kind, the rail freight industry nationally could find itself in the sort of death spiral – of job cuts and deferred plant and equipment maintenance leading to reduced services, leading to further job cuts and more deferred plant and equipment maintenance, and so on – that the Northeast and Midwest sectors saw between the late 1960s and late 1970s,” Pierce said.

CSX Reaches Tentative Pact With 2 Unions

September 30, 2015

Two labor unions and CSX have reached tentative agreement on a new contract that all parties say will provide for more workplace flexibility.

The pact must still be approved in a vote of members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Members of both unions will be able to perform a variety of assigned work beyond the traditional boundaries of craft or union affiliation. The new contract will also provide pay increases through an hourly skill differential, enhanced ability to retain employment, benefits and connection to railroad retirement, and an ability to perform additional locomotive rebuild work in-house with CSX employees.

CSX said in a news release that the agreement builds on a similar work-sharing structure implemented at the company’s Huntington Locomotive Shop in 2013.

“This agreement is part of CSX’s focus on promoting a flexible workforce to meet changing business demands, and developing opportunities to retain and support our highly skilled workforce,” said Cressie Brown, CSX vice president, labor relations.