The BRS served its Section 6 notice (contract proposal) to the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) on December 13, 2019, on those carriers party to National Agreement bargaining. This is a requirement of the Railway Labor Act. By serving our Section 6 notice, we begin the process of negotiations with the railroads. Because it is still early in the process, I do not have a feel for how long these negotiations will take, but both sides appear to be hopeful that this round will not drag out for an extended period of time.
In preparation for these negotiations, the BRS sent a survey to all members working for railroads covered by the National Agreement. The response showed far less participation than I would have liked, with only 25 percent of those members represented in national handling returning the survey. The input from the responses serves as a guide for the Negotiating Committee during national negotiations.
The BRS negotiating team enters this round of negotiations ready to fight for a fair and equitable agreement for our brothers and sisters under national handling. Signalmen have historically used every available means to reach a successful contract settlement. We look forward to good faith bargaining and have joined with the SMART Transportation Division, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT, American Train Dispatchers Association, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Association of Machinists, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Transport Workers Union of America, Transportation Communication Union/IAM, and National Conference of Fireman and Oilers/SEIU, to form what is referred to as the “Coordinated Bargaining Coalition.” This process will give each of the respective organizations the power of bargaining as a group that represents more than 105,000 workers and over 80 percent of Rail Labor.
The BRS is working hard to ensure the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition’s approach in this round of bargaining will allow us to continue to work together in the future. One thing that the carriers have done well in past negotiations is stick together during national bargaining. It is critical that Rail Labor use a similar approach. A united front diminishes the NCCC’s ability to create a pattern.
Rail Labor has learned from the lessons of the past and stands united during this round of negotiations. We can be assured that the carriers will use the same divide-and-conquer strategy, attacking wages, health care, and work rules. It is my sincere belief that when Rail Labor stands united, we can be successful in negotiating a fair agreement. The time has come for Rail Labor to take a vow of solidarity and send a clear message.
As this round of bargaining begins, an analysis of the railroad industry shows that the railroads continue to post record profits and have done so at the cost of our members through their “precision scheduled railroading” model. The railroads’ cost cutting and operating ratio mentality will carry over in their plan to seek an agreement that benefits them rather than their employees. Their message is clear, you’re not worth it.
The railroads are being run by Wall Street, and they report to their investors that they are making huge profits, and that it is only going to get better. After these reports, the railroads then come into negotiations and tell us that we have to make concessions to bring us into the “mainstream” with what other workers are paying for their benefits. Their rhetoric regarding cost-cutting that they need for industry survival fails to add up with the numbers they report.
We know our members’ responsibilities and skills prove that they deserve a substantially improved agreement, and despite what the carriers say during negotiations, they can afford to compensate the front-line workers that have brought them the success, profits, and bright future that they tout to their investors.
To that end, the BRS is willing to do its part. We are ready to meet the carriers at the table and engage in good-faith negotiations to reach a settlement. Since our last agreement, BRS members have seen their territories and responsibilities expand while their manpower and free time decrease. They have been burdened with the responsibility to learn and maintain new technologies in order to maintain the level of safety that is expected and has become the norm in railroad signaling.
The BRS negotiating committee is ready to make gains in traditional areas such as wages, health care benefits, personal leave, and holidays. Additionally, we are ready to get recognition and compensation for the increased level of responsibility that BRS members have had to absorb. Signalmen are the highest-skilled workers in the rail industry, and it is time that we are compensated what we are worth. The Committee is also prepared to fight for the inclusion of sick days. It is a grave injustice that BRS members have to endure 12-hour days, seven days a week, be on 24-hour call, work away from home, work in some of the most hostile weather conditions, and yet receive zero sick days.
We will work hard to correct this injustice and expedite the negotiating process in order to reach a fair and equitable agreement. However, if the carriers fail to seize this opportunity and revert back to slow walking the process under the terms of the Railway Labor Act, then Signalmen are prepared to take their case for a fair and equitable settlement to any forum necessary.
Below is an outline of the process for negotiating under the Railway Labor Act, so that you will have an idea of how the process works and what must be accomplished under the Act to reach an agreement. There are many opportunities for the parties to reach an acceptable agreement, however, if that cannot be accomplished then the following steps will lead the process to a final conclusion:
- Step 1 — Notice is served under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act by either party.
- Step 2 — Reply required within 10 days sets time/date of initial conference, which must be held within 30 days.
- Step 3 — Negotiations begin. No time limit.
- Step 4 — Agreement reached through negotiations, if not, go to Step 5.
- Step 5 — Within 10 days after conferences end, either party may request National Mediation Board (NMB) mediation, or NMB may proffer mediation.
- Step 6 — If mediation is not requested or proffered within 10 days; strike, lockout, or promulgation of new rules.
- Step 7 — Agreement reached through mediation, if not, go to Step 8. There is no time limit on mediation; the NMB has the discretion to hold the parties in mediation indefinitely.
- Step 8 — NMB’s proffer of binding arbitration is offered by NMB or requested.
- Step 9 — Agreement reached through accepting binding arbitration. If not, go to Step 10.
- Step 10 — Self help strike, lockout — 30 days after NMB notifies both parties that proffer of arbitration was refused.
- Step 11 — NMB may notify President that it believes dispute will interrupt interstate commerce.
- Step 12 — President may appoint an emergency board if he/she agrees with Step 11.
- Step 13 — Presidential Emergency Board reports to President within 30 days.
- Step 14 — Agreement reached based on Emergency Board report, if not, go to Step 15.
- Step 15 — Indefinite strike or lockout permitted 30 days after report issued. Agreement may be reached.
- Step 16 — If no agreement, settlement can be legislated by Congress.
As we move forward with national negotiations, I will continue to update you on our progress through The Signalman’s Journal on the BRS website. Again, when rail labor is unified, we accomplish much more.
Jerry C. Boles, President