April 23, 2014

We busted the pattern!

By Mike Futhey
UTU International President

Brothers and Sisters:

The tentative national agreement with BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific, which you will vote on soon, was hammered out in an intense two-day bargaining session Jan. 22-23 because the carriers recognized the unity the UTU brought to the negotiating table.

Equally important to the process was our return to interest-based bargaining, whereby both sides choose mutual problem solving to confrontation.

A year had gone by without a single meeting between the two sides, and the situation looked bleak. There were credible signals from the carriers that they intended to cash-in their Bush administration IOUs and move for a presidential emergency board (PEB) by spring. After all, the carriers had established a pattern, holding ratified agreements from most of the other labor organizations.

The carriers reasoned they could count on a carrier-friendly PEB to recommend that the pattern be forced on us. In an election year, with Congress not wanting a rail strike dumped in its lap, the odds were similarly high that lawmakers would quickly pass legislation ordering us back to work under the precise recommendations of the Bush-appointed PEB.

With that unhappy chain of events looming, I met with CSX CEO Michael Ward and made clear that the UTU’s intent was to craft a win-win agreement. We both agreed that a mutually negotiated settlement is preferable to one imposed by a third party – even if the carriers thought the White House is on their side. I asked Mr. Ward to relay our message to the other CEOs and the industry’s labor negotiators.

Our bargaining team reaffirmed our intent to reach a negotiated settlement when we sat down Jan. 22 with the carriers’ chief labor negotiators in Jacksonville, Fla. We were told that they and their CEOs had been reading our leadership messages on the UTU Web site, and sensed a more positive approach from the UTU — and they were prepared to respond in kind.

Before the sun set on the second day, we had that win-win agreement. The carriers acknowledged that prolonged warfare in Congress and before the federal courts was counterproductive.

The carriers agreed to go beyond the pattern. They offered the UTU — and only the UTU — a continuation of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) during the period new agreements are being negotiated. The UTU also was the only union to achieve, in national negotiations, an increase in the meal allowance.

Also, the carriers agreed to provide full health-care insurance to new hires and their families after only one month, rather than four; and agreed to arbitrate the dispute over entry rates tied to training; and, for the first time, to make contributions to the yardmasters’ supplemental retiree medical insurance program.

We busted the pattern. But if we fail to ratify this agreement, we could lose it all — and more, because a PEB and Congress could embrace the carriers’ desire for one-person crews and elimination of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

In the days ahead, we will be providing much more information on the tentative agreement, including answers to questions posed by general chairpersons. Please, stay informed. This agreement deserves ratification. The alternative is unthinkable.