July 30, 2014

UTU, BLE comment to FRA on HOS

In a joint submission aimed at improving safety and the security of member paychecks, the UTU and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have asked the Federal Railroad Administration to clarify and simplify its interim policies relating to, and interpretations of, the Rail Safety Improvement Act’s changes to hours-of-service limitations that went into effect July 16.

The sought-after clarifications and simplifications fall into three categories:

  1. The Rail Safety Improvement Act’s (RSIA) prohibition of communication with employees during statutory off-duty periods;
  2. The RSIA’s provisions pertaining to mandatory off-duty time following the initiation of an on-duty period for a specified number of consecutive days; and,
  3. The maximum number of hours that may be worked in a calendar month.

The joint UTU/BLET comments observe that the hours-of-service provisions in the safety act “produced the most far-reaching effects on hours-of-service of safety-critical railroad workers since enactment of the original Hours-of-Service Act in 1908.” In fact, the FRA, itself, observes that the hours-of-service amendments “are extraordinarily complex and comprehensive.”

Because of the complexity, said the UTU and the BLET, “the statute itself fails to adequately address a number of important issues that will almost certainly have a substantial effect on our members. Moreover, FRA has been forced to provide interpretations that must address goals that sometimes are in conflict. It is our sincere hope that these [joint UTU/BLET] comments will provide a basis for improvement of FRA’s policies and interpretations in a way that is faithful to the intent of Congress.”

The UTU and the BLET also asked the FRA “to further clarify their stated interpretations in plain language to the maximum extent possible, so there is no room for debate concerning the application of those interpretations.”

The UTU and the BLET noted also that they were not commenting on each policy and interpretation “because we do not want to unnecessarily burden the record. However, FRA should not conclude that we concur with each of the policies and interpretations with which we strongly disagree, but we are withholding comment concerning them because FRA’s position has been dictated by the statute itself, and FRA cannot depart from statutory requirements; therefore, comments concerning these subjects would be futile.

“The comments are intended to provide greater clarity to the sometimes confusing provisions of the law, and to assist UTU and BLET general committees in their efforts to negotiate a better balance between maintaining earnings and the new requirements,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey and BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz in a joint statement.

To read the joint UTU and BLET submission to the FRA, click here.