National Mediation Board Releases RLBC Rail Unions From Mandatory Mediation in National Freight Rail Negotiations

Sep 08, 2011, 09:45 ET from RLBC/Teamsters Rail Conference

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the National Mediation Board released the six national rail labor organizations, comprising the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC), from further mediation in their dispute over changes in national labor agreements covering employees of some twenty-eight Class I freight railroads represented in bargaining by the National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC).  

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Those railroads carry more than 90 percent of all rail freight in the United States. The RLBC-represented organizations are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (IBT), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (IBT), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, AFL-CIO, National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (SEIU), AFL-CIO and the Sheet Metal International Association, AFL-CIO.

Also released from mediation were five other national rail labor organizations, which have bargained together as another coalition with the NCCC in this round of national negotiations.  Nearly all Class I railroads and approximately 75 percent of their employees are represented by the two coalitions in multi-union, multi-employer bargaining. The Coalitions' dispute with the railroads centers on the NCCC's insistence that an agreement it had reached with the only organization to bargain alone, the United Transportation Union, should form the basis of agreements with the eleven organizations represented by the two Coalitions.  Both Coalitions recognized that the Carriers' insistence on the wage package and healthcare modifications, among other benefit provisions, agreed to by the NCCC and UTU foreclosed any chance of agreement with the rest of rail labor.  The Mediation Board acted after it became apparent that the deadlock could not be broken.

The Board's action advances this national rail labor dispute into the final stages of dispute resolution under the Railway Labor Act.  Unless the parties voluntarily settle their dispute in the thirty-day cooling-off period that begins today, or a Presidential Emergency Board is established by President Obama, the parties will be free to resort to nonviolent self-help in support of their respective bargaining positions commencing at 12:01 a.m. EDT on October 7, 2011.

RLBC Chairman, W. Dan Pickett, said: "We welcome the Board's overdue action.  The NCCC's insistence that the UTU agreement – whose wage and benefit provisions are unacceptable to every other rail labor organization -- forms a pattern for all employees in the industry is designed to frustrate multi-union, multi-employer bargaining.  At best, the Carriers' position imposes the UTU's unique interests on the rest of rail labor; at worst, it seeks to restore a bygone era in which a strong, unified industry bargained separately with individual unions to the detriment of employee interests.  This is not something that can or will be tolerated."    

In previous national rail disputes that were not voluntarily settled by the parties before reaching this stage, Presidential Emergency Boards were established by the White House.  We anticipate that a PEB will be created by the President by the end of the cooling-off period.  The very similar disputes of the two Coalitions will likely be consolidated for hearing before the Presidential board. Preparations are under way that will enable both Coalitions to present a joint case at the hearing.  

By law, the Board's recommendations for settlement of the dispute are due thirty days after its appointment by the President.  The case then enters a final thirty-day cooling-off period during which the parties will be encouraged to accept the PEB's recommendations. Failing settlement, the parties will become entitled to resort to self-help at the end of the final cooling-off period in early December 2011. That ends the settlement procedures of the RLA. The question whether to impose the Board's recommendations will then be up to Congress.      

SOURCE RLBC/Teamsters Rail Conference