National Bargaining Update -- Feb. 2016

Published: Feb 9 2016 9:26AM

The BMWED/SMART-Mechanical national bargaining coalition resumed negotiations with the National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC) on Jan. 27, marking the first bargaining session of the 2016 calendar year.

The main focus of bargaining has been and continues to be centered upon healthcare issues.  Since early 2015, a “Small Working Group” consisting of BMWED/SMART-Mechanical and NCCC representatives (and their respective expert healthcare consultants) have been diligently working through questions regarding healthcare. These questions have been identified, assessed and discussed by the parties’ respective lead negotiators.  

To date, progress continues to be made by both parties, but more questions remain. The Small Working Group needs to fully explore the health plan's data in order for the bargainers to engage in well-informed negotiations. Unfortunately, however, the Small Working Group’s exploration of these questions has a substantial obstacle in its path: the major health care vendors – United Healthcare, Aetna and Highmark - of the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan.  

The answers to virtually all of the health care questions lie within the Plan’s data.  And although both the rail carriers and labor organizations have given the “green-light” to our experts to access and analyze this data, the vendors have limited such access. The health care vendors' main/alleged reasoning to limit our experts full access to the Plan data was that such access would expose the vendors’ various trade secrets. In other words, the vendors were taking a stand that the Plan data is the vendors’ “proprietary information," and that it belongs to the vendors and not to the Plan and those who participate in administrating it. As a consequence of the vendors’ position, negotiations have been slowed substantially.  The upshot, however, is that the vendors have most recently agreed to provide our experts access to the data. Accordingly, negotiations should have further developments in 2016.  

BMWED President Simpson stated that, “Healthcare is not an easy subject to digest and that is why we are working to thoroughly explore all relevant questions raised by the coalition and the NCCC. The BMWED/SMART-Mechanical coalition remains confident that the Small Working Group will continue to explore and answer the questions raised by the bargaining parties as they develop. Moreover, I am confident that the healthcare vendors will allow us to access the data that is needed for the parties to engage in substantive negotiations. For many years, both rail labor and management have relied on the healthcare vendors to provide assistance with the Plan. This juncture is no different than any others and I anticipate and appreciate the vendors’ cooperation as we work through this challenging round of negotiations."

The BMWED/SMART-Mechanical bargaining collation is currently scheduled to convene with the NCCC again in February and March of this year.