Bargaining Update: BMWED/SMART-MD Dispute Carriers’ Claims in Latest National Bargaining Meeting

Published: Oct 30 2020 11:42AM

The BMWED/SMART-MD National Bargaining Coalition received a work rules presentation from the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) and presented an economic analysis of freight rail industry to railroad officials Oct. 27 via teleconference.

The railroads seek a host of work rule changes under the guise of an alleged need for “modernization.” They claim these rule changes are necessary in order for rail to remain competitive against other modes of transportation (trucking) and also claim BMWED members desire more flexibility in their work schedules (to work more on weekends and outside regular hours).  But some of the railroads’ work rules changes are directed at illusory problems and others are just plain offensive.  For example, the railroads’ want to eliminate the 40-hour workweek and 8-hour workday along with premium pay for work outside those limits.  The railroads also want unilateral management selection for certain positions, rather than seniority.   And the railroads want to eliminate employee protection benefits (“Feb. 7”) because employee protections allegedly ice any railroad’s intentions to hire new employee.  These types of proposals are asinine and do nothing to improve the lives of railroad workers, and only further pad the railroads’ and shareholders bank accounts. 

Despite doom and gloom claims by the railroads in bargaining, the Unions presented economic data – compiled from American Association of Railroads reports, R-1 forms, and SEC filings – that show the rail companies continue record profitability. Any economic headwinds or other industry challenges have not dented the railroads’ lucrativeness. 

In regard to healthcare, the Unions disagreed with the NCCC’s position that the current National Plan benefits are “unsustainable,” noting that health and welfare are a “miniscule” expense for the carriers as it relates to their profitability, and thus, bottom line.  Economist Tom Roth demonstrated that the railroads’ continued comments claiming the National Plan health and welfare benefits were unsustainable are gross hyperbole. Attorney Rich Edelman, the BMWED/SMART-MD spokesman, stated that the carriers’ insistence on health and welfare benefits concessions, which have deadlocked recent rounds of bargaining, is misguided and continued insistence on such concession would be inconsistent with good-faith bargaining. The impact of those concessions is negligible for the railroads but significant to railroad workers who use the benefits.  

The railroads continue to publicly praise railroad workers' diligence to their jobs, and even praised their skills and dedication at the bargaining table.  But their proposals show profound disrespect for those same workers. In public, the carriers say their employees are heroes – “essential employees” – that are keeping necessary supplies flowing to the citizens in this country during a pandemic. Yet, at the bargaining table, they say their employees are overpaid, uneducated abusers of healthcare benefits who take advantage of supposedly outdated work rules.  The parties are scheduled to exchange additional information/presentations on Dec. 1.

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