|ONLINE VERSION||VOLUME 106 - NUMBER 12 - DECEMBER 1997|
|BMWE 1997: On The Move and Staying On Track|
|The year 1997 started with the BMWE heavily engaged in a
battle to keep the railroads and the government from destroying members' occupational
disability benefits under Railroad Retirement and ended with the battle to insure that our
members working for Amtrak received the same wages, benefits and working conditions as our
brothers and sisters working for the freight railroads.
If those two fights give you the idea that the BMWE has not slowed down since winning a national agreement in September 1996, you can be sure that you have the right idea. BMWE members have remained active and often led the way on all fronts in the ongoing struggle to see that they gain the rights and benefits they have earned.
From bargaining to safety to organizing to political to education to legal; the BMWE has been active in every arena while making the time to support their fellow workers in other industries like the strawberry workers, Detroit newspaper workers, Teamsters and more and preparing for the 43rd Grand Lodge Convention just six months away.
A January 22 strike date set by almost all of rail labor (with the BMWE in the forefront of the fight) on all freight railroads pressures the railroads into signing an agreement to restore the status quo in the Railroad Retirement occupational disability benefit for a six-month period and engage in negotiations during that time. Earlier in the month rail labor launched its newest weapon in the battle to protect the jobs, rights, wages and benefits of rail workers with the creation of a Rail Division within the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD). "The new rail division gives rail labor a stronger and more active voice in the many debates within the rail industry, the labor movement and the political arena," said BMWE President Mac A. Fleming, who actively campaigned for the new vehicle. In addition to the Railroad Retirement fight, the new division immediately made a strong show of solidarity in response to the CSX proposed buyout of Conrail. Conrail shareholders shook up the proposed merger when they voted on January 17 against a plan that would have allowed the deal to proceed.
Delegates to the 1994 Grand Lodge Convention recognized the need to fight the growth of unorganized railroads and took the first step to deal with the problem by overwhelmingly approving the establishment of a BMWE Organizing Department. On February 9 the Grand Lodge Executive Board approved funding for the new department to include three full-time staff people. In the ongoing struggle to get the railroads to honor the agreement they signed in September 1996, the BMWE asked the U. S. Court of appeals on February 28 to affirm a lower court's decision which ordered the railroads to pay travel allowance under the national contract to all traveling employees. President Fleming appointed a committee to study an affiliation proposal received on January 22 from the 1.1 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
BMWE American and Canadian members held an informational picket outside Canadian National Railways (CN) Headquarters in Montreal on March 4 while yet another negotiating session with CN-owned Grand Trunk Western (GTW) began in Detroit.
On Sunday, April 13, BMWE members joined 30,000 other union, civil rights, religious, community and environmental activists in the Strawberry March, one of the biggest workers' marchers in recent years. The march, a 2.5 mile long chain through Watsonville, California, was one of a series of actions in the labor-led fight for improved conditions for strawberry workers. BMWE members marched again on Monday, April 28, in Washington, D. C. in honor of those who lost their lives at work, at a Workers' Memorial Day event hosted by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE). The theme of the rally: "We're not going to die for the railroads anymore." BMWE members on the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railroad ratified an agreement largely based on the national agreement about a week prior to a May 1 strike date.
On May 1, Solidarity Day, BMWE members joined other rail union members across the country in distributing stickers and flyers in an effort to derail the railroad industry's attempt to gut occupational disability benefits in a proposal known as PRODS, Presumptive Occupational Disability Standards. Also on May 1, the BMWE and the Soo Line signed an agreement reached earlier this year which follows the pattern set in the national agreement. On May 15, the International Association (IA), comprised of Grand Lodge and Systems Officers, began its annual two-day meeting. A full day was devoted to discussion of the SEIU affiliation proposal at the end of which the IA voted against the affiliation. On May 19 members from nearly every rail union joined together to protest the annual Harriman Safety Award presentations in Washington, DC and to present a "Harassment Award" (created by BMWE General Chairman Paul Beard) to winner Norfolk Southern.
As they had from the beginning two years before, BMWE members stood in solidarity with first striking, then locked-out newspaper workers during the weekend of "marches and music" called Action! Motown '97, on June 20-21 in Detroit, Michigan. Successfully separating Southern Pacific (SP) contract talks from merger implementation talks with the Union Pacific (UP), the BMWE reached an agreement on the SP which follows the national pattern and which was later ratified by the membership.
Rail labor won its battle to preserve occupational disability safeguards under the Railroad Retirement system just days before a moratorium on a worker walk-out expired on July 15. The Railroad Retirement Board later accepted the joint recommendations from labor and management on ways to update the disability standards without harming rail workers' benefits. The clock began ticking towards self-help on July 7 when the National Mediation Board (NMB) proffered arbitration to the BMWE in their negotiations with Amtrak.
The BMWE joined the rest of the labor movement in rallying around the Teamsters in their fight for justice against the United Parcel Service (UPS). BMWE members around the country gave their time, money, and other donations during the two-week strike, standing strong for the demand for more full-time jobs. A 30-day cooling-off period ticking down to a possible strike on Amtrak after the BMWE rejected the National Mediation Board's arbitration offer was stopped by the appointment of Presidential Emergency Board 234.
Two BMWE members were among the 1,700 women attending the first AFL-CIO Working Women's Conference held on Sept. 5-7 in Washington, D. C. BMWE President Mac A. Fleming was re-elected as Vice President on the Executive Council at the Twenty-Second Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO held September 19-25 in Pittsburgh, Penn. During the convention, Fleming spoke at the dedication of a historical marker commemorating the railroad strike of 1877. BMWE resumes bargaining with Amtrak after PEB 234 issues recommendations which the BMWE believes form the basis for reaching an agreement.
BMWE's dispute with Amtrak reached a critical stage this month as a self-help deadline of October 22 loomed with Amtrak remaining steadfast in demanding BMWE members accept an agreement which provides half of the increases in the Consumer Price Index. PEB 234 had recommended the national wage rates in the agreement signed last year with most of the nation's freight railroads. At the request of Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, who was directly involved in negotiations, the BMWE agreed to extend the strike deadline.
The BMWE and Amtrak jointly announced a settlement on November 2 and the tentative agreement was submitted to the membership for acceptance and ratification. President Fleming said that "without the involvement of Secretary Slater and the rest of the Clinton Administration, it is doubtful we could have reached an agreement." For more on this story, see page 1. Grassroots lobbying, including many BMWE members, was the key to the successful vote against fast track legislation. Making legislators aware of how strongly working families feel--Americans oppose fast track by almost a 2 to 1 margin--about fair trade that protects worker rights and the environment resulted in the Clinton Administration and the House Leadership withdrawing fast track trade legislation from the scheduled vote in the House on November 7. Members should continue, however, to let their legislators know about their opposition to fast track because the fight isn't over yet.