|ONLINE VERSION||NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2001|
"I congratulate our members who made the difficult but wise decision to ratify this agreement."
When the year began, the BMWE national bargaining committee was facing difficult political realities and limited options ó none of them good for BMWE members ó as a result of the selection of George W. Bush as president by the Supreme Court.
The previous President Bush had appointed Presidential Emergency Board 219 in 1991. PEB 219's recommendations were legislated by Congress and the imposed "agreement" devastated work rules, brought managed care, the first-ever health care cost-sharing and gave below inflation wage increases.
Every BMWE member knows the suffering that PEB 219 caused. "We learned at that time that because we have so much more at stake than wages and health care," said BMWE President Mac A. Fleming, "we must be extremely aware of the political environment in which we function. What is a cold to most of the other crafts is double pneumonia to BMWE."
Within two weeks of taking office, the new President Bush and the Congressional Republicans began attacking labor on all fronts, confirming the BMWEís worst fears. One action was particularly significant to the BMWE: Bush appointed an airline PEB to block the Northwest Airlines mechanicsí exercise of self-help.
The bargaining round began when the BMWE and the National Carriersí Conference Committee (the bargaining agent for the railroads) served Section 6 Notices (bargaining demands) in November 1999. In June of 2000, after a number of bargaining sessions, the carriers presented their outrageous demand calling for the unilateral right to subcontract any and all railway construction work. The BMWE immediately requested a proffer of arbitration from the National Mediation Board which has jurisdiction over bargaining and mediation under the Railway Labor Act. The NMB refused, thereby putting the fate of BMWE members in the hands of the new anti-labor Bush Administration.
On the evening of March 8, 2001, a tentative agreement was reached. Given the political and economic realities the BMWE faced, the bargaining committee negotiated the best agreement it could, rather than risk an all but certain worse result from a Bush PEB.
"I congratulate our members who made the difficult but wise decision to ratify this agreement," said President Fleming on May 30, 2001, after being given the final vote count of the BMWE membership, which ratified the national agreement by 69%.
"Unions are merging in order to strengthen their bargaining and political strength."
"Should Rail Unions Merge?" was the title of the award-winning editorial by President Fleming first published in the September 1995 issue of the BMWE Journal and again in the December 1996 issue. At the conclusion of the article, President Fleming said: "The great rail labor leader Eugene Debs was right 100 years ago when he called for one railroad union for all railroad workers. He is even more right in 1995 [and in the 21st century]. The winds of change are blowing throughout the labor movement. Leadership is changing and unions are merging in order to strengthen their bargaining and political strength. Letís not bury our heads in the sand. Yes, letís move the merger process forward within rail labor."
Delegates to the 1998 Grand Lodge Convention resoundingly agreed as evidenced by the adoption of Resolution Nos. 29 and 50. The delegates recognized that mergers "could benefit BMWE members by increasing the unionís clout in obtaining better contracts, legislative benefits and regulations" and instructed the Grand Lodge Officers "to make intense efforts to merge ... subject to ratification vote of the members." (Res. No. 50)
In accordance with these resolutions and one passed by the Grand Lodge Officers in February 1999, President Fleming appointed a BMWE Merger/Affiliation Committee, comprised of six general chairmen, one from each of the five U.S. regions and Canada.
Over the next two years, the Committee met with the Locomotive Engineers, the Signalmen, the Machinists, the Transport Workers and the Boilermakers. After a number of meetings with these potential merger partners, the Committee determined the only organization that was in a position or possessed the will to effect a merger, was the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.
On June 7 of this year the Committee submitted a report to the Grand Lodge Officers with a recommendation that the Officers approve a merger with the Boilermakers. On June 25, following a week of meetings by an Officers sub-committee working through a list of concerns, the Grand Lodge Officers voted to submit the proposed merger to the BMWE membership for ratification.
On August 15 ballots were sent out to BMWE members and on September 24 and 25 the votes were counted. Forty-five percent of the membership voted and of those, 52.49% voted against the merger.
"The debate is over, the membership has spoken and it is time for all to accept the merger vote result and move forward," said President Fleming. "We, as a union, must come together for the purpose of making certain that our members obtain all to which they are entitled. We cannot allow the railroads or the Administration to play upon BMWE internal divisions at the expense of those whom we represent."
As this Journal goes to print, over 750,000 workers have been laid-off since the September 11 terrorist attacks. More workers lost their jobs in October than in any one-month period since May 1980. And in November economists declared America is officially in a recession which they say actually began in March of this year.
In the days after the September 11 attacks, the CEOs of the major airlines ran to Capitol Hill for a bailout and they got what they wanted in just a few days. Transportation labor supported that effort because it was good for the nation and our economy. But in approving the $15 billion bailout, Congress didnít provide a nickel to laid off airline workers. They did make promises on the Senate and House floor for quick action on a worker relief bill, but those promises are still ringing hollow as this Journal goes to print.
One month after the attacks, on October 11, a minority bloc of senators thwarted the will of the majority to assist 150,000 laid-off airline workers. "This is a sad day for Americaís airline workers and, indeed, the nation," said Sonny Hall, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department.
"We are outraged and appalled that, despite strong support from 56 senators, including five courageous Republicans, a minority in the Senate was able to use delay tactics to deny a helping hand to the 150,000 airline industry workers who have lost their jobs due to the September 11 terrorist attacks on our country. This cold-hearted action is a slap in the face to these workers and their families who face the severe hardship of being laid off including the loss of income and health care."
On November 14, "Republicans in the U.S. Senate handed Americaís working families a real turkey for Thanksgiving when they used a parliamentary maneuver to kill a $67 billion economic stimulus package that would have provided assistance" to the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost jobs in the economic aftermath of September 11, said the AFL-CIO. Republican leaders killed the bill even though its supporters had a 51-47 majority.
The legislation would have extended and improved unemployment insurance benefits, helped pay for health insurance premiums and provided other assistance for laid-off workers. It also would have provided needed money to financially strapped states and helped rebuild the nationís infrastructure.
Instead, Senate Republicans and President Bush back a stimulus strategy patterned after a House-passed $100 billion bill that earmarks almost ninety percent ó thatís 90% ó of its funds for tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy and very little real and immediate help for working families. Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and half a dozen other senators joined about 200 people at a Nov. 15 Capitol Hill rally to urge Bush and congressional Republicans to address the needs of working families.
"Amtrak is a critical part of our transportation infrastructure ..."
A number of actions taken by Congress and the Bush Administration have significantly impacted Rail Labor, including the BMWE. Because of space limitations this month, these actions will be reported on in more detail in next monthís Journal as will RAIL-21 (Railroad Advancement and Infrastructure Law of the 21st Century) introduced on October 11 by Senator Ernest Hollings, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
At the beginning of his introductory speech, Senator Hollings said: "One month ago today, the United States was attacked by terrorists who hijacked airplanes and used them as weapons against the World Trade Center, Pentagon and another unknown target which was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. After the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the airlines following the terrorist attacks, travelers flocked to Amtrak. Whether people had to travel for business, to help with rescue efforts, or just to get home, Amtrak kept our American citizens moving during a time of national emergency.
"The situation not only proved that Amtrak works, but that Amtrak is a critical part of our transportation infrastructure during a national emergency. Now that airlines have reduced their flights on the East Coast and throughout the country, more of the passenger burden has fallen on Amtrak, which carries 35,000 passengers along the Northeast Corridor every day. Even the U.S. Post Office carried 237 extra carloads of mail in the days following the terrorist attacks.
"In light of the events of September 11, it is important to look at the entire transportation system. Transportation security requires a balanced and competitive system of transportation alternatives. Four weeks ago we found out that our dependence on the aviation system almost crippled us. We cannot be overly reliant on any single mode of transportation; we need to ensure that we have a balanced system.
"In the short run, this bill [RAIL-21] will provide emergency security assistance to Amtrak, a key part of our national transportation infrastructure. In the long run, this bill will spark the building of important high-speed rail infrastructure in high-volume corridors across the United States, reducing our dependence on air and highway travel."
A month later, despite the national emergency that has seriously wounded the U.S. aviation industry and created an historic national cry for more rail passenger service, the Amtrak Reform Council voted by a narrow margin to require Amtrak to devote its limited resources to plan for its own demise.
"Today a secretive band of anti-Amtrak ideologues launched a direct attack on our nationís rail passenger transportation system," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on November 9, "when it voted to begin a 90-day countdown to the possible liquidation of Amtrak and the destruction of 25,000 jobs. At a time when our countryís passenger infrastructure and economic health are under attack from within and without, a bare majority of the so-called Amtrak Reform Council conspired to put at risk the entire interstate rail passenger system.
"Rather than working to strengthen and expand our existing Amtrak network, preserve jobs and relieve pressure on an overburdened transportation system, the ARC ó over the objections of the Secretary of Transportation ó chose to put the future of Amtrak and the transportation of Americaís rail passengers during the Holiday season at risk. This result is unacceptable, unpatriotic and must be reversed.
"Today, we urge Congress and the White House to Ďsunsetí the ARC and put it out of business in favor of a responsible debate about the future of Amtrak and our national rail passenger system. We call on working families and all supporters of Amtrak to mobilize to reverse todayís action."
(Editorís Note: Partly as a result of the economic situation created by the September 11 attacks, the BMWE Grand Lodge has had to institute a number of cost saving measures. Several of those affect the publication of the Journal, which for the foreseeable future will be published six times a year instead of eleven. In addition, for the past seven years, the last issue of the year was printed in color and contained an expanded number of pages. The expanded pages covered items previously reported as well as newsworthy items that could not be fitted into previous issues because of space limitations. Regretfully, this extended coverage was not possible this year.)