The decision is yours
By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President
FORT WORTH, December 1 — Exactly two weeks ago an excerpt from my President’s Message in the October/November issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News was published on this website. I told you that the issuance of PEB 243’s report and recommendations had placed both the BLET and the Carriers at the point where either they had to reach a voluntary settlement or allow a third party to set our wages and working conditions.
I said that a voluntary settlement was preferable because you control the outcome through the ratification process, instead of allowing a third party — in this case, a highly unpredictable Congress — to control the outcome. I also pointed out that the only settlement available to us now includes the concessions on health and welfare benefits that we have steadfastly rejected from Day One. I told you that the ultimate decision I faced was whether to leave the final decision in your hands, or to stand on my principled opposition to the health care concessions awarded to the Carriers by the PEB, but I had little doubt that I ultimately would be calling upon you again.
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of intensive negotiations, including the exchange of several rounds of proposals and counterproposals. Scattered throughout that period have been increasingly frequent contacts from the White House, the Secretary of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administrator, and leaders of both parties from the Senate and the House of Representatives.
In just the past 24 hours I have had successive meetings with the BLET Advisory Board, the full National Wage Committee and over 30 General Chairmen, representing every railroad involved in this dispute. After reviewing with them the Carriers’ final settlement offer, your leadership has reached a consensus: a tentative agreement will be submitted to the membership, and you will decide the outcome of this round of bargaining. Moreover, we have taken steps to ensure that every member who is legally entitled to vote on the proposal will get a ballot, including locomotive engineers employed by the Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF, CSX Transportation, KCS (all subsidiaries and all Tex-Mex operating employees), CP Rail–US (Soo Line), Conrail Shared Assets, and numerous other railroads.
While I am not going to go into detail concerning the terms of the tentative agreement we have reached with the Carriers in this message, I do want to point out three things. First, the wage terms are reasonable, and on a par with the 2007 National Agreement. Second, we have taken steps to significantly mitigate the impact of the PEB’s health and welfare recommendations. And, third, you should be aware that Congress is poised to prevent us from making our stand on the health care question, because legislation already has been filed to impose the bare PEB recommendations — without the enhancements we have negotiated — before the cooling-off period ends.
We will gear up for the ratification vote as soon as I return to Cleveland on Monday, including activating Rail Labor’s most effective mobilization network. You will receive detailed information concerning the proposal, along with your voting instructions, within the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I urge you to click on the PEB 243 Data Center link on our website’s main page and begin to educate yourself on the issues that will guide your vote.
I promised you as recently as September that we would put every ounce of our energy into the fight, and I can assure you that my promise has been kept. We have left no stone unturned, we have played out every scenario, and we have tried to overcome every obstacle the Carriers — and the system — placed before us. You have truly received our best, and I thank you for your continuing support.