The following is a statement from BLET President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson.
CLEVELAND, September 2 — As we approach Labor Day 2022, our Unions stand at a crossroads. While our normal messages heading into one of the most important days for Organized Labor would be about Labor’s proud history of improving the lives of working-class Americans, we are embroiled in the ongoing effort to obtain a National Freight Agreement worthy of our members’ consideration.
We know there are vastly different opinions amongst our collective memberships on what should happen next, and the democratic principles that drive our Unions give each member the right to their own opinion. Although current opinions may vary, there are other things that apply equally to us all.
It has become clear in our post Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”) negotiations with the Rail Carriers that they are counting on the Federal Government to come to their aid if we are unable to reach a Tentative Agreement, and so far, we have not reached an Agreement. The same rail carriers that complain about government intervention when the Federal Railroad Administration proposes a rulemaking on crew size, and also shudder at the thought of the Surface Transportation Board issuing regulations that would help shippers, now all but hide behind Congress, refusing so far to negotiate terms our members would accept and ratify. While there are no guarantees for either side as to what Congress might do if they are involved, there is no doubt that the rail carriers expect Congress to intervene to save them from dealing fairly with their employees if there is a job action; CEO Fritz so much as publicly said that earlier in the week.
It is also clear that BLET and SMART-TD have been carved out from the rest of Rail Labor as we were the only Unions that the Carriers insisted upon work rule changes from throughout the PEB hearing. Our Unions’ members have also borne the brunt of inept crew management, life-changing attendance policies, and working conditions over the past years that are making it all but impossible for rail carriers to hire and retain operating employees. As such, BLET and SMART-TD members are situated differently at this stage of the negotiations than the members of most of the other Rail Unions.
Knowing that, we should not fault the Unions who have decided to allow their members the right to decide their own fate through a ratification vote. As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Act negotiating process, all of our contracts will soon be settled, one way or the other. Allowing the membership to decide how that happens is at the very core of the labor movement, and our Unions will not interfere in the decision by other Rail Unions to vote upon a Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB’s recommendations.
Instead, we will continue to concentrate our efforts on obtaining Tentative Agreements for our members that are worthy of their consideration. Our goal is to reach an agreement that could be ratified because BLET and SMART-TD members also have the right to control their own futures through the democratic principles that give them the right to vote on and approve contracts.
One thing is now certain, obtaining such an agreement would be much more likely if Congress took a long Labor Day break and allowed the parties to work out their issues without intervention from the Federal Government. While we know that many BLET and SMART-TD members would like to strike their Carriers for any number of reasons, it should not take a job action to reach an agreement worthy of their consideration. We call on Congress to stay out of our dispute, and if you do, we are confident that the rail carriers will move from their current positions and settle with their employees in a fashion that could be ratified.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy Labor Day,
Dennis Pierce, BLET President
Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD President