From the National Division website at bmwe.org - October 26, 2022
Brothers and sisters,
I wanted to take this opportunity to address a few concerns surrounding the current National Bargaining impasse. My goal is to provide a summary of recent events on how we reached our current state of affairs, the reasoning I have used in making my decisions since taking office on September 1, 2022, and provide a preview of what to expect in the upcoming weeks.
Before I talk about the details surrounding the bargaining process, I need to confront some fringe groups proposing dangerous ideas of unsanctioned work stoppages. It is true that this round of National Bargaining has brought different perspectives, complicated conversations, and hard choices. A difference of views from a range of members is a good thing even if it gets a little messy. However, we are not presented with a situation so dire that we cannot use our collective strength to obtain a satisfactory agreement without breaking the law. Not only is an unsanctioned work stoppage illegal, but an uncoordinated strike is short-sighted and will not produce the result that at least one anonymous group is claiming. Unions that have engaged in illegal strikes have been hit with catastrophic financial penalties. This could undermine the Unions ability to represent and/or maintain a strike if needed in future rounds of bargaining. Workers must be wary of a group throwing disruption grenades from behind a wall of secrecy. It should be clear that if this round of bargaining results in the necessity of coordinated self-help, we will engage together as one, but only after the legal process provides that option. BMWED will not support or condone an illegal work stoppage and our bylaws prohibit strike wages or other benefits for an illegal strike.
Next, I want to talk about why it was decided to provide the membership with the opportunity to ratify or reject the tentative agreement, and why providing that option was dependent upon agreeing to a period of no self-help (“status quo”) in the event the agreement was not ratified.
For bargaining, I see the benchmark for membership voting to be whether we have reached a crossroads with more than one significant option. Starting with the recent past, the first crossroad was when we were released from mediation on June 14, 2022. The options were to accept binding arbitration (as was done in 2018 without a membership vote) or strike if no tentative agreement could be reached during the 30-day period following the release from mediation. During our quadrennial convention, a vote was taken and BMWED overwhelmingly voted to reject the proffer of arbitration and strike if no tentative agreement was reached within 30 days. However, before the expiration of that 30 days the President of the United States appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) on July 15, 2022. This meant that the parties’ legal right to self-help was delayed. Instead, the parties would make their arguments to a board of arbitrators who would issue nonbinding recommendations aimed at driving the parties closer to a voluntary agreement.
While the PEB was deliberating BMWED was approaching another crossroads on what to do if the PEB’s recommendations did not result in a tentative agreement within 30 days following the PEB’s report. In early August a strike ballot was sent out and BMWED members overwhelmingly voted to strike if no tentative agreement could be reached following the PEB report.
On August 18, 2022, the PEB issued its recommendations which did not grant everything we asked for but did grant much more than the Carriers were offering when we entered the PEB hearings. So, BMWED engaged in direct bargaining with the Carriers to reach specific agreement language based on the recommendations of the PEB (in other words to convert concepts into contract language). There was also mutual interest in using the recommendation on away from home expenses as a guide to improve, rather than replace, existing arrangements. The final terms the Carriers agreed with us on mirrored the PEB Recommendations, with allowances for carrier specific variations on away from home expenses. The other stipulation from the Carriers was we needed to agree to a no self-help period if Congress was in recess and the tentative agreement did not ratify. No politician brokered our deal for us, it was the result of the BMWED and Carriers’ reaching a tentative agreement based on the PEB recommendations. Nothing more, nothing less.
At this point, the agreement terms had changed significantly since the last strike vote had been taken and BMWED was at another important crossroads. There were two options. One was to put the tentative agreement out to the membership for a vote which required agreeing to a no self-help period while Congress was in recess. There was no option of giving the members the opportunity to vote on the agreement without agreeing to the no self-help period. The second option was to reject the tentative agreement and allow the self-help clock to tick. There were several challenges with the second option. If I had chosen the second option, I alone would have been denying the membership their right to vote on the agreement. Also, there was a very good chance that Congress was going to create a law imposing an agreement if there was not a tentative agreement with a period restricting self-help while they were in recess. In fact, such a law was proposed in Congress when it was not clear that BLET, BRS and SMART TD would put agreements out for ratification.
I was not ready to take a chance on an imposed agreement when I could provide the members a chance to vote on the tentative agreement that was substantially different from where the parties were when the strike vote was taken in August. My thinking was that refusing a significantly different tentative deal without membership voting was equally improper as accepting an agreement without membership voting. In the end, all rights were exercised and the mandate of BMWED was fully flushed out when the membership did not ratify the agreement.
This brings us to our current state of affairs. In hundreds of calls, emails, and texts, members provided numerous reasons they voted against the agreement, but the common thread was the lack of paid sick days. Based on this feedback, we created a reasonable proposal asking that our members be provided a basic package of sick days that is a common benefit in nearly every other industry in the United States.
We provided our proposal to the Railroads, but they rejected it and indicated they would not consider any proposal that veers from the PEB Recommendations. BMWED leadership has gone on a campaign of informing the public and lawmakers of the railroad companies’ unwillingness to provide basic sick days while Carrier Executives bow to Wall Street’s continued desire for more than its fair share. As long as they take that stance, all we can do is encourage solidarity and prepare to exercise self-help.
On November 1, 2, and 3, 2022 BMWED National Division and System Officers will be conducting video meetings with the most up to date information available and membership and we encourage all members to check the BMWED website (www.bmwe.org) for meeting times.
Tony D. Cardwell
BMWED National Division President