Labor News

L.I.R.R. Strike Is Averted After Cuomo Intervenes in Labor Talks

Current News - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 23:32

L.I.R.R. Strike Is Averted After Cuomo Intervenes in Labor Talks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York discusses an agreement that averted a Long Island Rail Road strike. Video CreditBy Christian Roman on Publish DateJuly 17, 2014. Image CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times

Travelers on the Long Island Rail Road were spared a debilitating midsummer strike on Thursday, when the railroad and its unions reached an agreement three days before a planned walkout.

Prodded by an 11th-hour, if unsurprising, intervention by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the sides completed a deal that the governor called “a compromise by both parties” four years after the last contract expired.

The unions received raises of 17 percent over six and a half years. But following a national trend in which workers shoulder an increasing share of their health costs, the railroad employees will, for the first time, contribute a portion of their pay, 2 percent, toward their health coverage.

Throughout the week, labor leaders suggested a strike was all but certain on the railroad, which accounts for about 300,000 rider trips on weekdays. At the same time, the railroad’s operator, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, cast the workers as greedy public employees and warned that a deal too favorable to the unions could affect future fare increases and capital funding.


Long Island Rail Road riders at Pennsylvania Station on Thursday. Labor leaders for rail workers suggested a strike was all but certain. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Assembled for a news conference at the governor’s Manhattan office, where the sides were summoned on Thursday morning for final negotiations, transportation and union officials dialed back the rhetoric.

Thomas F. Prendergast, the authority’s chairman and a Cuomo appointee, said the contract was “fair and reasonable,” adding that it would “put no additional pressure” on fares.

Anthony Simon, the leader of the railroad’s largest labor group, said the agreement was “about the riders,” calling the negotiations “a tough road.” Earlier in the week, he had estimated, at turns, a “95 percent” and “100 percent” chance of a strike.

The wage agreement was effectively the average of the parties’ recent positions: The unions asked for 17 percent raises over six years; the authority offered the same increase over seven. But the terms represented a major shift from the authority’s past stance calling for a three-year wage freeze.

The deal creates a distinction between new and existing employees on some issues. Future hires will have to wait longer to reach certain pay grades and will contribute to their pension plans for a longer period.


Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo held a news conference in Manhattan on Thursday with Anthony Simon, far left, the leader of the railroad’s largest labor group, and Thomas F. Prendergast, right, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
Both new and existing workers will contribute 2 percent of their pay to health care costs, a significant change that could figure prominently in future negotiations throughout the region. Members of New York City’s municipal unions, for instance, generally do not pay for health care.

“They brought the union into the 21st century with regard to health care,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. “The vast ridership is paying some part of their health care cost. It’s inevitable that workers were going to have to start paying a portion of their health care.”

The deal must be approved by union members and the authority’s board. The contract is retroactive to June 2010, and expires in December 2016.

Continue reading the main story
Though Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had initially kept a public distance from the negotiations — at an authority he oversees — transportation experts had long expected him to intervene.

Last week, after Mr. Cuomo suggested that Congress was better suited to weigh in on a possible strike, Mr. Prendergast went to Washington to discuss the potential for a strike with lawmakers. Members of both partiessaid they were unlikely to get involved, which some officials viewed as a blow to union leaders who might have expected Congress to intervene on their behalf during a strike.

Thomas F. Prendergast, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, on the agreement reached with Long Island Rail Road labor unions to avert a potential strike. Video CreditBy Christian Roman on Publish DateJuly 17, 2014. Image CreditMichael Nagle for The New York Times
On Monday, discussions appeared to collapse. Mr. Prendergast suggested that transportation officials were “not going to negotiate against ourselves” when the unions had barely budged in months.

The governor directed the two sides back to the negotiating table on Wednesday. Soon after, the tone appeared to shift, with both sides agreeing to talk through the night before reconvening for formal discussions.

A spokesman for the governor said Mr. Cuomo fleshed out the final details of the deal at a lunch with transportation and union leaders on Thursday, downstairs from his office. The governor had fish.

Though the strike was scheduled for Sunday, the administration said there was particular urgency to complete a deal on Thursday to ensure there was no uncertainty for travelers and businesses before a summer weekend.

While Mr. Cuomo said Thursday that he was “not a labor negotiator for the M.T.A.,” recent history had suggested he was likely to become involved.

Approximately 300,000 riders use the Long Island Rail Road on weekdays.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
In April, Mr. Cuomo helped finalize a contract with subway and bus workers, an agreement that called for 8 percent raises over five years.

State officials had hoped to model their Long Island Rail Road labor deal after the transit workers’ pact, but a federal mediation panel in May rejected the authority’s argument. Another panel sided with the unions in December, after the authority proposed the three-year wage freeze.

The railroad dispute roiled the authority amid a period of upheaval and uncertainty. Its five-year capital plan, due in September, is largely unfunded. Its megaprojects have faced persistent delays and cost overruns. The presidents at the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, which has recently faced a spate of disasters, were both replaced over the past several months.

A commission of transportation experts, created by Mr. Cuomo, began meetings this week to discuss the long-term future of the authority. The group will issue recommendations before the capital plan is scheduled for approval by the board this fall.

Though Mr. Prendergast said the agreement “protects the commuter as well as the long-term fiscal stability of the M.T.A.,” the contracts will probably require the authority to spend at least some money that could have gone toward capital expenses.

Rob Astorino, the Republican running against Mr. Cuomo for governor in this year’s election, said there were still “many unanswered questions about this deal and how much it will truly cost already overburdened taxpayers and commuters.”

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
At the railroad’s Mineola station on Thursday afternoon, most riders expressed relief that their commutes or weekend plans would be spared.

But some wondered whether the deal had come at too great a cost.

“On the one hand, it’s wonderful,” said Peaches Hunter, 38, who commutes daily from Central Islip to Brooklyn. “On the other hand, if you make $85,000 a year, that is enough. Another 17 percent? That’s crazy.”

In newspaper and radio advertisements earlier this week, the transportation authority struck a similar tone, calling rail workers “the best paid in the nation,” with almost $90,000 in earnings, free health care and generous pensions.

“When is enough enough?” the ads asked.

Still, perhaps few New Yorkers were as grateful at the resolution as Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had faced criticism for scheduling a family vacation to Italy during a possible strike.

Now, Mr. Cuomo suggested, the mayor could take his vacation in peace.

“I hope he enjoys it,” the governor said. “I’m a tad envious, to tell you the truth.”

Joseph Berger, Steven Greenhouse and Tatiana Schlossberg contributed reporting.

Tags: LIRRCuomo
Categories: Labor News

Malaysia: ITF statement on Malaysia Airlines MH17 News - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITF Global Union
Categories: Labor News

Common-Sense Way of Decreasing Train Noise

Railroaded's Blog - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:05

Rail and Reason has recently posted this article on a simple, common-sense, and inexpensive way for decreasing disturbance caused by loud train whistles or horns, especially at night.

In Tasmania, a local railway company, TasRail, was so inundated with complaints about loud train whistles at road crossings that they did something about it. TasRail announced they would use a low-note horn between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., reduce the minimum duration a horn must be sounded as it approaches a road crossing (from 4 seconds to 1 second), and stop using a horn within TasRail’s operating and maintenance facilities in certain circumstances.

Our Canadian rail industry and Transport Canada could certainly learn a thing or two from this Tasmanian common-sense solution to a very aggravating problem.

Filed under: Noise and vibration, Rail and Reason
Categories: Labor News

Hoffa Threatens Teamster Democracy

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 07:43
Ken PaffLabor NotesJuly 17, 2014View the original piece

Facing fresh member dissatisfaction, Teamster President James Hoffa and his Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall are headed to court to try to make contested Teamster elections a thing of the past.

Whether they succeed will determine the future of one of North America’s most powerful unions. Will it continue to manage decline and concessions, or tap the power of organized transport and distribution workers to reverse them?

The 1.25 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) is unique among the largest North American unions in that every five years it has a hotly contested rank-and-file election for the top leadership.

The right to vote is protected by a 1989 consent order, a court-approved agreement that Teamster officers reluctantly accepted to avoid a racketeering trial.

In that landmark legal case, the reform movement Teamsters for a Democratic Union intervened to oppose court-imposed government oversight of the union’s operations. Instead, to root out systemic corruption, TDU proposed that members directly elect top officers.

Previously, Teamster presidents were elected at conventions. The 1986 “election” gave incumbent Jackie Presser 99 percent of the vote.


TDU’s blueprint was largely adopted, and 1991 saw the first-ever election. Members used their new vote to elect a whole new leadership slate, headed by Ron Carey. The candidate who’d gotten 1 percent under the old system, Sam Theodus, easily won the rank-and-file vote for vice president.

The election rocked not only the Teamsters, but the labor movement. The first-ever contested election in the AFL-CIO quickly followed.

After Carey won again in 1996, defeating Hoffa, he led UPS workers out on strike in 1997. With bold demands such as 10,000 more full-time jobs (with the rallying cry, “Part-Time America Won’t Work”) and innovative tactics that evolved over the year of rank-and-file organizing leading up it, this strike started to put labor on the offensive.

That success was tragically cut short later that year when aides to Carey were found engaging in illegal campaign fundraising. The scandal paved the way for Hoffa’s rise and the old guard’s return to power.

Now the Hoffa administration has taken the first step to try to end the consent order by submitting a letter to federal judge Loretta Preska. The IBT claims the consent order is no longer needed because the union is reformed.

The U.S. Attorney and TDU have submitted letters opposing the change . TDU is also intervening in the court proceedings and has launched a campaign  to defend the right to vote.

TDU agrees that mob control of the union has diminished—precisely because the right to vote has given members a tool to tackle corruption and hold leaders accountable.

Other unions have membership elections in their constitution, but what makes the Teamsters unique is independently supervised elections, coupled with an organized national reform movement of leaders, activists, and members. It’s TDU that gives life to members’ right to vote.


Hoffa and Hall claim their goal is to end government oversight. But their real target is the one-member, one-vote elections.

To be clear, there is no “government oversight” of any of the union’s operations—not bargaining, political action, organizing, contract campaigns, budgets, salaries, or hiring and firing.

Instead, the consent order provides for an Independent Review Board, selected by IBT leadership and the U.S. Attorney, to bring corruption charges against individual officials. And it provides for the right to vote for international officers under fair election rules.

Both are important to members, but the right to vote is the most critical.

Without these rules, the current leaders will be free to change nomination requirements to make it impossible for opposition candidates to get on the ballot.

Currently, nominations for top offices require 5 percent of elected convention delegates. But the incumbents want to raise that bar.

Every challenger to Hoffa has met the 5 percent requirement, but none would have been nominated if 10 percent were required—though each, once nominated, ran a competitive race and forced national debates on the union’s direction.

Teamster leaders have already amended the IBT constitution so the board can write its own rules for any election and pick the election supervisor. For now, these amendments are trumped by the provisions of the consent order.

But if the consent order were lifted, these safeguards would go out the window.

So would election rules that partially level the playing field by providing opposition campaigners’ access to employer parking lots, “battle pages” of campaign material in the Teamster magazine, and fair rules for delegate elections.


Hoffa and Hall have good reason to make this move now. Hoffa, who won reelection in 2011 with 59 percent of the vote, faces a different political outlook as the 2015-2016 campaign approaches.

Over the past year, the majority of members in the freight industry, UPS Freight, and UPS have all voted to reject concessions in their contracts—only to have them imposed by Hoffa and Hall.

The Vote No movement helped launch a new formation, Take Back Our Union, that’s already organizing meetings to plan for the 2016 election.

Hoffa won most of the UPS locals in 2011. But his prospects among that group of 250,000 Teamsters look much dimmer today. And dissatisfaction is not limited to just UPS and trucking Teamsters: Hoffa’s policy of retreat has led to defeats and lackluster organizing in warehousing, delivery, public service, airlines, and other Teamster fields.

Take Back Our Union has started to forge a coalition of the opposition forces in the union, bringing together TDU, which backed New York Local 805 President Sandy Pope in the 2011 election, and other local officials who ran on a separate slate.

Combined, these contenders won 41 percent last time—and that was before this wave of membership anger at concessions.

Once again, members are gearing up to take the wheel of the union.

Issues: Hoffa Watch
Categories: Labor News, Unions

60 Years Later: On the Waterfront and Working-Class Studies

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 22:05

60 Years Later: On the Waterfront and Working-Class Studies
Posted on July 14, 2014 by knewman4 | 1 comment
For most Americans On the Waterfront is not a politically controversial film—it’s simply one of the best films of all time. Many know that the film’s director Elia Kazan did something shady and some might even know that he testified against his former Communist allies at the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). An even smaller group might know that after testifying Kazan took out a full page New York Times ad to justify his decision.

But for the American left, Kazan is one of the worst traitors in American cultural history. When progressive scholars write about On the Waterfront, they draw parallels between Kazan, who betrayed his friends in order to clear his name (and to keep working in film), and Terry Malloy [Marlon Brando], who betrayed the members of his mob crew in order to clear his conscience of the wrong he had done in their name.

Kazan has done much to fuel this interpretation of the film. In his 1988 autobiography, A Life, Kazan explained the parallel between his naming names and Terry Malloy’s testimony before the Waterfront Commission: “When Brando, at the end [of On the Waterfront], yells as Lee Cobb, the mob boss, ’I’m glad what I done—you hear me?—glad what I done!’ that was me saying, with identical heat, that I was glad I’d testified as I had.”

But if we reduce On the Waterfront to Kazan’s personal story we lose sight of the real working-class social formation out of which this film was born and overlook the genuine progressive political commitments that led both Kazan and Schulberg to make On the Waterfront despite great obstacles.

The social formation of the postwar docks was rooted in the hiring process known as the “shape up.” It was estimated that there were half as many jobs as there were men who lined up for them every morning. Arthur Miller, who wrote several plays about the waterfront himself, described the “shape up” as he witnessed it in the late 1940s:

I stood around with longshoremen huddling in doorways in rain and snow on Columbia Street facing the piers, waiting for the hiring boss, on whose arrival they surged forward and formed up in a semicircle to attract his pointing finger and the numbered brass checks that guaranteed a job for the day. After distributing the checks to his favorites, who had quietly paid him off, the boss often found a couple left over and in his generosity tossed them into the air over the little crowd. In a frantic scramble, the men would tear at each other’s hands, sometimes getting into bad fights. Their cattle like acceptance of this humiliating process struck me as an outrage, even more sinister than the procedure itself. It was though they had lost the mere awareness of hope.

On the Waterfront began as a response to these working conditions—not as a vehicle for Kazan’s revenge. The film began in 1951, before the HUAC hearings, with Budd Schulberg, a self-described Hollywood “prince”—a writer who was the son of movie mogul B. P. Schulberg. Schulberg had never met Kazan when he was asked by a small film company, Monticello, to write a screenplay based on Malcolm Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalistic series, Crime on the Waterfront, which had been published in the New York Sun.

Schulberg became obsessed with the waterfront after Johnson introduced him to one of Johnson’s main sources: Father “Pete” Corridan, whom Schulberg described as “a rangy, fast-talking, chain-smoking West Side [priest] who talked the darndest language I ever heard, combining the gritty vocabulary of the longshoremen with mob talk, the statistical findings of a trained economist and the teachings of Christ.” Schulberg continued to obsess about the docks even after Monticello folded and the project was declared dead. After the publicity surrounding Kazan’s HUAC testimony, Schulberg wrote Kazan a letter expressing sympathy for the “vilification he was undergoing,” and, later, after they met for lunch, Kazan proposed they work together on a film about the Trenton Six—six African American youth who had been convicted of killing a white shop owner. Schulberg had other ideas: why shouldn’t the two of them work together on his waterfront film? Kazan agreed.

Though Howard Lawson, a blacklisted screenwriter, described On the Waterfront as the ultimate Hollywood film, the film was quashed by Hollywood more than once. In 1952, when Schulberg and Kazan tried to get Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, to produce the film, Zanuck told them, “what you’ve written is exactly what the American public doesn’t want to see.” Finally, in late 1952, when they were depressed and about the to junk the film, a washed-up producer, Sam Spiegel, agreed to bankroll it. Filming was completed in 1953, andOn the Waterfront was set to debut in the spring of 1954—just in time, everyone hoped, to help the honest dockworkers win an election against the real life “Johnny Friendly” types who controlled the docks.

Throughout the filmmaking, Kazan was inspired by Schulberg’s commitment to the dockworkers’ cause, and he saw Schulberg’s engagement with the subject matter as “passionate and true.” Kazan acknowledged that “Budd had made himself….a champion of humanity on that strip of shore.”

What about Kazan’s engagement? In a much less quoted passage from his autobiography, Kazan explained that his attachment to On the Waterfront came from a desire to show his old lefty enemies that he was the true progressive when it came to representing the working class: “I was…determined to show my old ‘comrades,’ those who’d attacked me so viciously, that there was an anti-Communist left, and that we were the true progressives and they were not. I’d come back to fight.”

This quote points to another parallel between Kazan and Terry Malloy: they were both fighters. In the final scene of On the Waterfront, Malloy is beaten nearly to a pulp by Johnny Friendly’s goons. He can barely walk. When his girlfriend Edie (Eva Saint Marie) tries to help him, Father Barry (Karl Malden) waves her off. In 1955, the radical British filmmaker, Lindsay Anderson, argued that this scene is “fascist.” Malloy, through violence, has simply become the new de facto “Johnny Friendly,” just another tough guy who is ready to rise up and exploit his brethren.

Anderson’s argument shows how judging Kazan for his political betrayal can lead to a misreading of the film. The closing scene isn’t fascist. It’s a scene that uses the language of fighting— specifically boxing. Malloy, a former boxer, is down for the count. If Edie or the priest helps him get up, then he can’t continue to fight. In this metaphorical boxing round he’ll be disqualified. And so he gets up, on his own, which means that the round is over but the match is not. He will live to fight again. Finally, in this scene, Malloy has become the contender he always knew he could be.

If you get a chance to see On the Waterfront this month, in honor of its 60thanniversary, think about this. As much as Terry Malloy might represent Kazan, ratting on his former friends, it is also true that Kazan and Schulberg were trying to rat on capitalism, to call out American business practices as corrupt, and to argue that something drastic needed to done to reform the docks. What Kazan did was wrong, but what happened to American dockworkers in this period, arguably, was even worse. Though the bitterness against Kazan has lingered lo these many years, we in working-class studies should reclaim On the Waterfrontas one of the important texts for understanding what happened to American labor in the postwar period. We do so not to redeem Kazan, but to honor the workers that he and Schulberg were trying to represent.

Kathy M. Newman

Tags: On The Waterfront
Categories: Labor News

Why Passengers Cheered a Vermont Teamsters Local 597 Bus Strike

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 20:32

Why Passengers Cheered a Vermont Bus Strike

April 22, 2014 / Ellen David Friedmanenlarge or shrink textlogin or register to comment
47 27

Burlington bus drivers started with a Sunday Morning Breakfast Club. They ended up marching miles with high school students and winning an 18-day strike. Photo: Vermont Workers' Center.

An 18-day bus drivers’ strike in Burlington, Vermont, ended in a win April 3 when drivers ratified a new contract 53-6.

Strikes are rare these days, and fewer still result in victories—so why was this one different? What generated public support for the strike, despite management’s aggressive plan to blame drivers for the loss of bus service for nearly three weeks?

This strike succeeded through a powerful combination of workers organizing on the job and organized community solidarity, the roots of which go back to at least 2009.


In the face of aggressive management and worsening working conditions, and dissatisfied with the response of their union, Teamsters Local 597, some drivers began to meet as the Sunday Morning Breakfast Club. They reached out to Teamsters for a Democratic Union in 2009 as they were getting ready for contract negotiations.

Through TDU they held workshops on member-to-member organizing and contract campaigns.

According to driver Jim Fouts, “When I first came here the union was weak, because it was a business-as-usual union. Then some activists started saying, ‘This is wrong. We can vote on things. This is supposed to be a democracy.’ And really it was a bottom-up movement to change our union.”

Their first success was winning the right to elect stewards and participating as equals with the Teamsters business agent on the bargaining team.

Members didn’t win the contract they wanted the first time, but they got organized, gained experience, broadened their leadership team, and built relationships with other labor activists and the Vermont Workers Center. That was the rehearsal for the current struggle, where rank-and-file organizing and community outreach came together in a big way.

By 2014 years of harassment by the Chittenden County Transit Authority (CCTA), forced-overtime shift spreads of up to 15 hours (where drivers work in the morning and afternoon-evening with unpaid hours in between), and the threat of replacing full-time jobs with part-time ones had created a toxic work environment. Drivers said the fatiguing long shifts were unsafe.

Management stonewalled negotiations for 10 months (the contract expired last June), refusing to bargain seriously over drivers’ demands for safe shifts and fair discipline procedures and even demanding to lengthen the “normal” working day from a 12.5-hour spread to 13.5.

“We have been swallowing this pain for the last 10 years. We cannot live in this hostile environment,” said driver Noor Ibrahim.


From the relationships built in the previous contract campaign, supporters knew the drivers were ready to make a fight. That confidence inspired community members and labor activists to form an energetic Committee to Support the CCTA Bus Drivers.

In February drivers voted to reject the company’s offer and authorize a strike.

The Committee made driver fatigue and public safety the issue. Driver Rob Slingerland promised, “We will not let the public down by driving under unsafe conditions. Driver fatigue is a leading factor in accidents in the transit industry.”

The Committee coordinated dropping 5,000 leaflets door to door and on buses the weekend before the strike, put out 500 lawn signs paid for by the AFL-CIO, scheduled “Invite a Driver” informational meetings, set up public forums, spoke out at CCTA commissioners meetings, organized rallies, marches, and daily pickets with up to 200 participants, and produced press releases, radio shows, video, and social media.

There was no discussion of the drivers’ issues on the Teamster Local 597 website or in Teamster press statements. The local’s top official even asked other unions not to publicly comment about the dispute, and especially not to mention public safety. But drivers maintained their own website, and supporters created a Facebook page, issued press releases, and made their own video.

CCTA and corporate-friendly politicians tried unsuccessfully to whip up public resentment against “greedy union drivers,” but the driver-community alliance managed instead to put “predatory management” on trial.


On the strike’s first day, Burlington High School students, usually dependent on the buses to get to school, turned out on the picket line and then marched miles, accompanied by their bus drivers, to school.

A good list of Burlington-area unions took the initiative to support the drivers on the picket lines, with solidarity statements, and with funds, although Teamsters 597 officials had not authorized support. These included nurses, state employees, university professors, teachers, United Electrical Workers, and the Vermont Workers’ Center.

Soon they were joined by every vital element in the Vermont labor movement, student and environmental groups, the Vermont Progressive Party, and ultimately… Local 597, which organized the picket lines and paid out strike benefits.


Eight of the 14 members of Burlington’s City Council co-sponsored a resolution calling for binding arbitration—which at first confused many people. While the union rejected binding arbitration, it fell to the nurses’ union to issue a statement explaining why this was a strikebreaking maneuver.

When 150 chanting drivers and supporters packed the council’s March 26 meeting, the council retracted its call for binding arbitration and instead created a committee to review management’s labor practices.

Entering the third week on strike, union negotiators presented another “last best offer” from management, which drivers voted down 62- 0.

Finally, CCTA agreed to limit monitoring and unfair discipline, reduce forced overtime to 13.5 hours a day instead of 15, and maintain drivers’ split shifts at the current 12.5 hours. Though drivers conceded an increase from 13 to 15 part-time drivers, language prevents CCTA from using retirement or termination to reduce the entire bargaining unit slowly to part-time status.

In the aftermath, the “troublemakers wing” of the Vermont labor movement is growing. A citizens group that includes drivers, Vermonters United for Public Transportation, has started up, with a focus on both optimal working conditions for drivers and better transportation options for citizens.

The support committee has transformed itself into an ongoing Solidarity Committee and is planning a Labor Notes Troublemakers School to continue to build new leaders.

Ellen David Friedman is a retired organizer for Vermont NEA and a member of the Labor Notes Policy Committee.

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Tags: Teamsters Local 597bus drivers
Categories: Labor News

Global: Guy Ryder: l’importance du monde du travail dans une économie plus verte News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: OIT
Categories: Labor News

Iran: Report on Reza Shahabi's Current Condition News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Iranian
Categories: Labor News

Unions’ Open Letter To The Riders of Long Island Rail Road

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:49

Unions’ Open Letter To The Riders of Long Island Rail Road

We deeply regret that MTA’s irresponsible actions will cause a strike beginning this weekend.

The unions representing Long Island workers have done all in our power to reach a reasonable settlement in four years of bargaining.

We have accepted the compromise recommendations of two Presidential Emergency Boards, comprised of six renowned arbitrators, including the selection of our last best offer as the “most reasonable”.

We have offered to delay the strike for sixty days or less.

We have made counter-offers that address MTA demands, but every time MTA just moves the ball. MTA’s latest take it or leave it offer is worth far less than both Emergency Board’s recommendations.

MTA knows full well that the selection of the most reasonable offer by a second Presidential Emergency Board is almost always accepted by both sides. The only time that hasn’t happened is when the party not satisfied with the recommendation forces a strike. That has not happened in the last twenty years. But that is the course MTA has chosen.


It is not because they cannot afford the settlement without raising fares.

If it were about money, the MTA Chairman would not have given his blessing to the state diverting $49 million from MTA revenues, saying “our needs are being met.”

If it were about money, MTA management would stop their own windfall benefits, like free lifetime medical coverage, for which MTA pays exorbitantly at active, not retiree, rates.

If it were about money, MTA would impose the so-called “modest” pension changes they are demanding from union workers on themselves. MTA union workers and management are under the same pension plan. Management pays zero, union workers pay 4% for ten years, and now MTA is demanding payment for life. The unions have offered to increase the duration of contributions, but MTA says it is not enough. The public should demand that when a contract is reached, MTA management pays the same as union workers for the same pension.

If it were about money, MTA wouldn’t be wasting precious dollars on dishonest attack ads instead of finding time to negotiate.

MTA has refused every compromise. It has decided a strike is its best course. It refuses to delay the strike past the summer season so vital to the Long Island economy. Yet, while telling the press it doesn’t want congressional intervention, MTA has been on Capitol Hill begging for a delay until December. At MTA, politics matters, people don’t.

The concessions MTA is demanding do not produce any savings until well into the future. MTA can seek all of them in negotiations that will begin in just a year and a half.

MTA’s stated goal is to change the Railway Labor Act. They believe they can achieve that by provoking a strike. It is a reckless and cynical strategy that will inflict much unnecessary pain on the people and business in the New York area.

Two neutral Presidential Emergency Boards were not wrong. MTA is. We regret that their intransigence will now cause a strike.

- Anthony Simon, SMART General Chairman and Coalition Spokesperson.

Tags: LIRR Unions
Categories: Labor News

Despite SF TWU 250 A union approval of Muni contract, some members not satisfied with concession contract

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 11:46

Despite SF TWU 250 A union approval of Muni contract, some members not fully satisfied
By Jessica Kwong @JessicaGKwong
• By Jessica Kwong

• A contract ratified by the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A will give Muni transit operators and fare inspectors a 14.25 percent wage increase over three years, while requiring workers to contribute more toward their pensions.
After a one-week delay to clarify financial impacts, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A members have ratified a new labor contract, but approval was narrow among transit operators, with some employees saying they are not completely satisfied.

While Muni fare inspectors accepted their contract 23-0, transit operators ratified their contract with 634-485 votes, a 57 percent approval. Of the seven transit operation divisions, cable car most overwhelmingly rejected the contract 90-22. The other two divisions that voted for rejection were Kirkland and Green, with 86-73 and 78-73 in opposition, respectively.

The ratified agreement gives transit operators and fare inspectors a 14.25 percent wage increase over three years that breaks down to a 9.5 percent raise intended to offset a 7.5 percent contribution toward worker pensions, and a 4.75 percent cost-of-living increase.

Those terms remained unchanged since July 7, when union members were originally scheduled to vote. But under the agreement that was set for vote on July 7, operators hired after July 2011 would have paid 5 percent toward their pensions, unlike those hired prior to that, explained Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which governs Muni. The new agreement adjusts the wage formula so that all operators, regardless of their hire date, have the same wage within their classification and all operators will eventually pay 7.5 percent into pension by the end of the contract, he said.

"We determined after review that the agreement would have resulted in different hourly wage rates for employees based on their hire date and that was not the intent. We clarified that our intention was to have the same rate formula for all operators," he said of the change made since July 7.

The clarification "did change some of the fiscal impact" of the contract, said SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin, who disclosed the deal Tuesday and called it "a very good agreement for both the agency and the [union]."

Union member P.J. Williams, who drives in the Green division, told The San Francisco Examiner the 634-485 vote was as close as he expected, and that there was division among members caused by "a lot of confusion" over what operators of different seniorities would get.

"From what I was hearing, a lot of people voted yes throughout the seven divisions because they said, 'Well, if we vote no, we're not prepared to fight, so it's one of those situations," he said. Referencing future contract talks, he said, "Why fight in the next three weeks when we could be preparing for the battle that's to come?"

But TWU Local 250-A President Eric Williams' statement on the ratification projected a different sentiment.

"Our members have spoken," he said in the emailed statement. "We worked hard at the bargaining table and our members maintained extraordinary solidarity throughout the negotiating process."

The agreement, which will go before the SFMTA board of directors for approval July 30, "keeps our public-transportation system on a sustainable fiscal path," Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement.

Tags: ATU 1555TWU 250AATU 192Concession Bargaining
Categories: Labor News

7/26 SF Forum/Video-The War on Transit Workers Lessons of Bay Area Transit Worker Battles

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 08:29

7/26 The War on Transit Workers Lessons of Bay Area Transit Worker Battles
July 26 (Saturday) 7:00 PM (Free) 518 Valencia - near 16th St., SF
The War on Transit Workers
Lessons of Bay Area Transit Worker Battles
Last year, a major contract battle took place at BART and AC Transit as management and their respective elected boards took back even more worker benefits despite years of wage and benefit freezes. Management ordered these cuts as part of their scheme to make workers pay for upgrades in the transit system including new trains at BART.
Labor and their unions were in a one-sided war launched by management and the boards when the BART management hired Thomas Hock, VP of the international company, Veolia Transportation. They led a poisonous corporate media campaign of disinformation with the aide of the Bay Area Council which represents the billionaires.
SEIU and ATU which have over 100,000 members in the bay area had no mass mobilization of their entire membership in this crucial battle. This lack of preparation also resulted in a failure to successfully counter the anti-labor union busting campaign by mangement, the transit boards and politicians who demanded that transit workers take concessions and be banned from striking.
BART bosses and the board also sought to run the trains to break the strike by hiring scabs. This move directly resulted in the deaths of two strike-breakers. The National Transportation Safety Board, state legislators and Cal-OSHA all pointed to BART management being responsible for these deaths. The deaths finally led management and the board to agree to a contract while still pushing for concessions.
This film screening and forum will discuss the lessons of these critical transit struggles and the role of the international struggle against Veolia Transportation.
Speakers from BART ATU Local 1555, ATU 192, MTA Muni TWU 250A and other unions will be present.
Sponsored by the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee

Tags: TWU 250AATU 1555ATU 192BART StrikeSF Muni Sick Out
Categories: Labor News

Demo Gov Cuomo Gets Rail Union Tops To Call Off Strike At LIRR-NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table

Current News - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 08:24

Demo Gov Cuomo Gets Rail Union Tops To Call Off Strike At LIRR-NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table
NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table
Originally published: July 16, 2014 9:31 AM
Updated: July 16, 2014 11:11 AM

Talks between the LIRR unions and the MTA will resume Wednesday, union officials said, after calls from the governor and the transportation agency to return to the bargaining table.
Lead union negotiator Anthony Simon confirmed both sides will meet Wednesday. He did not disclose the time and location.
"The unions never wanted to leave the table," Simon said, adding that he hoped the calls to return to the table from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and congressional members "sent a real message that we need to get this done."
A day after saying a strike by LIRR workers would not be a disaster, Cuomo said in a statement released Wednesday "we must do everything we can" to prevent a strike.
In the statement released by his office, the governor called for the two sides to return to the table.
"The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City," Cuomo said at "We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters. Both the MTA and the LIRR unions need to put the interests of New Yorkers first by returning to the table today and working continuously to avoid a strike."
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they agreed with the governor, releasing a statement that includes a call to the unions to return to the bargaining table.
"As Governor Cuomo said, a strike would disrupt families and business across the New York metropolitan region, and the only way to prevent a strike is for both sides to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement at the bargaining table," the statement said. "We have asked the LIRR unions to resume negotiations immediately."
Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of the unions in negotiations with the MTA, said he is more optimistic after the calls from New York's congressional delegation and Cuomo's statement.
"The tone has changed," said Sanchez, who expects the MTA will come to the table with a new counter-offer. "They have to. Otherwise, why are we meeting today?"
He also hopes Cuomo will step into the dispute.
"Hopefully he's going to intervene and help the process along," Sanchez said. "We really don't want to go out on strike. But we will."
On Tuesday, union leaders and the head of the MTA delivered dueling messages to the public and railway workers.
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast released an open letter to LIRR riders assuring them his agency "remains committed to settling this matter quickly."
Simon visited union offices throughout Long Island to coordinate Sunday's possible 12:01 a.m. work stoppage. The "MTA cannot settle quickly if they do not wake up," he said.
Cuomo on Tuesday, asked if he would intervene in negotiations, said: "Well, let's see how it goes."
He then downplayed the potential impact of a shutdown. "Look we've had strikes before, right? And we've survived. And we've had disasters. And we know what that's like. Hurricane Sandy was a disaster and we've gone through other disasters."
"This is not a disaster."
Among other key developments:
In contrast, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated an LIRR strike could cost the state $50 million a day in economic losses.
Members of Long Island's congressional delegation urged both sides to resume contract negotiations.
Prendergast's agency met with LIRR unions Monday in an abbreviated negotiation session, but rejected the unions' counteroffer without presenting a counter of its own. In his letter Tuesday, he wrote that an agreement with the unions would have to be "affordable not just today, but also into the future" without putting pressure on the MTA to raise fares or scale back capital investments.
"A strike would have a devastating impact," Prendergast wrote. "It's time to have productive negotiations to resolve our differences and return to what we all do best together -- serving our LIRR customers."
In his letter, Prendergast included details of the MTA's current proposal.
The plan calls for 17 percent raises for current workers over seven years and asks health care contributions of 2 percent of weekly wages. To help fund the raises, the MTA wants future workers to pay twice as much in health care costs, take twice as long to achieve top pay, and contribute to pensions permanently, instead of for 10 years, as most now do.
As part of its campaign, the MTA will also begin running print and radio ads Wednesday, detailing its offer and asking, "When is enough enough?"
The unions, following the recommendations of two federal mediation boards, want the 17 percent raises over six years, and, according to the MTA, have proposed much smaller concessions for future workers that amount to 0.15 percent savings from their previous offer.
With Gary Dymski

MTA chair: ‘No reason’ to further negotiate LIRR offer

Tom Prendergast. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Nidhi Prakash 6:29 p.m. | Jul. 14, 2014follow this reporter
M.T.A. chairman and C.E.O. Tom Prendergast said today talks with the LIRR transit workers' unions have broken down because the unions’ latest offer was untenable.

He said the unions’ counteroffer, presented last Thursday, amounts to a 0.15 percent decrease in total cost on the deal they brought to the M.T.A. in December.

“They’re offering things that really don’t accrue savings to us,” said Prendergast.

As an LIRR transit workers’ strike approaches this Sunday, Prendergast said he would need to see more concessions from the unions for any talks to resume.

The M.T.A. has increased its offer over the past six months, currently offering the workers a seventeen percent rise in salaries over six years, with increased employee contributions to health care.

“Until they’re ready to move there’s no reason to have negotiations,” said Prendergast.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of transport workers' union SMART, said in a statement earlier today that the LIRR strike will go ahead on Sunday just after midnight.

“MTA rejected the counter-offer we presented last Thursday,” said Simon in the statement. “They presented no counter proposal.

They continue to insist that the unions agree to a contract worth less than the value of the compromise recommendations of two Presidential Emergency Boards.”

Prendergast said the current proposal from the unions is not financially responsible. He told reporters the deal included concessions to increase the time it takes for workers to vest in pensions, moving from five years to 10 years, but said this did not add up to much in terms of cost reduction.

“If we were to accept this deal on their terms, it would put additional pressure on both the fare increases that we have projected in the financial plan and pressure on funding of the capital program, both of which are exceptionally important to the M.T.A.,” he said.

Prendergast suggested national labor unions might be putting pressure on local unions to remain inflexible.

“Maybe they want to make sure that we cut a deal here that sets a pattern for the rest of the country, and if that’s what they want to do, fine," he said. "But the people who are responsible for running the system here … need to come to terms with the deal unencumbered by outside forces who have other interests."

Asked if he would request Governor Andrew Cuomo intervene directly, Prendergast told reporters that unions need to be pressured in some way to “get them to a different place”.

“We need a lot of people to step in and get us to a different place,” he said.

Prendergast said he was concerned that the strike would be taking place during hurricane season.

“The worst-case scenario we could find ourselves in is employees out on strike, may or may not come back to work, the Long Island Rail Road is one of the best evacuation means off the island for people that need to get off," he said. "You can’t put all the cars on the expressway."

Prendergast said the LIRR is making prepartions with the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and other agencies.

In his statement, Simon said the strike could begin to affect trains by Wednesday. A spokesperson for the M.T.A. gave a different timeline, suggesting trains would only begin to be impacted starting on Saturday.

Tags: CuomoMTARail Labor
Categories: Labor News

L.I.R.R. Workers, on Brink of Strike, Prepare for Life on the Picket Line

Current News - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 23:23

L.I.R.R. Workers, on Brink of Strike, Prepare for Life on the Picket Line

Mr. D’Agostino waited a beat.

“I still think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But it’s scary.”

A potential strike on the Long Island Rail Road is just days away. A look at what that could mean to about 300,000 riders each weekday. Video CreditBy Christian Roman on Publish DateJuly 15, 2014. Image CreditKathy Kmonicek for The New York Times

The workers navigate trains and test signals, repair aging cars and scan moldering stretches of track on the nation’s oldest rail system still operating under its original name: the Long Island Rail Road, chartered in 1834.

Many have worked for the railroad, alongside friends and often relatives, for decades — long enough to know that occasional saber-rattling between management and union leadership is to be taken in stride. It has been 20 years, after all, since employees last walked off the job. So when workers voted several months ago to authorize a potential strike, it was still possible to view the action as a distant concern.

Not anymore.

“You’re going on strike; you’re not going to get paid,” said Vincent D’Agostino, 31, a third-rail worker from Massapequa Park, on Long Island, describing employees’ collective epiphanies in recent days. “Back when we took the vote, it seemed so far away.”

Mr. D’Agostino waited a beat.

A possible walkout would affect about 5,400 Long Island Rail Road employees.CreditSeth Wenig/Associated Press
With a strike planned for as early as Sunday morning amid stalled negotiations between the railroad and its unions, workers now find themselves, ready or not, at the precipice.

They have been instructed to set money aside and curb expenses. They have been told to warn their children about insults that might be hurled at workers during a strike. And increasingly, they have been characterized by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as greedy, relatively well-off government workers.

The authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, told reporters on Monday that the employees were better compensated than any other rail workers in the country. A newspaper and radio advertising blitz, announced on Tuesday, will take this case directly to the public.

“They make almost $90,000 a year, get free health care and generous pensions,” the ads say, before alluding to the authority’s offer: raises that total 17 percent over seven years, with a handful of concessions from workers, especially new employees.

“Current employees would get everything they asked for. Yet the unions are still threatening to strike,” the ads continue. “When is enough enough?”

In an email, the authority compared wages on the Long Island Rail Road, which carries about 300,000 riders each weekday, with those on five comparable systems, including the Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit. Long Island Rail Road conductors earn $36.25 an hour, according to the authority, while the median wage of their peers is almost $8 less. Among signal workers, car repair workers and electricians, the gap is smaller.

For many of the roughly 5,400 union members that a strike would affect, the knocks tend to rankle.

“We’re not millionaires,” said Robert Edzards, 44, a substation electrician, who said his base pay was about $65,000 per year, excluding overtime. “A lot of guys work week to week, month to month.”

Mr. Edzards, a 25-year veteran of the railroad who was part of the strike in 1994, said fellow workers had recently come to him for advice.

“I tell them how I do it: I’m trying to limit expenses, put everything on hold,” he said. “You never know how long it’s going to go.”

The railroad has long been a punching bag for frustrated commuters, though it is unclear where travelers might direct their ire during a strike. Some riders associate Long Island Rail Road workers with a major disability fraud scheme, first detailed in 2008. And in many circles, support for unions in general has diminished.

“The climate is not friendly toward unions,” said Louis Gentile, 52, the international president of the Independent Railway Supervisors Association and a gang foreman with the railroad.

“We’re waiting to see how the nation reacts,” he added. “We’re not sure how that will happen.”

The unions’ case is bolstered, leaders and members say, by the findings of two federal mediation panels since December. Twice, the panels ruled in favor of the unions, though the railroad’s offers in both cases were less generous than its current proposal.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whom some transportation experts expect to intervene if negotiations remain at a stalemate, sought to play down the potential damage of a strike on Tuesday.

“We’ve had strikes before, right? And we survived,” the governor, a Democrat, said, adding that the possible shutdown was “not a disaster.”

It could be “a real pain,” he allowed, “but not a disaster.”

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, also a Democrat, struck a different tone, estimating on Tuesday that a disruption could cause up to $50 million per day in lost economic activity.

Workers say the authority has left them little choice, rebuffing the recommendations of the federal panels. A union letter to machinists and other employees earlier this month said that the railroad and Mr. Cuomo had “made us the enemy and forced us off our jobs.”

Then there is a website for the railway supervisors group, with rousing quotes from the likes of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Rosa Parks.

“You have enemies? Good,” reads one, attributed to Winston Churchill. “That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

Tags: LIRR Strikerailway workers
Categories: Labor News

Qatar: Watching the World Cup finals in the labor camps of Qatar: 'It's like jail here' News - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Foreign Policy
Categories: Labor News

China: Guangzhou factory workers get their democratic union but keep their feet on the ground News - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: China Labour Bulletin
Categories: Labor News

Philippines: iPhone 6 supplier NXP ramps up intimidation and delaying tactics News - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: IndustriALL Global Union
Categories: Labor News

PBGC Chief to Re-join Private Sector

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 09:17
Elizabeth PfeutiAsset InternationalJuly 15, 2014View the original piece

The director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is to leave his post in August after four years in the role.

In a letter to colleagues on Friday, Josh Gotbaum said, as he had three children in college, he had promised his wife he would return to the private sector, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

Click here to read more at Asset International.

Issues: Labor Movement
Categories: Labor News, Unions

Amazon Seeks FAA Permission to Test Delivery Drones Outdoors

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 07:13
Bloomberg NewsJuly 15, 2014View the original piece Inc., which wants to deliver packages by drone, asked aviation regulators for permission to expand testing outside its research laboratory.

“We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next generation research and development lab in Seattle,” the company said in a letter posted on a government website yesterday. Amazon is based in that city.

Click here to read more at Transport Topics.

Categories: Labor News, Unions

SF TWU 250A Muni operators ratify contract

Current News - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 20:39

SF TWU 250A Muni operators ratify contract
By Michael Cabanatuan

July 14, 2014

(07-14) 19:50 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Muni operators on Monday ratified a new contract that guarantees three years of raises totaling 14.25 percent and requires payments into their pension plans. The deal, brokered by former Mayor Willie Brown, calms fears of another spontaneous protest like the three-day sickout that stalled the transit system in June.

Vote totals weren't immediately available. Voting took place at the bus and rail facilities where the transit system's bus, light-rail, streetcar and cable car operators report to work.

The tentative agreement put before operators included 14.25 percent in raises over three years, enough to cover increased pension costs to the workers while also offering a pay boost. It differed from the initial agreement in that it extends the contract for a third year, including an additional 3 percent raise, and phases in the 7.5 percent that workers will pay into their own pensions.

Under the agreement, operators will receive a 9.5 percent salary increase, intended to offset the pension contribution, plus an additional 4.75 percent in raises. The raises and pension contributions would be spread across the three years of the contract with the first pay increase - 1.75 percent - coming in October but the first of three 2.5 percent pension contributions not coming due until October 2015, at which time operators would receive another 4.68 percent raise.

In announcing the deal two weeks ago, Municipal Transportation Agency officials credited Brown, saying his involvement as a mediator was key. The former mayor, who writes a Sunday column for The Chronicle, wrote that he became involved at the request of Mayor Ed Lee, who wanted to avert another sickout, and at the insistence of the union.

Brown said he refused to bargain with the large committees surrounding the bargaining table.

"I took one look and said, 'Now I don't want to insult any of you, but I don't negotiate by committee. I'm going to step out for five minutes, and when I come back, I only want to see three over here and three over there. Then we'll talk.'

"It took five days, but we got a deal."

The earlier contract offer, which members rejected by a vote of 1,198-47, offered 11.25 percent in raises over two years and also required a 7.5 percent pension contribution. Union members argued that the pension payments would have eroded their raises but MTA officials contended the offer was a fair deal.

Chronicle staff writer Kale Williams contributed to this report.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Twitter: @ctuan

Tags: TWU 250AWillie BrownConcession Bargaining
Categories: Labor News

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

Current News - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 20:12

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

July 9, 2014

The CSX Selkirk Repair Yard where J.J. Giuliano was local chairman of Albany, N.Y., Local 770. Giuliano has filed a retaliation complaint against CSX.
Photo by Flickr user BrianBenson used under a Creative Commons license.
CSX Transportation’s Selkirk repair shop is a massive, loud throwback to America’s industrial past. Diesel locomotives, some weighing 180 tons, driven by 6,000-horsepower 20-cylinder engines, are torn apart and rebuilt beneath its soaring pigeon-filled rafters. A dozen, sometimes twice that number, are swarmed by teams of electricians, welders, carmen, machinists and sheet metal workers.

J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee.

“For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.”

In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed. They included everything from managers green-lighting locomotives for use without testing safety equipment to requiring workers to repair trains covered in pigeon feces but refusing to provide, or even allow the use of, protective clothing.

“When local management decides to act as though safety is a priority, this organization will re-evaluate its position in this matter,” he wrote. “Until that time, should it ever come, our concerns will be brought elsewhere.”

Giuliano handed over the letter Friday and posted a copy of it to the local’s glass-enclosed bulletin board. Two and half hours into his next workday, Giuliano was cited for violating safety rules and was later suspended for five days.

“It’s typical. Instead of fixing a problem, they attack the person who points it out,” Giuliano said.

Up until 2008 that would have been the end of the story. As a 2007 congressional hearing found, punishing workers instead of fixing safety hazards has been standard in the rail industry since the days of the robber barons more than a century ago. It was nearly that long ago that President Theodore Roosevelt signed many of the laws still regulating the rail industry.

As Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight and whistleblower protections were made standard for most working people, rail workers were left outside looking in.

The first safety protections for rail workers weren’t even enacted until the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, said Larry Mann, an attorney and noted rail safety expert. But Mann says the scope of the law was extremely limited and enforcement by the Federal Rail Administration, which has historically been run and staffed by former rail company managers, was lax at best.

Giuliano says he was suspended for calling attention to multiple safety violations at the Selkirk Repair Yard.
Photo by Flickr user BrianBenson used under a Creative Commons license.
But in 2007, the late congressman from Minnesota, James L. Oberstar, inserted a few paragraphs into the massive bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Section 100 of 106, in part written by Mann, dramatically expanded the rights and protections of rail workers. Oberstar later said that the goal of the law was a complete overhaul of a safety culture” preoccupied with blame, with fault and with individuals.”

The law protected rail workers from retaliation for reporting safety hazards and injuries (see sidebar for full list of protections and prohibited retaliations) that echo whistleblower protections for aviation, nuclear, pipeline and financial industry workers.

The penalties for doing so were purposefully harsh. Workers were to “be made whole” meaning if they lost their job, had their credit rating ruined and lost their house, the company would have to reinstate the worker, pay to fix their credit rating and recover the house or pay for its loss if it was found guilty. All that in addition to back wages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

“We snuck it in,” Larry Mann. “The companies didn’t see it coming, thank God.”

It wasn’t just the companies who were surprised. Charles Goetsch, one of 14 attorneys designated by the IBEW to represent injured railworkers. (Find the full list here). He found out about it only after it passed.

“I thought ‘I’ve been waiting for this law for 30 years,’” Goetsch said. “It was huge transfer of power to the workers and they didn’t have to negotiate away a thing to get it.”

Killing the Messenger

Giuliano wasn’t surprised about the retaliation by CSX. He’s seen it all before.

“We would tell management about an oil leak and the most they would do is put up an orange cone. Three weeks later, they’d come clean it up.” he said. “But if a guy slipped and fell in the interim they’d suspend him because he should have been looking out for it.”

CSX, like nearly all passenger and freight rail companies, have long lists of forbidden actions. Industry spokesmen have defended the rules on the grounds that most injuries are caused by worker error, so they are trying to correct worker behavior. But the rules are often vague, for example requiring workers to “maintain situational awareness” or to “work carefully.” In 2012 memo, OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Fairfax wrote that such rules are “pretexts for discrimination against an injured employee… putting the employer’s entire workforce at risk.”

Giuliano said he saw workers severely injured who did not get emergency help or report it to the company because they were afraid of being punished.

“I saw someone shocked so badly we checked if his heart stopped,” Giuliano said. “Another time a guy was holding the tubing for an acetylene torch when they exploded. He seriously burnt his hands. I know neither one went to the doctor because they were afraid of what the company might do.”

The problem, says Goetsch, is that the only time the safety rules were enforced was after an injury.

“The goal wasn’t to improve safety, it was to keep injured workers from reporting their injuries,” Goetsch said. “The purpose was to create the illusion of safety.”

“Discipline trumped safety every time,” Goetsch said.

Putting the Public at Risk

Goetsch said retaliation also put the public at risk: workers unfit to work were ordered to ignore doctor’s orders and return; workers fired for objecting when managers knowingly cleared locomotives for duty when federally required safety equipment was not repaired or tested.

Although reports about rail safety show a general improvement, leaving aside the reliability of those statistics, derailments in recent years have nevertheless killed and injured dozens of passengers and employees.

And when freight trains carrying volatile chemicals are involved the results can be even more disastrous.

Last year just across the Maine border in Lac Megantic, Québec, the brakes failed on an unattended freight train hauling 72 oil tank cars. It picked up speed as it rolled uncontrollably into the center of town. When it derailed the cars were ripped apart and the ensuing explosion destroyed nearly a third of the buildings in town. Burning oil poured into the sewers spreading the fire throughout the town. At least 47 people died.

Each year, more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil move by train, a number that is growing fast as shale oil production far exceeds pipeline capacity. Trains transport chemicals like chlorine gas that can be far more dangerous than even crude oil.

“I have absolutely seen management tell us to send out locomotives with the kinds of problem that could have caused Lac Megantic.” Giuliano said. “Absolutely I’ve seen it and more than once.”

A Classic Case of Retaliation

The day Giuliano returned to work after posting the letter he noticed that three managers who rarely make it down to the shop floor were standing nearby watching him, and only him, work.

One of them soon came over and told Giuliano that he had violated the safety rule requiring workers to access locomotives using a rectangular fiberglass bridge get across the two-foot gap between the locomotive’s running board and shop’s raised concrete floor.

“It was baloney. First, it wasn’t possible to use a crossover board there, and second, two other guys got on the locomotive the same way I did and no one said a word to them,” Giuliano said.

Despite assurances from managers that the violation was minor, three weeks later, Giuliano received notice of a disciplinary hearing for multiple violations of safety rules.

“In my 12 years as chairman of the local I have never seen someone disciplined for that violation,” Giuliano said.

The hearing held in late November, was presided over by a company manager who had earlier broken into the glass-covered IBEW bulletin board to rip down a copy of the letter. The manager served both as the prosecutor, introducing the evidence of Giuliano’s supposed infractions, as well as the judge, refusing to allow Giuliano to introduce evidence that he had not violated safety rules or question the two other members who weren’t punished.

“It was a sham,” he said. “I told them they were in violation of the FRSA. They didn’t care.”

An Uzi to a Knife Fight

Although the whistleblower protections were made law in 2007, Giuliano says he didn’t really know about them until recently and doesn’t know anyone else who has ever filed a complaint.

“Maybe I heard something before then, but I thought it didn’t have anything to do with me,” he said.

Then he heard Goetsch speak at the IBEW Railroad Department’s annual conference in 2012. There he heard about the whistleblower protections and another law –the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act-- which further expanded rail workers’ rights by prohibiting retaliation against workers who requested medical treatment or following doctor’s orders.

Goetsch also talked about a series of federal court rulings making it clear that judges and juries were broadly interpreting the law, routinely issuing large punitive damages awards and punishing companies that punished workers instead of protecting the public.

Giuliano said he remembers Goetsch saying having a law is useless until workers stand up.

“If you don’t know your rights or are scared to use them, you have no rights. Their strategy is to keep workers ignorant and scared,” Goetsch said. “This law lets us bring an Uzi to a knife fight, but for it to accomplish its purpose, it is up to us to use it.”

Giuliano joined the thousands of rail workers filing complaints with OSHA for unlawful retaliation. Since the first complaint was filed in 2007, more whistleblower complaints have been filed with OSHA from rail workers than any other industry.

‘They Couldn’t Believe a Company Would Have the Gall’

In the beginning, Goetsch said, OSHA administrators levied only modest fines against the companies.

“I don’t think they [OSHA] believed what we were telling them. They just couldn’t imagine it was true,” he said. “But now they understand, and the courts understand as well, and the penalties are growing.”

In recent years, punitive damages awards from first OSHA and now federal courts have risen from less than a $100,000 to more than 1million.

“These companies make billions of dollars each year and the fines they used were just a minor cost, no big deal,” Goetsch said. “These multimillion dollar awards are different. They have the companies’ attention and the attention of their shareholders as well.”

For Mann, the fines handed out have been a rewarding sign that a 100-year culture of retaliation is finally on the way out.

“There’s still a long way to go, but I think in five, maybe 10 years we will see that these laws will have transformed the industry,” Mann said.

OSHA inspectors are now reviewing Giuliano’s complaint. If they haven’t issued a final ruling by late this year, Giuliano will be able to bring suit against CSX in federal court. Appeals are possible, for OSHA or judicial decisions, and the companies have shown that they try to outlast and outspend workers by appealing and delaying every case as long as they can.

But Giuliano says he will not give up on this case. Since his suspension, many fewer members come to talk to him about problems or concerns they have, something that used to happen regularly.

“That dropped off after I was suspended. It shut people up. Maybe they figured I wouldn’t want to stick my neck out again or they thought I had bigger things to worry about,” he said. “That means this wasn’t just an attack on me, it was an attack on every union and union member here. There’s no way I give up on that.”

Workers CANNOT be retaliated against by employers for doing any of the following in good faith:

• Reporting a hazardous safety condition to the company or state, federal or juridical authorities
• Refusing to participate in the violation of safety rules or regulations
• Refusing to authorize the use of equipment, track or structures because of safety or security concerns
• Requesting medical treatment
• Reporting any injury or illness, whether sustained on or off the job
• Reporting security violations to the company or state, federal or judicial authorities
• Reporting fraud or waste of public money designated for safety or security
• Following a doctor’s treatment plan
• Using sick leave
Retaliation is ANY punishment targeting workers for taking a protection action, even if they have another reason. That includes:

• Notification of a disciplinary hearing
• Holding a disciplinary hearing
• Termination
• Suspension, demotion or reassignment
• Blacklisting or failure to rehire
• Denying overtime or benefits
• Threats, intimidation or reprimands
• Withholding bonuses or promotions
• ANY discrimination against an employee due in whole or in part to good faith protected actions
What to Do if You Think You Have Been Retaliated Against

• File a complaint with OSHA within 180 of days of FINDING OUT you have been retaliated against


A disciplinary hearing is retaliation. Waiting for a decision about the punishment might delay your complaint until after the 180 day deadline

• The OSHA complaint form is at

• It is best to talk with your chairman and one of the recommended legal counsel listed on the IBEW Rail Department’s website ( before filing a whistleblower complaint with OSHA.

• If the deadline is approaching, DO NOT DELAY: use OSHA’s online reporting site ( Complaints can be can be amended later with the assistance of legal counsel and IBEW assistance, but only if it is filed on time.

Home page photo by Flickr user JohnHGray used under a Creative Commons license.

Tags: IBEWrailroad safetyosha
Categories: Labor News


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