TCU and Carriers Agree To Arbitrate National Contract
October 2, 2002 …On October 2, 2002, TCU and the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) agreed to conclude this round of National Negotiations for both Carmen and Clerks by submitting the dispute over wages and health insurance to final and binding arbitration.
TCU’s Carmen and Clerical Negotiating Committees unanimously approved this decision at the conclusion of yet another unsuccessful national bargaining session, this time under the auspices of the Chairman of the National Mediation Board (NMB) and the Senior Mediator assigned to the negotiations. Once again, the carriers refused to make an acceptable economic offer. Faced with an obvious impasse, the NMB recommended arbitration to both parties. Both parties accepted after agreeing on ground rules, the scope of the arbitration, and who the arbitrator will be.
Arbitration is final and binding which means there will be no membership ratification of an agreement. Once the arbitrator renders the award, the award becomes the contract.
"TCU did not make the decision to arbitrate lightly," says International President Robert Scardelletti. "The NMB made it very clear to us that it was unrealistic to expect the White House to release us from mediation anytime soon. Although the NMB was sympathetic to our plight — especially the fact that we had in good faith negotiated a contract last October only to have the carriers renege — it was highly unlikely that the Administration would approve release given the current state of the economy and the possibility of war with Iraq. Arbitration was the only way for our members to get a contract now. Otherwise there was no end in sight. That prospect was unacceptable."
Just as importantly, TCU’s Negotiating Committees concluded that there was a far better chance of securing an acceptable contract for the membership through the process of arbitration with a mainstream respected arbitrator experienced in the railroad industry than to risk having the dispute decided by a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) appointed by President Bush. It is no secret that the White House is strongly considering the appointment of pro-business ideologues to future PEB’s. Under the arbitration agreement that was reached, both parties had to agree on who the arbitrator will be. Under a PEB scenario, TCU would have had absolutely no input into the selection of the Board members. And although PEB Reports are not final and binding, they have carried great weight with Congress in the past. In today’s climate of economic uncertainty and military mobilization, Congress would almost certainly impose a PEB Report before permitting a national rail strike.
Under the arbitration agreement, only wages and health insurance will be in dispute. Carrier proposals to unravel TCU job protection agreements and for more contracting out will not be considered. No work rules will be in play. That would not have been the case with a PEB – everything TCU members have would be at risk.
The parties are now working to establish the timetable for the arbitration. The arbitrator will be Robert Harris, a veteran of many Presidential Emergency Boards. TCU’s goal is to have a final contract in place as close to the end of the year as possible.
"The decision to arbitrate was a difficult one," says President Scardelletti. "We weighed the candid advice of the National Mediation Board that release from mediation was not imminent. We weighed the risks of opening our existing contracts to review by a Bush-appointed PEB. We weighed the likelihood that Congress would not permit a serious strike anytime in the foreseeable future, making a PEB recommendation tantamount to binding arbitration anyway."
"And ultimately we concluded that it was time to bring this round of bargaining to an end. We have been in National Negotiations since January 2000. We are approaching our fourth year without a contract. Our members have not had a wage increase in three years. This length of time is intolerable. Ever since the carriers reneged on our tentative agreement, their every offer has been worse than the one before. It is clear that the carriers have no intention of ever reaching an acceptable agreement through bargaining."
"Our members deserve a contract now. Arbitration was the only course available to us that could both bring this round of bargaining to a close and maximize our chances of obtaining the best possible contract."