Friday, May 29, 2009

BLET, Rockefeller: Say no to railroad antitrust bill

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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and a key senator who originally co-sponsored legislation to strip the railroads of their few remaining antitrust exemptions are now opposing S. 146, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009.

herb-kohl.jpgSponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc., top left), S. 146 is described as “a bill to amend the Federal antitrust laws to provide expanded coverage and to eliminate exemptions from such laws that are contrary to the public interest with respect to railroads.” S. 146 originated in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved it by a 14-0 vote in March. The bill would repeal legal provisions that make certain railroad transactions exempt from review by antitrust regulators and that allow freight railroads to engage in collective ratemaking. It would provide that, in legal disputes, federal trial judges would not have to defer to the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board, whose oversight has been criticized by S. 146 supporters as too friendly to the railroads. It also would give private litigants the ability to seek court injunctions to block certain actions by the railroads.

jay-rockefeller.jpgSen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee (bottom left), and three other committee members— Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and John Thune (R-S.D.)—have circulated a letter asking other senators to oppose a procedural motion that must pass before the Senate can take a final vote on the bill’s passage. The procedural vote is scheduled for Tuesday June 2. Debate on the bill is scheduled to begin Monday afternoon, June 1.

In their letter, the senators said they supported “strengthening the application of the antitrust laws to the railroad industry” but said S. 146 “would likely undermine many of the reforms we are seeking. . . . It would treat the rail carriers differently from other common carriers and make major changes to rail policy without regard to overall rail policy.”

Rockefeller wants the Senate to delay action on the bill while he presses ahead with related legislative reforms to the STB. S. 146, he said, would undermine his legislation.

The BLET supports Rockefeller’s actions and is urging its members to contact their senators. “While carriers, labor, and shippers have not been uniformly satisfied with all processes and decisions of the STB, we believe that this oversight has served its public purpose well, as evidenced by the industry’s renaissance over the past decade,” BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz said. “Instead of passing [S. 146], the BLET encourages increased cooperation between labor, the government, shippers, and carriers. A short-term gain for some shippers could result in crippling the industry just as the nation’s dependence on railroads becomes critical. To the extent the Congress believes that the ability of STB to vigorously oversee the railroad industry should be strengthened, we strongly urge you to sit down with the railroads and the shippers and work out the necessary reforms. The BLET supports such a plan of action because it would address legitimate grievances shippers may have without jeopardizing the stability of the industry. Unfortunately, the Act would have the opposite effect. Under these circumstances, we have no option but to oppose passage.”

The House is considering a similar bill. It remains pending before the House Judiciary Committee.