A Pyrrhic win is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is equivalent to a defeat, because it takes a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress. The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of his army and, while a tactical victory, forced the end of his campaign. If you examine it closely, the Aug. 28 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit vacating an injunction that forced Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) General Committees to bargain over crew consist size and redeployment is a Pyrrhic victory for the union.
SMART Transportation Division
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt presiding, on Aug. 28 issued its decision in BNSF et al v. SMART-TD (Case No. 20-10162) concerning crew consist size, vacating an injunction that forced Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) General Committees to bargain over crew consist size and redeployment, despite the existence of moratoria that bar such negotiation. The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), which represents the carriers, while acknowledging the court’s decision, countered that the union’s objections are subject to arbitration, and as such bolster the railroads’ efforts to negotiate over crew size. One industry observer, who has been on both sides of the bargaining table, says SMART-TD leadership is not acting in the best interests of the membership they represent.
This is about a railroad labor union committed to serving its dues paying members, and a rail industry losing its core revenue traffic—coal—and now facing off against omnipresent low-cost, non-union truckers for the trailers and containers comprising much of the railroads’ future traffic base. It’s about new technology—the product of knowledge that for centuries has transformed the nature, quality and quantity of work. In this instance, the technology is Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety overlay system substituting artificial intelligence for engineer inattention or distraction. PTC, as does most new technology, creates job redundancies.
A National Railway Labor Conference arbitration board ruled May 23 that the pattern health care terms adopted by the freight railroads and nine of the unions in national bargaining should also apply to the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) – Mechanical Division.
Clint Miller studied, recited and practiced railroad labor law with such determination, devotion and precision that his management adversaries often were converted to fans. Had cancer instead picked its fight with him in a courtroom, few would have expected his death last week at age 70.
As ascendancy of jaw-jaw over war-war is making even a partial national rail work stoppage less probable, an agreement this week between the freight railroads and their second largest labor union has further decreased such concern.
The battle between labor and the management over mandatory two-person crews is far from over and will heat up if a new Democratic-controlled Congress takes charge in 2019. Hoping for big Democratic wins in the U.S. House and Senate later this year, railroad labor quietly continues to set the stage to push for mandatory two-person train crew legislation.
Those who have spent many years in the rail industry know that rail workers are among the most loyal of employees, spending entire careers on the railroad and often following a parent into railroading. This loyalty is expressed in a myriad of ways, including today’s internet chat rooms devoted to railroad topics where railroaders discuss everything from operating plans to locomotive livery, and share photos and recollections.
The Federal Railroad Administration, at a July 15, 2016 hearing regarding the agency’s proposed rule mandating two-person crews, heard two sharply contrasting arguments, one from freight rail management, the other from labor.
The members New Jersey Transit’s two largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and SMART Transportation Division-United Transportation Union (UTU), have voted against the tentative agreement reached in March between NJ Transit and a coalition of its 16 railroad unions.