INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, July 9 — On Friday afternoon, July 6, U.S. District Court Judge Diana Saldaña blocked a strike by members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) employed by the Texas Mexican Railway (Tex Mex), which was scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. on July 9, by granting a Preliminary Injunction that had been requested by Tex Mex and its multi-national corporate parent, Kansas City Southern Railway (KCSR).
In dispute is the railroads’ plan to replace Tex Mex crews with Mexican train crews employed by a Mexican KCSR subsidiary (KCSM) over the 9 mile Tex Mex line that runs between the interchange point at the U.S./Mexican border on the International Bridge connecting the two nations, and the Tex Mex Laredo Yard. The strike had been approved by 98% of voting members, and the strike date had been set by BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce and BLET Tex Mex General Chairman Chris Heise to coincide with the day the crew replacements were scheduled to begin.
Judge Saldaña held an emergency hearing in Laredo on Tuesday, July 3. The railroads argued the dispute involved interpretations of four collective bargaining agreements, and for that reason, was a “minor” dispute under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and subject to mandatory arbitration, rather than self-help.
The Judge’s decision was in spite of the volume of evidence presented to the Court by BLET on a number of key issues. The Union definitively showed how the plan would diminish railroad safety, because it was contrary to the letter and the spirit of numerous Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations. Among those were regulations governing subjects such as operating crew certification, radio communications, extraterritorial operations, and the control of alcohol and drug usage by operating employees. BLET also showed how the plan would expressly violate the terms of a 10½-year-old FRA waiver governing locomotive, freight car and air brake inspections at the border.
Further, BLET counsel rebutted the Carriers’ minor dispute claim in two ways. First, the Union pointed out, the Carriers’ “minor dispute” argument was frivolous because its cornerstone was a 9 mile retreat from the border of the applicability of the RLA by turning the work of BLET members over to a Mexican railroad that is not a “carrier” under the RLA, to be operated by crews who are not “employees” under the RLA, under the guise of U.S. RLA-based National Agreements to which the Mexican railroad was not a party.
The Union also demonstrated that the Carriers’ claim that it was “moving” the interchange point was nothing more than an attempt to evade STB jurisdiction over trackage rights agreements.
These facts, BLET Counsel argued, proved that this is not a dispute over the relocation of an interchange point between two railroads, but the subcontracting of American jobs by an American railroad to a Mexican employer of Mexican nationals.
Despite all this evidence, the Court accepted the railroads’ argument that the dispute over foreign nationals taking the work of American citizens was a minor dispute. The judge further required the Union to notify all of its members that they could not strike if and when KCS implemented its plan.
Commenting on the ruling, BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said, “First, I want to commend our Officers and Members on the Tex Mex for their solidarity since this dispute began. Although the Union has complied with all of the Judge’s orders, I am still convinced that our dispute with Tex Mex is a major dispute and we are currently examining all avenues of appeal.
“This fight is far from over,” Pierce added. “The loss of American jobs to foreign workers is nothing new from corporate America, but this blatant job grab on America soil is something that all American workers should find unacceptable. Promises were made to America’s working class in the last election that their jobs would be protected by the current Administration. We will take this fight to every venue we can, including to the White House if need be, and we will be asking all Union members to join us in that outreach when we do.”
A copy of the Judge’s decision can be found at www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/KCS_v_BLET.pdf, and the Union letter mandated by the court can be found at www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Tex_Mex_Letter.pdf. Further news regarding this dispute will be provided as developments warrant.
Monday, July 9, 2018