Friday, September 20, 2013

Railroad Teamsters strike Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway today

More than 100 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) today struck the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (WLE). The railroad is trying to run trains with one operator even after the recent Lac-Megantic tragedy that killed 47 people.

Picket lines were posted at seven primary WLE terminals in Ohio and Pennsylvania, shutting down the railroad’s entire operation.

General Chairman Bob Linsey said they were forced to strike to defend their contracts. The railroad,
...has used management officials to perform the work of bargaining unit employees, namely locomotive engineers and conductors. In defiance of the union’s warnings, the carrier has also recently ignored longstanding crew consist agreements and operated single-person operations in an effort to eliminate trainmen.
The WLE outright admitted that it has no right to run the railroad that way. It made proposals at the bargaining table to lift the restrictions on single-person operations and letting management do the work of conductors and locomotive engineers.

BLET national President Dennis R. Pierce blasted WLE for its actions, saying the WLE loaned money to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic, which declared bankruptcy after one of its trains rolled driverless down a hill and derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec. The explosion killed 47 people. Pierce said,
The WLE bankrolled Ed Burkhardt’s failed one-person operation on the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic to the tune of a $25 million loan, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. When General Chairman Linsey asked for strike authorization on behalf of our members, the stakes involved made this a fairly easy decision for me to make. It is clear that WLE’s actions are in outright defiance of its obligations, a major dispute in and of itself. BLET will not idly stand by and allow this totally unsafe abrogation of its collectively bargained agreements.
Pierce said Republican and Democratic members of Congress sponsored a bill — H.R. 3040, the Safe Freight Act — requiring at least two crew members on all freight trains in the nation. He called on the House leadership to move forward with the legislation.