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August 2018

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Final Steps in Place for 'True-up' Arbitration
After Railroad Members Ratify Agreement

IBEW railroad branch members covered under the U.S. National Freight Agreement ratified the proposed 2015-2019 contract in May, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson announced, and arbitration was set to resolve the few remaining issues.

Last December, the IBEW reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), the freight railroads' bargaining group. The May 8 ratification, by a vote of 1,929 to 1,560, followed the agreement's initial, narrow rejection in February.

"After that February vote, we immediately engaged the railroads in an attempt to obtain something better for our members," said IBEW Railroad Department Director William Bohné, "and we resumed negotiations with the NCCC."

IBEW negotiators told the railroads that the union still was not pleased with the proposed agreement, especially in light of the companies' continued streak of record profits. "We wanted to see improvements for our members in the areas of wages, health-and-welfare benefits, vacations, and sick days," Bohné said, adding that there were concerns that the railroads might try to extract further, unacceptable concessions during negotiations.

"They responded that they were not willing to offer us anything more than what the other organizations, including four of the six unions in our coalition, had already accepted," he said, "and that — whether we like it or not — a pattern had been established, since 90 percent of their agreement workforce had already accepted the contract.

"Our experience and history tell us that these patterns are difficult, if not impossible, to break," Bohné said.

During the negotiations, the IBEW's team sought help from the National Mediation Board. "We made a strong case to them," Bohné said, "while reminding the board about the record profits that the railroads continue to make." But the board members exhibited little sympathy, he said, essentially repeating the railroads' line about the established pattern.

Bohné and members of the negotiating committee also visited the IBEW's railroad locals around the country, answering members' questions about the proposed contract and explaining why voting to ratify the agreement was, under current circumstances, the recommended option. Joining Bohné were International Representatives Jeff Burk and Al Russo, along with Railroad System Council General Chairmen Jim Wisniski (Council 2), Tom Owens (Council 6), J.J. Giuliano (Council 9), Dale Doyle (Council 16), and many of their assistants.

Touring the country and meeting directly with railroad branch members, the IBEW's team also was mindful of the disappointingly low turnout for the initial ratification vote, where only about 20 percent of railroad branch members voted to reject the agreement. At the time, the union was considering whether to resume mediation or to petition the NMB for a release from the mediation process.

"We were in a difficult situation," Bohné said. Had the board agreed to a release, it would have offered binding arbitration and granted the parties a 10-day window to consider the offer. A rejection either from IBEW or the NCCC would then trigger a 30-day cooling-off period, at the end of which rail members could strike while the railroads would be free to impose new wages and working conditions.

But within that cooling-off, President Donald Trump would have had the ability to appoint a presidential emergency board, which has 30 to 60 days to hold hearings and investigate disputes, and ultimately to make recommendations for a new contract. At that point, a strike can be called, the railroads can impose new terms and conditions, or — most likely — Congress can step in and pass a law that becomes the new contract, typically under PEB-recommended terms.

The negotiating committee, with Stephenson's support, insisted that railroad local presidents should have the final say on whether the tentative agreement should be resubmitted to branch members for a vote. An early April poll indicated the presidents' overwhelming support for doing so.

Following much deliberation — taking into account the likelihood of a PEB, the current anti-labor climate on Capitol Hill, and the uphill "established pattern" battle the union faced, Bohné said, the negotiating committee put the agreement back out for what would be its eventual ratification.

"I personally know how passionate committee members were about obtaining something better for members," he said, "how hard they worked, and how frustrated they are that, in this round, that possibility had all but disappeared."

But ratification, unfortunately, was not the end of the story. One final hurdle remained: a July 10 arbitration hearing regarding what's called a "true-up."

"Our contract was ratified on May 8," Bohné said, "so the railroad companies insisted that their national health plan needed a 'true-up' to recoup money that they claimed the plan lost because our members' plan was implemented four months after the plans that cover 90 percent of the rest of the unionized railroad workforce."

For the negotiating committee, a true-up was unacceptable. The IBEW could not agree to this, Bohné said, so the parties agreed to send the issue to arbitration.

Complicating matters further, the railroads indicated that no retroactive pay would be issued until after an arbitration award came down on the "true-up" case, again pressing the idea that deducting a "true-up" from retroactive pay in this manner is how it has been handled with other unions.

"We told the railroads that we aren't interested in what other unions have done — the IBEW hasn't agreed to it," Bohné said. "We have been strenuously arguing that there is no provision for them to forestall retroactive payments, and we will continue to fight to have the retroactive pay paid in a timely manner."

The agreement, he said, states that retroactive payments were in fact due within 60 days of its effective date — that is, July 7. Waiting for the arbitration added a burdensome delay.

"This 'true-up' is just corporate greed," Bohné said. "We made every attempt to have the railroads back off this demand — even interrupting a private meeting of their labor relations vice presidents to make our final plea."

The IBEW retained a top rail labor law firm to handle the arbitration case on its behalf, and a decision was set to be rendered after this issue of The Electrical Worker went to press.

The agreement, covering all IBEW members working on railroads involved in national bargaining, is retroactive, effective Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2019, with general wage increases through 2019.

Visit to learn more about the new agreement.


After months of back and forth, the IBEW's members working in freight rail ratified a new 4-year agreement in May.

Sportsmen's Alliance Salutes
Local 26 Leader for Conservation Work

For "tireless efforts to rally fellow union members for conservation," the Union Sportsmen's Alliance honored Washington, D.C., Local 26 Business Manager George Hogan this spring for accomplishments that include restoring a popular Potomac River fishing pier.

Executive Director Scott Vance presented Hogan with its 2018 IBEW Conservation Steward of the Year Award at the Construction and Maintenance Conference in April. The award honors exceptional volunteers from each of USA's charter unions who donate their time and skills in the preservation of North America's outdoor heritage.

Hogan, a fourth-generation IBEW member, raised funds and enlisted more than 100 highly skilled volunteers last fall to repair the decaying Jones Point Park fishing pier on the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va. It marked the alliance's 100th Work Boots on the Ground project, a program which last year alone provided skilled labor for 27 conservation infrastructure projects in 15 states.

The award also recognizes Hogan's leadership roles in events that support USA's good works. Those include chairing the Capital Area Conservation Dinner the past two years, assisted by Local 26 Business Agent Rich Murphy. One of the organization's most successful fundraisers, the dinner helped pay for timber and other materials to restore the pier.

"George Hogan exemplifies the spirit, hard work and solidarity that make us stronger together and help us change lives through our mission," Vance said in presenting the award.

Accepting it, Hogan recalled helping eager children learn to fish the day the pier reopened. "Some of these kids had never held a rod or caught a fish. We taught them a little about fishing and they were super elated," he said to a ballroom filled with IBEW members. "If you're not involved with the Union Sportsmen's Alliance, get involved because it's the greatest thing we have ever gotten involved with."

Local 26 electricians and other building trades volunteers — including brick layers, stone masons, elevator constructors and steel workers — rebuilt the pier and made it compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act regulations over six weekends last September and October.

"It's been a combined trade effort to replace this well-used pier and give it back to this community," Hogan said in October. "I guarantee you could probably drive a tank on it with no problem."


Local 26 Business Manager George Hogan, in orange shirt near center, is pictured with union volunteers on the Potomac River fishing pier they rebuilt last fall. The Union Sportsman's Alliance has named Hogan the 2018 IBEW Conservation Steward of the Year.