June, 2001

Latest Industry News

Due to the escalation of fuel prices and the dwindling economy the CSX, in continuing efforts to reduce the work force and conserve money, announced that it would run trains without crews. Although the media was alerted to a runaway train an unidentified spokesman for the CSX said all was going well until some knuckleheaded hero jumped the train and applied the brakes. CSX estimates that overall savings from running trains with no crews would spur the economy and cause their stock to skyrocket. "We just wanted to be the first to run trains without crews, we heard the new NS motto ‘Employee Free in 2003’ so we decided we better get on the band wagon.” CSX officials are determining whether to write up the trainmaster for boarding an engine while it was moving. Labor organizations are still trying to decide who gets to timeslip the “heroic” company officer.

A Modest Proposal…

(Editor’s note:  this article was sent to the UTU News with a request to publish. 
Don’t hold yer breath.)

Since 1985 we've been told half a loaf was the best we could do. The 1985 agreement produced 10.5% in wage increases over 5 years while eroding miles, arbitrary payments, deadheads and created a dual pay system that treats post '85 members as if they don't equally risk their lives or take extended time away from their families. Another outrageous example was the 1991 agreement that gave us 10% over 6 years while inflation spiked up 30% (20% immediate loser) and demanded road employees forfeit another 22 miles (42% ultimate loser). The 1996 agreement produced 10.5% over 5 years in general wage increases while cutting deadhead payments and back loaded ("off" during agreement period) a partial cost of living adjustment to 1999. Only 56 cents per hour was produced over the entire five-year period due to the 50% limitation clause that only considers "Half the increase in the CPI during any measurement period." I imagine it would therefore include 100% of any decrease should there ever be a deflationary period, very clever!

We are told to swallow another 11% over five years without COLA during the life of the 2000 agreement to "advance" to a new pay system. These "Trip Rates" will be established by averaging in deadheads, creating unknown, future reduced rates that will end the dual pay disparity. It's interesting at this point because unlike before, current typical US wage increases are averaging 4.5% according to the Federal Reserve with corresponding five year 
union contracts across the country coming in at 25% or more. In original proposed form, after the new agreement runs out in 2005, COLA kicks back "on" at 50 cents on the dollar with a new cap, reduced from today's 8% to 6%. Gee, can't wait!

Blank check "Trip Rates" determined by the carrier, no COLA, then half-a-COLA after five years, automatic markup and 11% over five years with no increase in meal allowances are the "best we can do," once again. Anybody see a pattern here? Are we actually to continue to pay the dues to this organization? Or, since the employer benefits most, is there a provision for the carriers will pick up the dues? I must have missed it. You can't possibly expect us to continue to pay for this kind of "representation," or can you? 

Just how dumb are we?  That might be the real question.

I would propose an hourly rate of pay with overtime after eight hour minimum per call for every employee, based on pre-'85 current earnings for miles, arbitrary payments and claims; A five day week established for road employees by paying overtime starts after 11 trips completed per pay period; 11% in general wage increases over five years would only be acceptable if a FULL COLA without 50% limitation clause or reduced cap continued during the entire agreement period and beyond. This might be worth considering a longer-term contract with additional general/COLA wage raises. 

Is this pie in the sky or a reasonable resolution to the current watered down wages and dual pay disparity? Is over $30C/$35E per hour straight time achievable? Only by federating with ALL other rail unions in a "we won't sign until everybody signs" oath to combat the carriers divide and conquer strategy that has been so successful in the past. These last two paragraphs are my opinion, others may have better proposals I hope they will submit.

Bob Webb, UTU local 240, Los Angeles

Why We Don’t Need Conductors 

I’ve been thinkin’ this over for a while and I finally decided how we can solve one of the biggest problems the railroads and unions have.  Namely, what to do with all them damn conductors! These guys have shuffled papers and slept on duty for years, up until they took away the brakemen.  Now all they do is bitch about having to do the former brakie’s work, generally while avoiding it altogether.  As far as sleeping and shuffling papers go, we already have tons of managers who get paid to do these things.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been known to take a nap or two in my day and shuffle a switch list now and then.  But there’s a big difference.  Switchmen can actually read a switch list.  (Well, most of ‘em.)  They also know how to operate cut levers, tie hand brakes and actually switch cars!  What a concept!  Most conductors have a severe allergic reaction when instructed to do these things. Now that UP and other carriers have figured out how to promote hogheads to switchmen, the answer is right in front of us!  We can finally get all operating guys in one union, too!  We’ll call it SUNA.  What, you’ve heard that name before?   Lemme ‘splain it to you.  We’ve got switchmen, engineers and groundhogs (promoted to switchman).  We send all the conductors over to the short lines where they can be in charge of everything and exercise their egos.  Make the whole damn railroad yard limits, and run it with our new class of employees:  Switchineers.  Then we form the Switchineers Union of North America.  Unity at last!  Don’t ya just love it???

 As always, Snake.

We Get Letters….

I was going through my mail today, switching out the bills from the junk, and was about to toss out a piece of junk mail when I happened to see it was from UPRR. I’m sure by now, you have all received and read, with much enthusiasm, PROJECT AM / PM. If you did toss it, your first instinct was correct, it was just more junk mail from UPRR on how they are progressively addressing fatigue issues. Just when you think these assholes couldn’t possibly shovel one more load of manure on the pile, they succeed (sic). This pyramid of B.S. is now of such a size it should be labeled as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but I digress.

This PROJECT AM / PM magazine was just chock full of all the catchy buzz words, bullet points and check lists that are meant to inspire the dim witted reader (which includes the FRA) that the UPRR is serious about addressing fatigue issues. I need to vent so I’ll just scream this at the top of my lungs before finishing this. “HORSESHIT!”

This is the same company that is keeping our extra boards so short, that people are getting out on their rest. Short boards did solve their inadequate train line-ups. Who needs a line-up when you know you are going to get called in 8 hours. But line-ups are another pack of lies that deserve their own report. Because the extra boards are depleted, they have turned the pools into extra boards, placed blocks on lay-offs, denied personal leave days and even hard-timed one old head for having the audacity to request bereavement leave!

The UPRR canceled the first generation of work/rest extra boards because when the choice was between addressing fatigue or squeezing money from the employees, the almighty dollar took priority. PROJECT AM / PM will take the same backseat to budget. If it ends up costing too much money to have rested employees, this project will die the same quiet death as did Quality programs and soon SAC-P.

The magazine purports that UPRR will soon have PROJECT AM / PM coordinators (which should cause a stampede of OS junkies elbowing each other to get at the trough). PROJECT AM / PM is doomed if they go toe to toe with PROJECT CMS. As we all have learned, it is CMS who really runs this railroad and every other department is subordinate to CMS (including Labor Relations).

In closing, this slick magazine is packed with good information and put out by well-intentioned people. The UPRR, however, is merely putting on a show while they are really lying to their employees, the stockholders, the government, and the public. Their bottom line is that they are only willing to address fatigue issues if it doesn’t cost them money.

Grumpy Old Switchman

Dumb-Assed Switchman of the Month

It’s not often that we talk about a manager in terms that can be called positive, and getting this award is a mixed blessing.  In fact, whenever Snakebites mentions a company officer by name, his career as a railroad officer is somewhat ambiguously affected.  That is, he’s generally screwed.  But anyway…

This month we honor G.L.“Punky” Poff, DTO here in Roseville, with the “Union Pacific Micro-Managed-to-Death” award for his forbearance in being only four miles from the regional VP’s office and having the General Super in the same place.  In spite of these two wonderful folks, our recipient has successfully operated a railyard designed by incompetent communists who were determined to destroy America’s transportation system but got hired by UP instead.  What has this to do with the D-A-S award, you may ask?   Well, before he went nuts and became a company officer, this guy was actually a real, live switchman.  So congratulations, Punky, you just won a cheeseburger and a warm beer.  Nobody ever said life was fair.

Griever’s Corner

Following their infamous blundering non-success with “Team West Colton” UP has decided to try it again in the Pacific Northwest.  Our spies tell us that due to a recent management screw-up on the Portland Service Unit, the various and sacred UP numbers fell apart around Brooklyn and Albina Yards.  Labor Relations, in their constant quest to avoid agreement compliance, has now determined that it’s easier to call our General Counsel and threaten a lawsuit than to bargain in good faith with the General Committee involved.  Next up:  “Team Albina”, with predictable results…In the same vein, our spies in San Antonio tell us the Super there has sent a message to all his managers offering free tickets to the Spurs play-off for the drone who gets the most Act 3’s (investigations).  Way to go Gary, there’s a special place in Hell for folks like you…UP’s propaganda dep’t. is in full defensive mode, threatening to sue,  after being blasted by the cyber-games folks.  Seems they took offense at having the UP logo and big-yellow locomotives used in Microsoft’s computer simulation railroad game.  They say they’re afraid someone might learn how to steal a locomotive and wreak havoc on America’s rail system.  No other company objected to their ID used in this harmless game, but then the UP has screwed up America’s rail system in the last few years far worse than some foamer on a computer could ever dream of.  Let’s face it, they’re just afraid someone might have a little fun…Our fearless leader, the great Dick, appeared before Congress last month,  along with some other so-called leader of industry, to beg for more corporate welfare and less regulation.  One of his remarks before a Senate subcommittee was that the UP was “strong & healthy”, but was “losing ground.”  How’d you like to hear your doctor say that about you?….Our spies in the south have sent us word that many of the generators that disappeared from the property last winter are turning up at flea markets and garage sales around the area.  Seems most of them worked for about a week and then quit.  Sounds like UP new hires….Local stuff: We finally had a derailment in the yard they can’t blame on one of us!  This is important, so mark your calendars.  This may never happen again.  Heads up, though, ‘cause they’ll be looking to hang the next one on some poor slob who probably wasn’t even on duty…..On this subject, I might as well repeat the Roseville Switchmen’s motto:  Never have so many labored so long to move so few cars to no place in particular.  Then we come back tomorrow and do it again.  Sometimes the same cars…Remember the new folks that were in training around the first of the year?   We hear most of them have told the UP to stuff it and gone out and got real jobs.  Who says the new folks aren’t getting smarter?   This outfit continues to step over dollars to pick up dimes, but I guess it’s in the budget…Anyway, work safe, do what you’re told and look out for each other.

Quote of the Month

“Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?”

Ike Evans