The union representing train engineers is flatly opposing a proposed law to strip the big freight rail lines of their limited antitrust immunity, and urging key lawmakers to meet with shippers and carriers to plan any regulatory reforms.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Teamsters unit that is one of the largest rail labor groups, sent its letter March 23 to key senators and representatives who chair committees with jurisdiction over railroads or antitrust issues.
The letter comes after the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill to put the largest railroads under the same antitrust laws that apply to most types of business, instead of sending rail mergers and nearly all carrier-customer disputes just to the Surface Transportation Board.
That bill now awaits a vote by the full Senate, as well as action in the House of Representatives. The BLET last year opposed the same type of bill, and a BLET source said the Association of American Railroads plus some top rail CEOs had asked the union to again support railroads on this issue.
The source said laws that hurt rail profits could also cost union jobs, and that this year’s deep recession increases that risk. And late this year, the major railroads and unions can start a new round of multi-year contract negotiations, so rail executives are looking for worker support in Congress while unions hope for smooth bargaining with carriers.
The letter by BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz also comes as key lawmakers from the panels that over oversee the STB – the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – are holding talks with shipper and carrier representatives to craft a new competition bill that could change the agency’s operations.
Shippers have sharply criticized the STB for being too cozy with railroads it regulates, and customers say they do not have enough access to competitive service or power to fight rate hikes the railroads impose.
Carriers, up to now, have resisted toughening the STB’s oversight, saying it could undermine their profits and thereby weaken the rail network’s ability to invest in facilities and operations. However, the AAR recently joined talks with congressional staff.
Rodzwicz said the STB’s “oversight has served its public purpose well.” And since the agency levied large recent penalties against big rail lines in shipper rate challenges, “any argument that the STB is asleep at the switch lacks credibility,” he said.”
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.