A little more than two years after a similar combination was called off, the two unions representing train engineers, conductors, dispatchers, and yardmasters are proposing a merger.
If approved by the unions' membership, the combination of the United Transportation Union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers would have a total of about 185,000 members in the United States and Canada. It would represent all rail operating employees plus thousands of other rail, bus, airline, and mass-transit workers in both countries.
“It could be a benefit for everybody here,” said Kevin F. Campbell, the recently retired local chairman for BLE Division 457 in Toledo. Mr. Campbell said that although he doesn't like “larger anything,” combining the two unions would allow them to save on overhead costs - just as railroad management has done with their companies.
Byron A. Boyd, Jr., and Edward Dubroski, respective international presidents of the UTU and BLE, respectively issued a joint statement Sunday after a teleconference. In it they said, “The merged union would produce substantial financial savings by ending hostilities that have distracted both of us from doing what we are paid to do - represent our members' interests with railroads and other transportation companies - and by providing for streamlined operations.”
But remarks Mr. Boyd made yesterday during a regional UTU meeting in Winnipeg reflected his continued wariness about the engineers' union's commitment to merger. UTU is prepared to try to replace the BLE by other means if the merger falls through, he said.
“We will go railroad by railroad with representation elections if the BLE leadership again gets cold feet or if their membership votes this merger down,” Mr. Boyd said, according to a transcript of his speech posted on the UTU's web site.
Mr. Campbell said the engineers' union backed away from UTU merger talks in May, 1999, over uncertainty about how the UTU's insurance fund was being handled.
Another local railroad source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said strife between the two unions goes back to the late 1960s, when the BLE opted not to join a merger of several railroad craft unions that formed the UTU. As recently as last year, the source said, members of five UTU locals representing train engineers, including one local in Toledo, defected to the BLE in a dispute over national union politics.