When is it my work?
We believe that there are increasing occasions where non-BRS employees (Managers) and contractors (Design) are performing work that belongs exclusively to signalmen. This happens most often during cut overs or during preparation for cut overs. In most cases, it involves electronic equipment installed in signal houses or information downloaded, upgraded, or changed in our micro-processor based signal systems. The most prominent excuses you will hear from Managers include, “They (you) did not want the work; or they are not qualified to perform the work; or it’s not your work.” This synopsis will explain some of the answers to the excuses above.
Our work is defined in our scope of work rule, known as the Scope Rule. The Scope Rule is at the very beginning of your agreement. This rule will explain every aspect of the work and equipment that belongs to the signal craft. A dispute between the BRS and the railroad will occur if anyone besides a BRS covered employee performs any work as defined in the Scope. How we handle the dispute is up to the General Chairman and the General Committee. The level of the dispute could range from a major dispute to a minor dispute. In a major dispute situation, one remedy is to strike. Issues that are successfully defined as major disputes are rare; most disputes fall into the minor dispute category and are handled with informal discussions or formal claims and grievances. Nonetheless, your work is clearly defined in the Scope Rule. Questions arising regarding someone performing signal work, other than signalmen, should be immediately directed to your Local Chairman. The answers are not always clear, but in order to protect your work, vigilance plays the most vital role. If non-BRS employees are at signal locations i.e. crossings, control points, defect detectors, they should only be DIRECTING the work and BRS represented signal employees should perform all hands-on work. Other than instructing you on how to do certain tasks, managers or contractors should not perform any hands-on work; period.
Circumstances can arise from negotiated agreements with the railroad in which we allow non-BRS employees to temporarily perform some aspect of signal work, but these agreements are usually quite public. On the other hand, field signalmen cannot give permission or make unauthorized agreements for work to be done by any non-BRS individual. Always ask questions and always make a call to a union leader if you believe any Scope violations are occurring. The only person that negotiates and makes agreements for Local 16 is the General Chairman. However, not every incident constitutes a dispute. For instance, managers, contractors, and non-working signal foremen can train and demonstrate in very short term situations. We want our members to understand that working alongside and replacing signalmen while performing signal tasks or installing/troubleshooting signal equipment is not to be tolerated and should generate a dispute.
Earlier in this article, the kind of disputes generated was termed, “major or minor”. In simple terms, when the union decides it is a major dispute or the situation is developing to become a major dispute, direct talks with Labor Relations occur and decisive action must be taken to alleviate the problem. Minor disputes warrant action through the claims and grievance process. The claims and grievance process is outlined in your agreement. The process was created through the Railway Labor Act which has been in effect since 1933. Some cases are settled locally and quickly, while others are carried through a claims and grievance process that has been in place for decades. The agreement process, together with the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, provides a uniform and fluid process to settle minor disputes.
In conclusion, the Scope Rule defines the work and it is up to the membership to police and report violations. Misapplications of rules and misunderstandings do occur and are often handled with a phone call. We can help you understand your agreement rules and help our members understand the many processes that keep a good labor relationship with our company. However it is vital to our craft for us to protect our Scope covered work in order to keep work for the future.
Filing a Claim or Grievance
When a dispute or complaint arises, the agreement provides a mechanism to file a claim or grievance. The word grievance is defined “to inflict injury, hardship, or sorrow on.” So a grievance can simply be a complaint ranging from working conditions, to a case of unfair treatment and/or harassment. On the other hand, a claim is a request or demand for payment resulting from a violation of a provision or rule in your labor agreement. In other words, a claim is a monetary penalty for the railroad denying work opportunity, denying expenses, or a general payment resulting from an action or cause.
The agreement is quite explanatory about the outline of a claim and the time limits that are tied to the process. The agreed to process by your union and the railroad are covered by Rule 49 (grievances) and Rule 50 (claims). If a member feels that there is cause for a claim or grievance, the first step is to contact a Local Chairman, preferably a Local Chairman within the district that a claim is being filed. Then the validity of a claim can be decided by the Local Grievance Committee. In some cases, the issue can be resolved locally by the Local Grievance Committee, but in the situation that a claim or grievance must be presented in writing, some important information must be provided to build the case: When the violation(s) occurred, where it occurred, who was involved, the overall facts surrounding the incident, and what rule or rules were violated. Statements and pictures are some of the details that are required to present the matter to the railroad in a manner that the claim can be sustained. Close consultation with your Local Chairman is important to file a claim properly and to have a chance to prevail.
Once the claim or grievance has been typed, the letter, along with any evidence, will be sent to the designated officer receiving claims for the railroad and this begins the process. Beyond this, the railroad can satisfy the grievance or pay the claim, or they can deny the grievance or claim. Once this happens, the case is referred to the General Chairman.
The Railway Labor Act provides the venue for case handling once a claim or grievance reaches the appeals level. If the General Chairman deems so, he may appeal the claim or grievance or he may return the claim or grievance to the filing member. At this point, the member has the option to progress the claim or grievance on his own. If the General Chairman decides to appeal the claim or grievance, then another process begins in order to settle the dispute in accordance with the Railway Labor Act. The General Chairman will appeal the denial to the claim, then, if the appeal to the claim is denied, the process will continue to the claims conference level. If the railroad continues to deny a claim or grievance, the dispute is carried to Grand Lodge to present the case to a referee at the National Rail Adjustment Board (NRAB). This level has a time limit of nine months to present the case. Once the NRAB hears the case there is no real time limit for them to rule. When they rule on the case, the decision is binding. It is important to mention, just like the General Chairman, Grand Lodge can return claims and grievances for member handling. In most cases, if the General Chairman progresses a claim or grievance for handling at the Grand Lodge level, it is headed to the NRAB. The claims and grievance process can take up to two years depending on case load and length of handling at the different levels. The General Committee strives to get the case settled as soon as possible.
To conclude, the claims and grievance process is devised to present disputes in a timely manner to acquire resolution or a decision. Remember the process begins with compiling the facts, deciding whether a violation has occurred with consultation from the Local Chairman and his local committee and the filing of the claim. Time limits as specified by the agreement have to be met. Keep time limits in mind when progressing a claim or questioning whether an issue is an agreement violation or not. The Local Chairman must have time to assemble, write, and file the claim within the sixty-day time limit, so you must get the issue before them much before the sixty-day limit occurs.
Finally, in order to protect your working rules you must be familiar with them. Read your agreements. They are available at the Local 16 website www.brslocal16.org.
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