|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:15 PM|
GALESBURG — A BNSF Railway union met Wednesday to discuss a new contract that would remove the conductor from the cab of a freight train in an effort to cut costs.
The Galesburg committee of Adjustment GO-001 and other SMART-Transportation Division union members gathered to discuss and debate the union-drafted contract that would affect that largest skill group at BNSF. Conductors and ground service workers make up 60 percent of the work force.
General Chairman Randall Knutson introduced the proposal to a hostile crowd, which was amped to verbally bash the plan several times during the discussion.
Knutson responded to the opposition by explaining that engineers already can run a train by themselves, and soon BNSF will remove conductors from trains anyway. He said this way the union can at least protect the workers if they agree to a contract now.
“Engineer-only operated contracts are coming, whether you vote for this one or wait for the next one,” Knutson said.
According to Knutson, with new technology the position of conductor is starting to become irrelevant, just like technology bested the traditional caboose.
But in a room full of conductors that message didn’t go over well.
“There’s way too many variables to make an educated decision regarding safety and the well-being of the towns we drive through,” member Bill Redfern said.
The engineer operates the train, working with the mechanics of the locomotive, while the conductor makes sure the train knows where to go, while also managing the cargo and keeping an eye on the surroundings, especially near roads and urban areas. The conductor is also in charge of the safety of the train.
Most members in attendance were most worried about that part of their job description.
“How many people are in the cockpit of an airplane? Two. They say that because the technology fails,” one member said.
Under the new proposal, Knutson said there will be a “master conductor” who will overlook three to four trains at a time from a central location, instead of physically being in the train.
He said in cases of emergencies the workers will get to work in company vehicles, driving out to sites where they are needed instead of being on stand-by on the train as they traditionally do. One member called the new job “glorified van drivers.”
Another member said the two-man train is essential for safety purposes not just for the city’s they drive through, but the members on the train.
“One guy had a heart-attack on the train and an engineer saved his life,” he said.
The members are also concerned they will be out of a job with the new plan, since there is a limited number of employees who will be retained as a master conductor.