Unionized Workers Sue Railroad for Retaliation

     DENVER (CN) – The Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad retaliated against workers after they voted unanimously to unionize, the union claims in Federal Court.
     District Lodge 19 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers sued the Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad and its corporate parents, Watco Transportation Services and Watco Companies.
     The machinists union claims the railroad violated the Railway Labor Act by retaliating against carmen for voting to unionize.
     The carmen, who inspect and repair railcars, claim the railroad abruptly changed their work hours after the vote, and withheld their annual bonuses.
     “On February 14, 2013, just one day after the carmen obtained union representation and without any prior notice, K&O Railroad management announced that the start time for carmen was changed from 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.,” the union says in the complaint. “No reason was given for the change at the time. It is clear from the timing of the change and the lack of any legitimate business justification that the change was an act of retaliation against the newly unionized carmen and was intended to limit the contact between the carmen and the locomotive maintenance employees, who were in the process of a union election.”
     When two carmen quit – one was forced to resign because of the new hours imposed by management – the railroad replaced them with scabs, the union says in the complaint. It claims another carman was transferred to a station 50 miles away and forced to make the long daily commute without pay.
     Withholding the carmen’s bonuses, the union claims, was the railroad’s most grievous offense.
     “In the past, employees of K&O Railroad have consistently received bonus payments under the EVA [Economic Value Added] Bonus Plan. Carmen employees have received bonus payments each year for at least the last six years. Carmen, whose average gross salary is approximately $45,000 per year, have come to rely upon the bonus as a significant portion of their annual compensation,” the complaint states.
     “On March 15, 2013, the K&O Railroad paid out profit-sharing bonuses to employees under Watco’s EVA Bonus Plan. All Watco team members at K&O Railroad received a bonus in the amount of $1,528, except for the carmen who had voted to be represented by the IAM.
     “Carmen employed by K&O Railroad at the time of the bonus distribution were employed during the previous year and were eligible to receive an EVA Bonus under the terms of the profit-sharing plan. Nonetheless, the bonus payment was withheld from them. These carmen employees were not paid a bonus because they chose to exercise their legal right under the RLA to be represented by a union and to punish them for voting for the IAM.
     “IAM-represented carmen also had their bonuses withheld in order to deter the locomotive maintenance employees, who were then subject to an IAM organizing drive, from exercising their legal right to be represented by a union.”
     A railroad manager told the carmen that bonuses “would now have to be negotiated as part of a collective bargaining agreement in order for carmen employees to receive the annual bonus,” the union says in the lawsuit.
     Despite their railroad’s best, or worst, efforts, the locomotive maintenance workers also voted unanimously to join the machinists’ union, according to the complaint.
     “Defendants’ conduct is intended to drive away employees who voted for unionization with the ultimate aim of eliminating the union as a representative,” the union says. “Upon information and belief, Watco has employed this same anti-union strategy of eliminating union supporters at other railroads owned by it when workers have unionized.
     “IAM currently has an organizing campaign underway among the approximately 40 operating craft employees at K&O Railroad and intends to file an application for a representation election with the NMB [National Mediation Board]. Defendants’ conduct is also intended to thwart these organizing efforts.”
     The union, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, asks the court to order K&O and Watco to pay the carmen the bonuses, and to enjoin them from violating the Railway Labor Act.
     The union is represented by Joseph Guerrieri Jr., with Guerrieri Clayman, in Washington, D.C.

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