Union won’t accept Harrison’s blame for CSX service failures

RELATED TOPICS: CSX | LABOR RELATIONS | EAST | EHH
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The union representing CSX Transportation conductors and other operating employees has a message for CEO E. Hunter Harrison: Don’t blame us for the railroad’s service problems.

Last month, in a letter to CSX customers, Harrison said employee resistance to change has resulted in service disruptions.

Not so, according to the five general chairmen of the SMART Transportation Division.

“The organization refuses to accept responsibility for service disruptions that negatively affect the customers when we have no input on operational changes,” the chairmen wrote to Harrison in a letter dated Aug. 3.

“Our members, the ballast line employees, rightfully take your comments as a personal attack on their professionalism,” the chairmen wrote. “Your letter was a kick to the gut and a severe blow to their morale.”

The union rank-and-file have worked through numerous operational challenges, the chairmen wrote. And their “support and advice” regarding operations has been ignored, the union officials said.

The union’s members are stockholders, the chairmen noted, and have a vested interest in the direction of the company. “To suggest contract employees would intentionally disrupt operations misleads the general public and insults the integrity of our crafts,” the chairmen wrote.

The union officials also said the membership is “pushing forward” despite “harsh treatment,” furloughs, and what it said were management’s repeated contract violations. General Chairman John Whitaker did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

Harrison has made sweeping operational changes at CSX while rolling out precision scheduled railroading. Seven of the railroad’s dozen humps have been converted to flat-switching facilities, and service has been redesigned so that cars bypass terminals and are handled fewer times en route.

“The pace of change at CSX has been extremely rapid, and while most people at the company have embraced the new plan, unfortunately, a few have pushed back and continue to do so,” Harrison wrote to customers. “This resistance to change has resulted in some service disruptions. To those customers that have experienced such issues, we sincerely apologize. As we move forward, we will continue to address these internal personnel matters.”

A growing number of service disruptions — and complaints from shippers — last month prompted federal regulators to step up monitoring of CSX. Dwell has soared at several major terminals, train speeds have declined, and some shippers have reported diverting business to truck or rival Norfolk Southern.

J.B. Hunt, for example, advised its intermodal customers to expect continued delays at certain terminals across the South while the railroad works to implement service improvements. As of July 31, the trucking company warned its customers to expect delays of 48 to 72 hours in Jacksonville and Tampa; Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Memphis, Tenn. Delays of 24 to 48 hours were occurring in Atlanta and Savannah, Ga.

CSX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Mr. Harrison's letter made a generic reference to ‘people’ at CSXT 'pushing back' against his plan to implement a precision scheduled railroad. Our members working at CSXT are highly skilled and trained professionals, and if Mr. Harrison's letter was intended to insinuate otherwise his comments are misguided,” an official from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said in a statement.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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