KCS begins using international crews at Laredo gateway after judge blocks strike

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A Kansas City Southern crewman climbs aboard a northbound intermodal train on the International Bridge linking Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in November 2017.
Bill Stephens

LAREDO, Texas – Kansas City Southern today began using international crews at the Laredo gateway, just days after a federal judge barred the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen from striking over the issue.

The July 6 decision from U.S. District Court Judge Diana Saldaña prevented the union from striking KCS subsidiary Texas-Mexican Railway. The strike was to have begun at 12:01 a.m. on July 9, the earliest date KCS planned to begin using international crews on cross-border trains. [See "Union threatens strike over KCS plans for international crews at Laredo gateway," Trains News Wire, June 28.]

KCS cross-border trains have long exchanged crews on the single-track bridge over the Rio Grande at the busiest U.S.-Mexico rail gateway. Between the crew change and customs inspections, trains spend up to 30 minutes crossing the bridge.

The practice chews up capacity on the bridge and blocks grade crossings in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, which creates safety and security hazards. KCS officials say “a train at rest is a train at risk,” whether it pauses in Laredo or Nuevo Laredo.

KCS now is using international crews between its Nuevo Laredo and Sanchez yards in Mexico and its Laredo Yard, which is about nine miles from the bridge, the railroad said in a service advisory to shippers.

“The new procedures will improve efficiency, security, and fluidity in cross-border rail operations,” the service advisory said. “Increased fluidity at the border will facilitate growth in U.S. exports and is not expected to result in the loss of any U.S. rail jobs.”

Shifting the crew change to Laredo Yard, along with customs process improvements, will nearly double capacity on the single-track International Bridge, which also carries traffic Union Pacific interchanges with KCS de Mexico.

Last month the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen threatened to strike at KCS, arguing the international crews would violate labor contracts and promises to federal regulators. The union also claimed that KCS de Mexico crews were not sufficiently trained or fluent in English.

But the court sided with KCS, which argued it has the right to make the changes under existing labor agreements. The judge also noted that the Federal Railroad Administration approved KCS’s training plan for Mexican crews.

The matter, which the judge declared was a “minor dispute,” now heads to arbitration.

The union says the shift to Mexican cross-border crews would jeopardize the jobs of 14 U.S.-based crew members who have been assigned to operating trains between the International Bridge and Laredo Yard.

KCS told the court it would not lay off employees affected by the shift of the interchange to Laredo Yard until it can resolve its dispute with the union.

The union was considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

"This fight is far from over," BLET National President Dennis Pierce wrote to union members.

"The loss of American jobs to foreign workers is nothing new from corporate America, but this blatant job grab on American soil is something that all American workers should find unacceptable,” Pierce wrote. “Promises were made to America's working class in the last election that their jobs would be protected by the current administration. We will take this fight to every venue we can, including to the White House if need be, and we will be asking all union members to join us in that outreach when we do."

The judge's ruling is available here.

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