Federal Mediator Explains Role in Wabtec - UE Labor Dispute
The big show of union force is continuing on all sides of the Wabtec plant. Union workers from UE locals 506 and 618 walked off the job on Tuesday.
Craig Krol, Union Steward for Building 5 in the plant said, "Right now we're just trying to fight to maintain what we had under our current contract with GE until we can get a good contract with Wabtec, for everybody, we all want to be back to work."
Leadership for the 1,700 striking union workers now call this a lockout. UE 506 President Scott Slawson told us workers have filed for unemployment compensation.
In a written statement Wabtec officials said, "Statements by the UE that they have been locked out are simply untrue," adding, "we welcome the UE members back to work and back to the bargaining table as quickly as possible."
So strike, walkout or lockout, who is right? Michael Franczak, Regional Director for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service says that's not the question. "Part of our role is helping the parties move away from wanting to win, or wanting to be right, and getting them into a problem solving focus."
The independent federal agency has been around since 1947. They say they have a 90% success rate at helping to solve disputes.
They don't call this situation a strike or lockout, they call it a work stoppage. Their goal as a completely neutral party, is to minimize and prevent the impact of work stoppages as they impact interstate commerce.
Their Erie based Commisioner, Tim McNamara has been involved since Sunday, trying to bring Wabtec and the UE locals together, on a case they call a highly significant case because it affects 1,700 workers and a big company. "Tim McNamara has been working a dual track in terms of trying to help the parties," Franczak said, "one an interim agreement that would help them work through initial steps with the company succeeding as the new owner and then from there allowing them time to begin negotiating a longer term deal."
Here's how the FMCS helps. "Typically we’ll hold a joint session with both parties present in the room with us in the middle and we do that to lay out expectations of our involvement," Franczak said.
They move forward then, caucusing with each side on their perspective and needs, and conducting shuttle diplomacy. And then there are sidebars, "where we ask representatives from each of the teams to talk in a smaller setting perhaps off the record to try to bridge whatever difference they have as well," Franczak added.
The cost of federal mediation is covered by taxpayers. Their neutral position is the key to success, but Franczak said the issues in this strike won't be resolved until both sides are ready to make it happen. "We fully intend to fulfill our mission and do what we need to do to help the parties succeed," he said. "Ultimately it’s not just FMCS's responsibility to help the parties get a deal, we need both parties to take responsibility as well because it is truly a collective effort to make a deal happen and when both parties are ready to make that happen, we’ll be there to help build them to do it."