RWU History


Where Did Railroad Workers United Come From?

ROCU History & Achievments -- A Brief Timeline

RWU got its beginnings in a rank-and-file organization called Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), a coalition of rank-and-file members of the BLET and the UTU who wished to put an end to the divisive battles between the leaders of their unions. ROCU’s goal was first and foremost a democratic merger of the UTU & BLET in order to build unity and solidarity, and thereby to better defend the membership - both engineers and trainmen. ROCU was carrying on a long tradition of rank and filers attempting to build unity among the various rail crafts.

Organized in April 2005, ROCU officially disbanded in November of 2007 in favor of initiating a new and much broader membership-based organization -- Railroad Workers United (RWU).

  • November 1, 2004: The major carriers represented by the NCCC unveil their demand for Single Employee Crews in identical “Section 6” Notices to both the UTU and the BLET leadership.
  • April 2005: ROCU is founded and soon thereafter issues a statement, “What We Stand For”. ROCU begins to campaign vigorously against the carriers’ idea of “transportation employee”, while the UTU and the BLET leadership do nothing. We educate thousands of rank-and-file union members of this ugly reality, circulate a Petition Against Single Employee Operations, and mobilize mass opposition. All the while, we agitate for our unions to Stop the War between them and to instead fight the carriers.
  • December 2005: ROCU consistently took a principled stand against Remote Control Operations (RCO), and together with the National Public Safety Committee Against Unmanned Locomotives (NPSCAUL) drafted a Resolution Against RCO which was widely circulated.
  • January 2006: After ROCU’s sounding the alarm and building support among rank-and-file members for nearly a year, finally UTU President Paul Thompson and BLET President Don Hahs issue a truce on January 31 and pledge to stop raiding each other and instead stand in Solidarity Against the Carriers and the demand for single employee operation of trains. ROCU  had of course been urging this action for months.
  • June 2006: ROCU joins forces with BLET Division #316 in spring 2006. Together we are able to pass the One-Member-One-Vote initiative by a 2:1 margin so all BLET members will have a future say in who the top leadership is of our union via direct election of the membership.
  • September 2006: The victory achieved by the One-member-One-Vote campaign inspires our Canadian brothers and sisters to do the same. Just a few short months after its passage in the U.S., Canadian members of the BLET (Teamster Canada Rail Conference) vote 88% in favor of a similar Initiative in Canada.
  • January 2007: After 18 long months of work, ROCU publishes a draft of a proposed Constitution and Merger Agreement   to serve as a model under which to merge the BLET and the UTU into one powerful and unified organization. The documents make broad provision for greater membership participation, internal democracy, and rank-and-file control of the union.
  • Winter 2007: ROCU publishes a first-of-its-kind, Rail Labor History Calendar, complete with 12 different photos of the various crafts and seventy-five entries of significant dates in the rail labor history of North America. The calendar is used to support the Spring Fundraising Drive.
  • Spring 2007: While the UTU International officials hang the Canadian strikers out to dry, ROCU comes out in support of the strikers on the CN. We draft a Resolution of Support for CN Strikers and post it to leadership of both the UTU and the BLET International and the local strike leaders in Canada.
  • Spring 2007: ROCU initiates a “Vote No!” campaign among BLET members in national handling, in particular because – together with the on-property side agreements – it opens the door to RCO usage on the road and threatens to reignite the war between the two unions of the operating crafts. Some UP General Committees do in fact vote no, but nationwide the TA is approved. Immediately -- as ROCU had predicted -- the war between the UTU and the BLET is re-ignited.
  • Summer 2007: When the UTU runs for cover into the arms of the Sheet Metal Workers (SMWIA), ROCU insists that this is not the answer. We vigorously campaigned against the “SMART”merger  because its passage has the potential to extinguish all hope for the merger of the operating crafts; i.e., the UTU with the BLET. Our efforts prove unsuccessful. The SMART merger is approved in August 2007.
  • Fall 2007: Shortly after the SMART merger vote, ROCU begins a long internal debate/discussion as to the future direction for the organization. Numerous options and ideas are considered. In November 2007, ROCU votes to officially dissolve, and in its place launch a new organization with a different and broader focus – Railroad Workers United  (RWU). The full resources of ROCU are then put at the disposal of RWU.
  • 2005 thru 2007: Throughout its existence, ROCU actively compiles a large database of supporters and contact information. During this time, ROCU maintains a group discussion list, holds bi-weekly nationwide conference calls, maintains a first-class website, and puts rail labor activists from around the country in touch with one another. ROCU has built up a vibrant network of supporters. and activists among UTU and BLET members, employed by every major rail carrier in over 100 terminals nationwide. Engineers, trainmen, and yardmasters are all included, with seniority dates ranging from one year to forty. As of fall, RWU begins to include numerous track workers, clerks, shop crafts members, signal maintainers, retirees and spouses as well.

Many railroaders heard about ROCU for the first time when they found a sticker in an engine cab.

Many railroaders heard about ROCU for the first time when they found a sticker in an engine cab.