Member Type: TD Status - Active
On Thursday, March 23 – after 15 months of negotiations – the TCU & Shop-Craft Coalition reached a tentative agreement with Amtrak to settle each organization’s respective Section 6 notices for this round of bargaining. The coalition is comprised of the SMART Mechanical Department (MD), the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers SEIU 32BJ (NCFO), International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Transport Workers Union (TWU), American Railway Airline Supervisor Association (ARASA), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) and the Transportation Communications Union (TCU).
“We appreciate the patience of our members, and we will be providing all the details of this great agreement,” the coalition said in a press release announcing the agreement.
The specific terms of the agreement have been approved by the Amtrak Board of Directors; the details will be presented to SMART MD members for ratification in the coming weeks. This article will be updated.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) held its much-anticipated hearing Dec. 14 to receive public testimony on its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding a minimum train crew size.
As it was set up, representatives from just two Class I carriers — Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern — the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and representatives of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) spoke first, followed by labor representatives.
On its face, this setup seemed to work to the benefit of the testimony of labor — the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD).
With the viability of the conductor profession on the line before regulators — a position that the carriers continually attempted to stress in testimony that from their perspective was “outmoded” or “obsolete,” carriers put forth their argument that single-person crews and nomadic conductors would in no way worsen the already frail condition of the freight rail industry.
The Precision Scheduled Railroading playbook would call the conductor position “the largest impediment to reduced Operating Ratios on the line” that the stakes were too high not to anticipate political theater.
To that end, economists and second-tier carrier executives alike offered flimsy, speculative and hard-to-follow arguments that were highlighted by the premise that UP and NS want to take conductors off of trains in order to improve the quality of life for their conductors. They peppered in the fact that short line operators are going to have difficulty petitioning FRA for variance on these rules based on “nominal” details such as the percentage of their trackage that is on grades, the tonnage of hazardous materials they haul, and the fact that their engines aren’t equipped with alerters.
Among other arguments made by carriers were that:
- A roving conductor dispatched in a truck from the crew room can get to and change a knuckle in two-thirds the time a conductor on the train could.
- Company-provided cell phones would be used to fill the safety gap created by removing the conductor. (A major shift from them being biggest safety concern for operating crew distraction for the last decade and ignoring the fact that FRA law states cell phones are to be off and store out of reach.)
- Having a single employee is simpler, and simpler is safer.
- A second employee creates a distraction for the engineer.
- The negative effects of cognitive demand placed on engineers by rail technology is speculative in nature.
- And of course, Positive Train Control is the answer to all things conducting.
All of the carrier presentations neglected that FRA’s chief duty is to apply regulations when necessary in matters of safe and efficient transport of goods and passengers across the United States. Nowhere does it say that the FRA’s job is to align itself so that carriers have the easiest course to make money.
Following lunch, FRA’s board received a steady diet of facts upon hearing labor’s side of the argument. Simple to follow, devoid of the pretzel logic used by the carriers and buoyed by the reality of working on the railroad in the 21st century was given by BLET Vice President Vincent Verna, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan and SMART TD’s own President Jeremy Ferguson.
“There is no greater risk to the safety of railroad workers and the communities they serve than the consideration of a reduction in crew size in the cab of a locomotive,” Ferguson testified. “Having conductors on trains saves lives and prevents disasters in ways technology cannot. Artificial intelligence absolutely has a role to play, but it cannot replace authentic human intelligence in railroading.”
Everyone who has worked on a railroad has had a close call, one of the reasons why the bigger carriers don’t want to participate in the voluntary C3RS system. The likely outcome being that a huge flood of data would come in showing just how important the conductor is to avoiding accidents, like an engineer’s experience President Ferguson mentioned in which a conductor got a three-year-old boy off the tracks before he was struck by the locomotive.
Labor also discussed:
- How “Menu Diving” in display screens keeps an engineer’s eyes off the rails.
- How PTC is a safety overlay not intended to be a replacement of manpower and is inoperable at yard speeds.
- How artificial Intelligence is not a substitute for authentic human intelligence when something goes wrong.
- How the Railroad Technology graveyard is full of gizmos that were supposed to be “the answer”
- How removing the conductor from the cab will increase blocked crossings — “the public’s No. 1 complaint”
- How removing the conductor from the cab eliminates all ability of a train crew to fulfill its role as first responders in emergencies.
- How advocating for conductors to remain on locomotives is advocating for avoiding unnecessary safety risks.
Single-person operations and the nomadic “expediter” model carriers are looking to pilot already have flaws that make the concept impractical on its face, Ferguson also said.
“God forbid an equipment failure occurs on the line of road without a conductor readily available to act in a moment’s notice, but especially if the train has an entire community blocked off. There is little a lone engineer can do in that situation,” Ferguson said. “I want to be realistic here. The only way that we can assure the safest course is protected during train operations is by maintaining two crewmembers in the cab of the locomotive.”
Counter to the double-talk carriers make about safety being their top priority, their business practices, ruthless cuts and a continued deterioration of service, as well as an express desire of wanting to cut even more employees, shows that the fight over crew size isn’t about better service or running a safer, more efficient railroad — it’s about the bottom line.
“The railroads have proven their willingness to make decisions that are not in the interests of safety, but rather are in the interests of profit and shareholder wealth,” Ferguson said. “Railroad safety isn’t just for the men and women working on the rails. It’s for everyday citizens that take for granted that the railroad is safe. Without a doubt, I can attest that the removal of the conductor, should it be permitted, from the cab of the locomotive will not just be catastrophic to all rail workers, it will be inimical to the American public.”
Following the testimony of Verna, Ferguson and Regan, three conductors and one BLET Auxiliary member, the spouse of an engineer, did an excellent job reinforcing the vital role conductors play in our nation’s safety and commercial viability.
The battle for two-person crews capped an important week for rail labor. Labor rallies occurred Dec. 13 in nine locations around the country, including at Capitol Hill, in conjunction with the STB hearing regarding UP embargoes and the FRA hearing to bring attention to the negative effects PSR has had on the rail labor workforce and the dangerous territory carriers have pushed the industry into.
National outlets, including CNN, have covered the fight to keep two on a crew, as part of our efforts.
There should be a word of caution attached to this positive attention. First, we are dealing with the federal government and Railroad Corporations, so we should absolutely be aware that just because logic is on our side, that absolutely does not ensure that we will win the day. On Dec. 14, your union leadership took the fight to the carriers and outclassed them. Now it is your turn to do the same.
With just one day left in the submission period, SMART-TD asks all of you to submit comments to the FRA for this NPRM on two-person crews. We have almost 13,000 comments as of now and, this is not the time to let off the gas pedal, even though labor outshined the carriers’ efforts.
If you haven’t submitted a comment, please do. If you have submitted a comment, please have your spouse, children, parents and friends submit comments.
The SMART Transportation Division would like to thank Johnny Walker, (Local 610, Baltimore, Md.) , Nick Jochim, (Local 904, Evansville, Ind.), Jessica Martin (Local 594, Mineola, Texas), Natalie Miller of BLET Auxiliary’s Nebraska chapter, and SMART-TD Utah State Legislative Director Dan Brewer (Local 1554, Ogden, Utah) for providing additional testimony reinforcing why two should stay on the crew.
Follow this link to submit your comments in support of keeping two on a crew.
October 12, 2022 — The membership of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD) has voted to ratify a tentative agreement with the carriers, after almost three years of negotiations between the union and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The vote was passed with a 54% margin in favor of the negotiated contract.
The ratified contract includes historic wage increases, five annual service recognition payments, an additional paid day off and enhanced healthcare benefits. Members will immediately receive a 13.5% wage increase, and members will also receive retroactive pay and $3,000 in service recognition payments within 60 days.
“It was up to our members to decide whether to accept this agreement, and the members have made the decision to ratify a contract with the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national freight rail bargaining,” said Joseph Sellers, Jr., general president of SMART. “However, we hear the concerns of our members who may be disappointed in the outcome of this vote, and I promise that we will never stop fighting to ensure that they receive the wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running.”
September 11, 2022 — SMART’s Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (Mechanical Department or MD) reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which includes the highest wage increases ever achieved in national freight rail bargaining. The tentative agreement provides our members with a 24% general compounded wage increase over five years. In addition, members would receive five annual service recognition payments of $1,000. Upon ratification, our members, including our retired and deceased members, will receive full retroactive pay consisting of the wage increases and service recognition payments.
Furthermore, the tentative agreement will provide an additional paid day off that can be used as either a personal leave day, a vacation day or on the employee’s birthday. Our healthcare benefits were enhanced to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder and an increase in hearing aid benefits. There are no work rule changes or cuts to our healthcare benefits. The tentative agreement also includes a “Me Too” provision, where if another union reaches an agreement that provides more economic value, we can receive that same value in our agreement. The tentative agreement was reached based on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250.
SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated, “After nearly three years of difficult and protracted negotiations with the carriers, I’m very pleased that our Mechanical Department members are receiving the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national bargaining. Contrary to what the carriers may say, our highly skilled members’ contributions are the reason for the carriers’ extremely high profits, and it’s about time that our members receive the fair contract that we have been fighting for, and that the carriers have been fighting against, for the past several years.”
Ratification ballots will be mailed to SMART MD freight rail members soon. While SMART MD was able to reach a tentative agreement, the Transportation Division is still negotiating with the NCCC. General President Sellers calls on the NCCC to resolve the attendance policies and working conditions impacting operating employees in order to provide a better quality of life for our brothers and sisters in the Transportation Division.
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose didn’t elaborate on the Rule of 2 that his agency recently put forth for the public to weigh in on, but he made it clear as he spoke on the second day of the SMART Leadership Conference that the lines of communication at his agency are open.
And comments are encouraged, he said.
“We truly appreciate your insights in keeping us informed on a daily basis of the things you see and hear, especially when reporting potentially unsafe conditions,” Bose said.
Safety inspections and audits are up at the agency, and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Rule of Two, which requires a minimum of two crew members on trains, is open for public comment.
The past year and a half of work at the agency has been focused on undoing a questionable course taken under the prior administration in regard to safe rail operations, Bose said, so much of his time has been spent reorienting FRA so that safety is the end goal.
“I want you all to know that my North Star is and always will be safety. It’s about safety. The word ‘politics’ doesn’t enter into my thinking in any way in any part of my day,” Bose said. “I don’t know where politics was from January 2017 to January 2021, I can tell you that some of the decisions that the previous administration made, that word was definitely in there.”
Among the changes by Bose — a reactivation of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) and the resumption of safety audits of Class I carriers.
“FRA shares SMART’s commitment to make sure rail operations are safe for workers, rail passengers and the public,” he said.
Bose said that his agency has been and will remain available to hear worker concerns.
“We’ll act promptly to correct problems within FRA’s purview and, for matters that don’t, lend FRA’s voice to bring about workable solutions,” Bose said.
Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson thanked Administrator Bose for taking the time to appear before the union.
“He truly is pointing FRA in a good direction for our members’ safety and for a better rail system in the United States,” President Ferguson said.
SAN FRANCISCO — Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO President Greg Regan emphasized that the resurgence of labor unions’ power has been very apparent as he addressed the general session Aug. 9, the second day of the SMART Leadership Conference.
It began as the nation coped with the pandemic and then as the Biden administration set its sights toward accomplishing true action on infrastructure.
“The labor movement drove the response,” Regan said. “We were the ones who delivered for working people every step of the way.”
Among the examples: Investments in the transportation sector through the CARES Act, which put SMART-TD members furloughed by Amtrak back on the job after the pandemic froze the nation’s transportation system, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which outlaid a historic level of funding for Amtrak and public transportation, among others.
“This is the type of legislation that every president since Richard Nixon has been trying to accomplish,” Regan said. “And it happened last year. That doesn’t happen without the strength of the labor movement pushing that legislation.
“This is a rebirth for this country. We have a massive amount of opportunity for infrastructure in this country right here and we cannot skip over that. We might want to go on and move on to the next fight, but we should take a moment to reflect on what a major accomplishment that was.”
Regan mentioned specifically the work of the legislative departments of both SMART and the Transportation Division on Capitol Hill.
Now, as national rail contract negotiations near the end of the line set forth by the Railway Labor Act and comment has opened for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by the Federal Railroad Administration to make a minimum two-person rail crew nationwide, transportation labor has a chance to flex its muscles again.
Regan took part, along with many unionized workers from multiple industries July 30 in Galesburg, Ill., as they stood together to draw attention to carriers’ treatment of rail workers.
“We are not going to buckle. They are not going to be able to split us,” he said. “There is a level of strength and solidarity I see in freight rail right now that is unmatched.”
As for getting the Rule of 2 finalized by the Federal Railroad Administration, Regan said he’s confident that the public and regulators will recognize that it’s a safety issue and non-negotiable, especially as the comment period progresses to its conclusion in late September. “We’re not going to back down. We’re going to stay together, we’re going to fight like hell and we’re going to deliver.”
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