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.”

Union Plus has once again opened its ‘Unions Power America’ contest. The contest runs now and ends August 8 at 11:59 p.m.

Cash prizes have been announced with a grand prize of $25,000, first prize of $20,000, second prize of $15,000 and 25 third prizes of $2,000 each.

To win, members need to tell Union Plus how you or another union member you know are making a difference at home or in your/their community. If nominating someone else, both of you will be entered to win.

Go here to read the official contest rules and to enter you or a co-worker to win.

Attention freight rail members in national handling:

To further strengthen our PEB presentation, we are soliciting additional evidence regarding the restrictive and punitive measures carriers have used to punish employees who are attempting to look after their own health, and the actions taken by members to avoid such.

Specifically, we are requesting that members provide details surrounding any time where they felt they had to come to work ill and/or injured, in order to avoid potential discipline and loss of compensation. This includes any time where members may have neglected to care for their own personal health because of the Carriers’ policies.

Additionally, we ask that members share any stories where they have either been denied mark-offs to tend to their own personal health or marked off sick and were subsequently punished. These mark-off requests could have been to attend counseling sessions, routine medical appointments, and/or medical treatments; but must have been for the employee — not a family member or relative.

We want to show how these policies have harmed you and how having paid sick days to care for your own personal health, without retribution, would be a much-needed relief for T&E crews.

Please respond to legal_TD@smart-union.org.

Please reply with your name, local number, and current contact information, in the event that we need to contact you to gather additional information.

In solidarity,

SMART Transportation Division

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) would like to take a few moments to update the thousands of essential rail workers whom we proudly represent, the rail shippers and customers, as well as the public at large on the real status of labor negotiations and about the serious factual misrepresentations that the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and railroad representatives are stating as “FACT” surrounding the “railroad labor negotiations and the need to avert a network shutdown.” Their claims are simply not true.

Let me be clear, rail labor is NOT looking to strike or shut down the nation’s economy at the expense of everyone. We want and deserve a fair agreement for our members. We strongly believe that a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) will help us to garner that without the necessity of a strike. This does not mean that we will not do what’s necessary to get a fair agreement, but rather we expect the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to do its job as it has in the past so that it does not come to that. We are fully prepared to act if the provisions of the RLA get to the point of self-help or strike.

I was present and testified with a full team of experts in front of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on April 26th and 27th in Washington D.C., concerning the massive network disruptions, the negative effects of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), and the pending supply chain collapse due to railroad mismanagement of their networks. Shippers don’t know when they will be serviced, and the workforce doesn’t know when we will be going to work. I was proud to testify to make it known that we fully support our customers’ efforts to have the reliable and consistent service that they not only deserve, but also contracted with the railroad(s) for. I made it clear then, and now do so once again, that we stand ready to do everything within our power to keep freight moving and to support this country’s supply chain and economy.

Much like the testimony delivered by the railroads and AAR at the STB hearings, again there’s a steady stream of lip service, half-truths and misleading innuendo trying to skew the truth about the status of negotiations. I would also note that, to date, the AAR has not put forth any data supporting the “fair” percentage wage increases they are proposing and “provide well-deserved compensation increases to our essential employees and are consistent with labor market benchmarks.” What they are purporting as fair is only fair in their eyes and obviously not seen as “fair” by their essential employees who are quitting their jobs in record numbers. I have been at the negotiating table. I have yet to see any fair proposals put forth by the carriers in three years of negotiations. The benchmarks they are using at the negotiating table were established well before the pandemic and inflation occurred. I would also cite the fact that due to the PSR scheme worker productivity is running at such a high level that it is literally about to snap like an overstretched cable or chain.

Assuredly, a 16% wage increase over five years is not acceptable by today’s benchmarks. The railroads’ plans to increase the employees’ share of healthcare costs to such a point that the raises become net-zero is not reflective of rail carriers’ record profits or of their desire to keep their “valued freight rail customers,” isolated from further network disruptions caused by lack of manpower. The proposed five-year increases also come below all standard cost of living metrics. The railroads these days are having a very difficult time attracting potential new employees because of their refusal to bargain in conjunction with today’s benchmarks, much in the same way that they refuse to acknowledge shippers’ need to have sufficient and reliable service in accordance with their common carrier obligations.

On multiple occasions, SMART-TD has stood up for shippers, while carriers lacked any interest in fixing the current shipping problems that worsen by the day. PSR is the reason. Everyone knows it. Legislation may be needed for a permanent fix to the problem, and I think that day is coming soon. The quickest fix is to stop the railroads from running such ridiculously long trains, which the current infrastructure can’t handle, and get back to basics now! Instead, they cajole shippers to help them save a few dollars of their record profits, wanting to tip the scales against the very people who do the work and who are chiefly responsible for getting the railroads their profits. This is appalling. By hanging the fear of service disruptions in front of the shippers, it would almost be comical if the current state of the supply chain situation were not so dire.

Meanwhile, the tales told by the mouthpieces of the carriers keep getting bigger and bigger. One such fish tale dangled in front of people mentions that labor seeks a 47% wage increase. Even the head of the National Railway Labor Conference can’t provide the evidence to document this whopper. The truth is the three biggest railroads at the negotiating table don’t want to part with ANY of their record profits, nor do they wish to reward the workers who have busted their asses for the last three years without a raise, to get them those record profits. The shareholders were rewarded with record buybacks of $10 billion. Where is the reward for the employees who are actually doing the back-breaking work to make those buybacks possible? With a stale contract that has been in effect since prior to inflation taking hold, the workers have nothing to show for their blood, sweat and tears, as well as the sacrifices they and their families have made.

Pouring on the risk and absurdity, the big 3 claim they wish to get a deal done given those “fair” proposals they’ve allegedly made. What they’re not telling everyone is that instead of negotiating with labor at the national table to get this deal done, they are instead more concerned with keeping up their mediation meetings in an attempt to get a crew-consist agreement completed to further reduce the rail workforce, thanks to the allegedly “fair” arbitrator selection process out of the previous National Mediation Board (NMB). Carriers again are attempting to go to one person occupying the cab of a freight train. (Their ultimate stated goal is zero crewmembers on trains frequently carrying hazardous freight.) Such a measure would put the safety of our communities at serious risk and the supply chain in dire jeopardy, more so than it is right now. Were carriers so concerned about a fair national agreement to stop service disruptions, one would think they would concentrate on the goal of a national agreement. Instead, carrier execs and their cronies are off for two weeks at a time trying to find a way to get rid of more employees rather than trying to come up with a fair and equitable agreement to keep the ones they now have. UNBELIEVEABLE, but not surprising!

Class 1 railroads are not just servicing their own greed and that of Wall Street, they are working against serving their own customers, their own workforce, the families of their employees, the communities they serve and the American economy. This strategy will net them those short-term monetary gains they desire at the expense of the long-term viability of the American supply chain, our national security and the long-term health of the national economy.

Lastly, I find it very offensive that the railroads, via the AAR, would reach out to the shippers to assist their efforts in advocating for so-called “fair-minded” arbitrators with rail industry experience to the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to help facilitate what they perceive to be a reasonable agreement and avoid network disruptions. We all know that getting a good contract for the workforce will not only stop the bleeding, but it will also help employee morale and keep the supply chain moving. Absent an enticing contract, the current workforce will continue to shrink and worsen the situation more than any other factors possibly could. I can’t stop my members from leaving the industry, but the railroads can by offering a truly fair and equitable agreement with wage increases, no changes to healthcare costs and predictable scheduling, among other asks.

To the rail customers: I urge you to respond to the AAR’s request by telling them that you support SMART-TD and labor as we have supported you. We have faith that the Railway Labor Act process will work just fine, much like it always has since 1934, and you should too. Don’t let yourselves “get railroaded” by the AAR. America’s Class 1 railroads are attempting to “railroad” customers, railroad employees, their families, and the American public, as a whole, and “attention must be paid.” Don’t listen to their propaganda. Do your research and look at the facts for what they are. I can assure you, if the carriers get what they are proposing, things will only get worse and it will be their own fault.

Sincerely,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Local 1374 (New Castle, Pa.) conductor Erik D. O’Brien, 44, lost his life Saturday, May 21, 2022, when his car hit the back of a semi-truck on his way home from work around 4 p.m.

Erik D. O’Brien

A 1996 graduate of Marlington High School in Alliance, Ohio, Brother O’Brien was a member of the Louisville Baptist Temple, the Civil Air Patrol, the NRA and was a part of his high school wrestling team. He enjoyed skydiving, going to shooting ranges and spending time with his dog and family.

A 23-year member of CSX Local 1374, Brother O’Brien was both a certified conductor and engineer.

“I only knew Erik from some phone calls over the years, and he seemed to be a great person,” said GO 049 General Chairperson Rick Lee. “He was a loyal member of UTU/SMART.”

Brother O’Brien is survived by his parents, Daniel and Denise (Boyce) O’Brien; wife, Catherine (Welton); son, Caiden John O’Brien; brother, Shane (Jodi) O’Brien; as well as several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. He was preceded in death by his paternal and maternal grandparents.

A visitation is scheduled Friday, May 27 at the Louisville Baptist Temple, 6565 Columbus Road NE, Louisville, OH 44641, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.. A funeral service will be held privately and he will be interred at Fairmount Memorial Park.

A fund has been set up for Erik’s son, Caiden, and checks may be made out and sent to the funeral home with the name Caiden O’Brien in the memo. The funeral home handling the fund is Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, 75 S. Union Ave., Alliance, Ohio 44601. Memorial contributions may also be made to the NRA, 11250 Waples Mill Road, Fairfax, VA 22030 or to Gideons International, P.O. Box 97251, Washington, D.C. 20090.

Click here to leave condolences for the family.

SMART-TD offers our sincere condolences to Brother O’Brien’s family, Local 1374, his friends and all who knew him.

May 24 marks the rollout of the Membership 101 portion of SMART University, an online video-based educational resource designed for new SMART Transportation Division members to get acquainted with their union.

The first flight of releases includes video primers on local meetings, the roles of local officers, how to approach a carrier investigatory hearing and other important topics for union members.

At this time, access to these videos is exclusively as a resource available in the Member Portal of the revamped SMART website. Instructions on how TD members can create an account to access the Member Portal are available on the website.

“This is an exciting project that we’ve been working on for some time,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “These videos can be accessed anytime and anywhere. In conjunction with our Regional Training Seminars and other training efforts, we’re hoping that these serve as building blocks to engage one another and to make our union stronger.”

Suggestions for future videos can be emailed to the TD President’s Department at president_TD@smart-union.org.

Additional educational efforts for union officers are forthcoming and are expected to be rolled out very soon.

William “Larry” Foster, a SMART Transportation Division Alumni Association member and retiree from Local 226 (Moberly, Mo.) who proudly served our union as Missouri’s state legislative director for the better part of two decades, passed away May 4 at his home. He was 80.

Foster

Foster began as state legislative director in April 1992 and was re-elected to multiple terms leading the state legislative board until his retirement in 2008. He also worked as a conductor for Norfolk Southern.

“Larry was the one early on in my railroad career that got me interested in our legislative department and helped guide me as a new legislative representative and executive board member until his retirement in 2008,” said current Missouri State Legislative Director Jason Hayden (Local 1405, St. Louis, Mo.). “His legacy and imprint on this board will never be forgotten, and he will be dearly missed.”

A U.S. Army veteran, having served from 1959-68, Brother Foster was a member of the Moberly Masonic Lodge and the Sweet Springs Baptist Church.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Linda; daughters Lori Barrier (Ronnie) and Toni Stock, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A visitation is planned 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, May 9, 2022, at the Cater Funeral Home Chapel, 1520 E. Rollins, Moberly, MO 65270. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at Cater Funeral Home Chapel with burial following in Memorial Park Cemetery.

SMART Transportation Division offers its condolences to Brother Foster’s family, friends and the union brothers and sisters in Missouri who mourn his passing.

Follow this link to view Foster’s official obituary and to leave condolences for the family.