Risch: 'Another year over. And a new one just begun'

Published: January 6, 2015

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Risch

By John Risch, 
National Legislative Director – 

“So this is Christmas, And what have you done, Another year over, And a new one just begun,” so sang John Lennon.

The holidays are a good time for all of us to ponder what we have done to make life better for our families, our brothers and sisters in the workplace, and the communities in which we live.

I love a new year; 2015 offers a fresh start with new opportunities to make some progress for our membership and in our personal lives. The year 2014 is water under the bridge, and dwelling on past mistakes and lost opportunities wastes precious time and energy.

There are opportunities, and of course challenges, in store for our union this year and we are preparing to address them all.

National negotiations with the big freight railroads are front and center. John Previsich, our Transportation Division president, has assembled a great negotiating team and this team, along with our general chairpersons, have established our priorities. The rail industry, of course, has other priorities, but then that’s the nature of collective bargaining.

The good news is the industry is in very good financial shape and the future looks great for freight rail in America. Our big freight railroads are investing in their infrastructure and are hiring far beyond normal attrition levels, meaning there will be more jobs in the industry in 2015 than in 2014.

It makes sense for America to expand our freight rail network for a number of reasons: shipping by rail is better for the environment; it’s more fuel efficient, it relieves highway congestion and freight rail doesn’t rely on government investment, because it is almost entirely privately funded.

As for passenger rail, Amtrak continues to set ridership records and needs less federal operating assistance every year. Amtrak, however, continues to need additional money to invest in infrastructure and equipment. We will be working with Amtrak’s leadership to make that case in Congress. In addition to Amtrak, passenger rail is expanding. California is proceeding with their high-speed rail project and there are other passenger rail proposals in Florida, Texas, Nevada and elsewhere.

For our bus members, there are always challenges for adequate funding at the federal and state levels. Our national office and our state legislative directors will be working to make sure transit agencies get the money they sorely need. But the big picture for public transportation is that more young people are opting out of cars in favor of public transportation. So the future is bright here as well.

There is no question the 2015 Congress, and many of the state legislatures, are more conservative and less supportive of public transportation and organized labor in general than in 2014. So be it. We will make our case that investments in public transportation, and adopting policies that encourage the expansion of rail, is not just good for our members, but is good for America as well.

So this is Christmas. And while we will have lots of challenges in 2015, it’s a great time to be in our industry and for that reason we are truly blessed.

Wishing you and your family all the best this holiday season.