Author Archive

SMART-TD officer, New York senators object to LIRR service reductions

SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President and General Chairperson Anthony Simon and eight New York state senators took the CEO and chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transit Agency to task for planned service reductions for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).

The carrier plans to reduce weekday service to the equivalent of a weekend schedule beginning March 8, a move described by state Sen. James Gaughran and seven colleagues as operating LIRR as a “skeleton service.”

“We urge you to reconsider this decision and withhold implementation of the planned service reduction,” the senators wrote in their letter, dated March 3. “These ridership cuts will negatively impact countless essential workers, like the workers of the MTA, who rely on public transportation to earn a living, support their families, and contribute to our economy.”

In his letter dated Feb. 24, Simon communicated to MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye that this course of action also did not seem to be a sound strategy as a potential spring economic awakening for New York City appears to be approaching.

Alternate Vice President and GCA-505 General Chairperson Anthony Simon appears Sept. 30 at a rally in New York City.

“While the MTA should be incentivizing customers back to the system, why would we choose now to reduce service further?” wrote GC Simon of GCA-505, which represents SMART-TD members employed by LIRR. “It makes no sense that riders should now have to return to a system with limited service opportunities and potential concerns for safe distancing capabilities when vaccine availability is improving and both federal and state leaders are attempting to stimulate the economy.”

The service reductions were supposed to last only until particular projects were completed by LIRR but could now be extended past the May 23 date that LIRR had given, according to Simon.

Both Simon and the senators made special note that SMART-TD members have worked through the pandemic, risking infection by COVID-19 as they continued to serve on the front lines of public transport. Simon argued in his letter that federal funds provided by the Biden administration should be used to maintain service to LIRR riders to ensure they have substantial service and a safe environment.

“Our members have weathered the effects of this pandemic as the heroes you’ve gratefully declared them to be time and time again. They have delivered to the riding public through some of the most difficult times in the history of our railroad,” Simon wrote. “Now is the time for them to continue delivering by leaving the adjusted weekday schedule as is and not seek a limited savings opportunity by creating a disincentive for our customers to come back.”

Read the senators’ and Simon’s letters. (PDF)

Member dies in Calif. accident

A Local 1544 (Maywood, Calif.) member lost his life as a result of injuries while performing service early March 3.

Brother Taj Ellis, 46, of Chino, Calif., was making a set-out in La Mirada Yard in Orange County, Calif., at 12:30 a.m. when he was fatally injured.

He had been a member of our union since July 2013 and was a conductor for BNSF.

A member of the SMART-TD National Safety Team is assisting the National Transportation Safety Board, which has launched an investigation into the accident.

Brother Ellis is the first on-the-job casualty of 2021 for our union. Last year, four of our members died while in service.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Ellis’ family, his Local 1544 brothers and sisters and all those who knew him.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

Union Plus program offers help to those affected by winter storm in Texas

If you are a union member who participates in certain Union Plus programs and have been affected by the severe storms in Texas, you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant program.

Union Plus Disaster Relief Grants of $500 are available to eligible participants of one of the following programs:

  • Union Plus Credit Card Program
  • Union Plus Mortgage Program
  • Union Plus Personal Loan Program
  • Union Plus Life Insurance
  • Union Plus Accidental Death Insurance
  • Union Plus Auto Insurance
  • Union Plus Retiree Health Program

To qualify for a Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant:

  1. Your residence must be in a county qualifying for individual assistance money from FEMA. To check if your county has been designated as an area eligible for individual assistance, visit FEMA’s disaster declarations page.
  2. You must have had a Union Plus Credit Card for at least three months, Union Plus Personal Loan for at least six months, Union Plus Mortgage, Union Plus Retiree Health Insurance, Union Plus Life or Accidental Death Insurance or Union Plus Auto Insurance for at least 12 months with that account or policy in good standing (be up to date on payments).

If you participate in the Union Plus Credit Card Program and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-622-2580.

If you participate in any other of the designated programs and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-472-2005. The Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund has provided nearly $1 million in assistance to union members facing hardships following Hurricanes Michael and Florence, floods and other natural disasters. Head to the Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund page to learn more about the benefits and eligibility requirements.

Additional information about Texas disaster assistance is available here.

NLD Hynes appears on the Rick Smith Show

National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes was a guest on the labor-oriented Rick Smith Show on Feb. 24 where he discussed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier this week that threw out the Federal Railroad Administration’s negative preemption claim which would have nullified our two person state laws.

In addition to talking about the two-person crew ruling that reinstated state laws governing crew size, Hynes also discussed the history of railroads using technology not to improve operations but instead to eliminate jobs to increase profits and the need for Amtrak safety to be tightened in the wake of January’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Listen to the podcast here.

 

 

Ninth Circuit Ruling Favors Unions and States, Rejects FRA’s Attempt to Preempt State Crew Law

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Feb. 23, 2021) — Two of the country’s largest freight railroad unions achieved a favorable decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday regarding an attempt by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to preempt legislation passed by a number of states that established a minimum of two-person operating crews on freight trains.

The case, brought by the states of California, Washington and Nevada and by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), challenged former FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s attempt to cancel the laws of those and other states while at the same time attempting to authorize nationwide one-person crews. The unions and states argued that Batory’s May 2019 order violated the comment-and-notice procedures of Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that his agency could not implicitly preempt the state safety rules.

The Court of Appeals ruled that FRA’s order was “arbitrary and capricious,” taking particular note that the assertions by FRA and the rail carriers that reducing the number of crew members in the cab to one person could improve safety “did not withstand scrutiny” and “was lacking.” The court also criticized the order as not being a “logical outgrowth” of the two-person crew proposal, because “[t]here was nothing in the [proposed regulation] to put a person on notice that the FRA might adopt a national one-person crew limit.”

The court chided FRA for basing its negative preemption decision on “an economic rationale” instead of what is its main obligation — safety.

The court also found the order’s “real and intended effect is to authorize nationwide one-person train crews and to bar any contrary state regulations.” In that it utterly failed to address the safety concerns raised by nearly 1,550 commenters who support two-person crews, the court found the order’s rationale was arbitrary and capricious, thus violating the APA.

Likewise, the court eviscerated the lack of a sound factual basis in the order, which merely cited a study funded by the Association of American Railroads, holding that “a single study suggesting that one-person crew operations ‘appear as safe’ as two-person crews seems a thin reed on which to base a national rule.”

“First, we thank the more than 1,500 BLET and SMART–TD members who took the time to comment on the need for two-person crews, because you have made a difference,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “We also congratulate the judges in this case for recognizing the former Administrator overstepped his bounds, and we look ahead to working with the FRA when crew size is again considered on a national level by the agency as a matter of public and operational safety.”

“We assert, and will continue to assert, that having two sets of eyes and two people working in concert together with any improvements in technology, will be the best way to serve public safety and to continue the effective and efficient movement of our nation’s railroads,” the union presidents said.

The court ruling, in vacating and remanding the FRA order, sends the matter of a potential rulemaking for freight railroad crew size back to FRA for the agency’s consideration. It also means that two-person crew legislation in the states that had been targeted by FRA’s order remain in effect.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is available here (PDF).

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Staggered by winter storm, SMART brothers and sisters in Texas need our help

Dear members of the SMART Transportation Division:

Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Texas are struggling with the effects of the winter storm that devastated the state’s infrastructure this month.

Many people throughout the state — from big cities to rural areas — are dealing with displacement or damaged homes as a deadly icy blast made roads impassable, froze pipes and knocked out power. But even where power has been restored, Texans face the challenge of rebuilding and recovering. The silver lining is, and will continue to be, that the generosity of people around the country is helping to uplift people so that they may reclaim their lives.

We are asking our SMART-TD family to rise to the call and give so that the daunting task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for our people in Texas. In cooperation with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and thanks to efforts by SMART Army volunteers, our union already has boots on the ground and we are helping to provide necessities to those stricken by the storm.

Of particular need are:
• Drinking water, including five-gallon jugs.
• Residential plumbing materials of all kinds, especially “Shark Bite” or “Gator Bite” brands where soldering is not required that are available at home improvement stores.

Transportation Division Vice President Chad Adams is leading relief/recovery efforts specific to the TD in the state. Contact him at 254-718-2988 or email cadams@smart-union.org to arrange a donation of goods or if you need assistance.

Relief donation sites for goods also have been set up in conjunction with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters:

SMART Local 54
900 West 34th Street, Suite 54
Houston, TX 77292
Call Business Manager Eddie Gonzalez at 713-245-6784 to let him know a donation is coming.

SMART Local 67
11 Burwood Lane
San Antonio, TX 78216
Call Business Manager James May at 210-867-6748 to let him know a donation is coming.

SMART Local 68
1020 South Industrial Blvd.
Euless, TX 76040
Call Business Manager Calvin Jennings at 817-832-2831 to let him know a donation is coming.

State Legislative Boards, General Committees and Locals, as well as individual members, are encouraged to make a financial donation to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund. Together we can help lessen the struggle, strengthen the recovery and bring hope and relief to our members in Texas. Online pay methods are being explored, but the TD Disaster Relief Fund only accepts monetary donations in the form of checks at this time.

Contributions may be sent to:
SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333

Thank you and God bless,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, SMART Transportation Division

Greg Regan, Shari Semelsberger elected new leaders of TTD

Washington, D.C. – Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger were unanimously elected today as President and Secretary-Treasurer, respectively, of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), by the organization’s Executive Committee. The SMART Transportation Division is a member of the TTD.

Regan started at TTD as a legislative representative in 2011, was elected secretary-treasurer in 2017, and subsequently re-elected to that role this past March. Semelsberger began her career with TTD in 1999, and for the past decade has served as the office administrator, overseeing much of TTD’s operations.

Their election, held virtually, follows the tragic and untimely death of former TTD President Larry Willis who, over a 20-year career, helped establish TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system.

A memorial video was produced by TTD to honor Willis.

“Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who build, operate, and maintain our transportation system. He helped shape many of the policies frontline workers benefit from today, including due process and labor protections that are now standard in federally funded infrastructure projects,” Regan said. “I am committed to carrying forward the work Larry started, and will fight to improve the lives of transportation workers. Along with our unions, I am eager to help steer transportation workers through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and look forward to working with the Biden administration to build back better once the pandemic is behind us.”

Transportation union leaders also unveiled the Larry Willis Leadership Award, which will be given annually to a public servant or community leader who demonstrates commitment, dedication, and advocacy on behalf of transportation workers.

“Millions of people have had their lives improved because of Larry’s work. We see it today in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached, the colleagues and staff he mentored and inspired, and the working people he dedicated his life to,” Semelsberger said. “The Larry Willis Leadership Award will ensure this legacy lives on by recognizing those who exemplify the work ethic, passion, and mission-driven focus that Larry brought to TTD every day.”

TTD’s Executive Committee also discussed their priorities — including federally mandated COVID-19 workplace protections, emergency transportation funding, and long-term infrastructure investment — with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

“We have an enormous opportunity in this critical moment to deliver for the American people,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation will play a critical role in this by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision: revitalizing communities that have been left behind, tackling the climate crisis, and enabling American small businesses, workers and families to compete and win in the global economy. In all of this work, labor will be a key partner in our efforts to build a modern infrastructure that creates good union jobs.”

Tentative planning has begun for 2021 Regional Meeting

The 2021 SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting is tentatively scheduled for August 23 – 25, 2021, in New York City. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continued public health concerns, meeting registration is being delayed until further details are known.

Please keep an eye on the SMART Transportation Division website for additional details, but, above all, stay safe!

FRA grants unions’ request for longer-term extension to file certification petitions

CLEVELAND, Ohio, February 12 — In response to a series of joint petitions by the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on February 11 granted a longer-term waiver, providing a 60-day extension to time limits in which certain petitions for review must be filed with the Operating Crew Review Board (OCRB). Previously, the unions had secured a series of waivers, which date back to April 7, 2020.

Under FRA regulations governing certification of locomotive engineers and conductors, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification, or to revoke certification, must be filed with the OCRB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. That 120-day time limit now has been extended by an additional sixty (60) days.

In granting the relief under FRA’s standard, non-emergency authority, the Agency stated, “[d]ue to the ongoing and unpredictable nature of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), FRA finds that extending the requested relief is in the public interest and consistent with railroad safety.” The waiver granting a 60-day extension for all petitions for review will expire February 11, 2022, unless subsequently extended, or three (3) months after the FRA Administrator rescinds the existing Emergency Declaration related to COVID-19, whichever is sooner.

A copy of the FRA waiver extension is available here (PDF).

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Questions about TD Safety Condition Report answered

Shortly after the launch of SMART Transportation Division’s online Safety Condition Report, numerous reports have been successfully submitted and passed along to union leadership for handling. This information will help to make our properties safer and bring any conditions that add risk to our members to light.

Keep in mind – if your state or local leadership already has a successfully functioning safety hazard report system in place, please continue to use that reporting system. This report, which has been developed and instituted by the International, is not to supplant those systems. Instead, it is intended to be available as a reporting mechanism for those that do not already have a system in place or as a supplemental reporting mechanism.

As with all new initiatives, there is a period of adjustment and union leadership wanted to answer a few questions that have been raised.

1. Does the Safety Condition Report replace the filing of a report with my employer, carrier or with my State Legislative Director?

No. If your employer or carrier has a reporting process regarding unsafe conditions, you should fill out their report. Similarly, if your State Legislative Director prefers to use a safety reporting system already implemented, then we encourage that reporting system to be utilized.

Note: It is strongly encouraged that the proper carrier officer receives notification of any unsafe hazard, even if they do not have a process for reporting, if at all possible. Equally it is important that your Local Legislative Representative and officers receive a copy of anything reported to the carrier

2. Should I fill out this form if I have already reported a safety concern to my SLD or my Local Legislative Representative?

No. There is no need to duplicate your effort if you have already reached out to them, but also take note that a report via this form is not a substitute for a report filed with a carrier.

3. By using this report form does my information remain confidential from the carrier?

Yes. As this is an internal reporting system, this information is only available to those union officers that receive the form. That being said, the aforementioned officers may request, in certain circumstances, that this information be shared in order to properly address the reported unsafe issue. However, in those situations, the union officer should receive the reporting member’s permission prior to doing so.

4. Does my Local Legislative Representative get a copy of these reports?

The reports currently go directly to State Legislative Directors for proper handling and dissemination. They are also copied to the General Chairpersons for additional assistance. We found that the turnover of local officers might impede the efficiency of the automated portion of the system, so LRs are not contacted directly via this report. State Directors will take the lead and decide how to proceed with your safety concern, including contacting your local officer(s).

5. I have evidence (photos, video) of a potential safety hazard. How can I share it?

Please be sure that you have checked the option that you request an officer to contact you, and you can then share any evidence you have accumulated directly with the officer handling your report. Future versions of this form may allow for the upload of evidence as we continue to enhance it.

6. I’ve scrolled through the selections and can’t find what I want to report…

If you cannot find your specific issue or concern – use the “other” option and fill in the blanks. It would be helpful to select that you want to have an officer reach out so you can be precise in the type of hazard you wish to report as well as the specific location and details.

7. When can I expect a response to a report that I have filed?

If one is requested, timely responses from a union officer will be given in the order the reports are received.

8. How can I suggest refinements to the report?

We will be continually examining the utility of the form and seeking potential improvements. If you have suggestions, please send them to Senior Communications Coordinator Ben Nagy at bnagy@smart-union.org.

Remember — these are in-union reports. Your union exists to protect its members and filing any safety concern through any union-endorsed medium is your right.

“Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

SMART-TD supports potential run by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan for Rob Portman’s Senate seat

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 3, 2021) — The nation’s largest freight railroad worker union pledges its full support to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio as he considers a potential bid for the United States Senate.

Tim Ryan

“Rep. Ryan, throughout his 10 terms as a representative of Ohio’s 17th and 13th Districts, has proven time and time again that he is willing to fight and win for this nation’s transportation workers,” said Jeremy R. Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD). “With a solid record as a voice for labor in his district that spans Akron to Youngstown, it stands clear that Tim Ryan would have the strength and political experience to protect and support all working Ohioans on Capitol Hill as a senator.”

Rep. Ryan has stood up to bad corporate policy and has co-sponsored national legislation that would require two certified people to operate freight trains, even as rail companies continue to place profit over safety via precision scheduled railroading. Last year, he voted in favor of both the HEROES Act, which would have protected transportation workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in favor of the comprehensive Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2), a measure that included provisions to protect bus and transit operators, as well as many other rail safety priorities.

On Sept. 30, Ryan appeared alongside SMART-TD members outside the U.S. Capitol as members of the Cleveland-based union rallied to support Amtrak workers who faced furloughs.

“Ryan is a champion for labor and working families. He has stood beside the members of our union for many years and he has been steadfast in his commitment to the unionized worker,” Ferguson said. “There is no doubt that he has our backs, so if he seeks a seat in the U.S. Senate, there is no doubt that we will have his.”

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

Local 1381 member, family in need of help after fire

Brother Wesley Welch of Local 1381 (Hammond, Ind.), his wife and their two daughters lost their house in a fire Jan. 30 and are seeking help.

Welch, 39, a switchman with Norfolk Southern, and his family saw their home in Cedar Lake, Ind., destroyed and one family member was treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation, according to a report from the Northwest Indiana Times.

Welch’s sister-in-law, Amanda Riley, has established an online fundraiser to assist Brother Welch, who has been a SMART-TD member for almost a decade, his wife and his daughters, 12 and 9, as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

“He’s a great guy — a great member,” said General Chairperson Justin Wolters (GCA-449) who is a fellow Local 1381 member.

Please follow this link if you are able to donate and help the Welch family in their time of need.