Author Archive

Local 1397 member killed in on-the-job accident

Brother Paul M. Payne of Mount Vernon, Ohio, a member of Local 1397 in Columbus, and a father to five children, lost his life in an accident the morning of Nov. 22 at the CSX yard in Fostoria, Ohio.

Payne

Brother Payne, a conductor for eight years, was at work setting out a cut of cars in the yard located in northwest Ohio when he was fatally injured.

His death is under investigation.

Brother Payne was also a sergeant in the Ohio Army National Guard.

“Paul was a dedicated husband, father and son that loved nothing more than spending time with his family,” his family wrote in his obituary.

He is survived by his wife of 19 years, Haley (Davis) Payne; his children, Shawn, Jacob, Marcus, Lily and Sarah; his mother; sister; and paternal grandmother.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its heartfelt condolences to the Payne family, his friends and his SMART-TD brothers and sisters in Local 1397 and elsewhere who are mourning his loss.

His full obituary is available here.

Former GC Hiatt passes away

David Eldon Hiatt, a retired general chairperson of GO 377 (Canadian National/Grand Trunk Western), passed away November 11, 2020. He was 73 years old.

Hiatt

“I looked up to Brother Hiatt, he was what I strived to be like once I became a union officer,” said current GO 377 General Chairperson Bill Miller. “Brother Hiatt bled union and the SMART-TD.”

Brother Hiatt hired out on the GTW in 1969 in Battle Creek, Mich., and was a lifelong SMART-TD/UTU member. He was the local chairperson for Local 72 (Battle Creek, Mich.) for a number of years, then served as general chairperson for GO 377 from 2003 until his retirement in 2012.

“One of his big accomplishments was being able to get an hourly agreement approved on the GTW, which gave a better quality of life for the conductors with scheduled off days, five-day work week and great wages,” Miller said. “Brother Hiatt was a mentor to many officers on the GTW, especially me.”

Brother Hiatt was an Army veteran, serving in South Korea along the demilitarized zone in 1968 and ’69, and was a VFW and American Legion member.

He is survived by his wife, Kathryn and children Tracy Hiatt, Larry Hiatt, Jeffrey (Shawn) Bowdidge, Owen (Ellie) Bowdidge; and his brother, Thomas (Sheila) Hiatt.

SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Hiatt’s family, friends and to his Local 72 brothers and sisters.

His full obituary may be read here.

Amtrak repeats call for funding aid as it releases fiscal results

In its preliminary financial report, Amtrak said that the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced ridership on the national passenger carrier by about 75% from pre-COVID levels.

While Amtrak leadership expects a slow rebound in ridership, with forecasts seeing an increase to about 40% of pre-pandemic levels by the close of the 2021 fiscal year as COVID-19 abates, the coronavirus has been a massive shock to the carrier.

Members of SMART-TD and other labor unions rallied in late September urging Congress to avoid Amtrak job cuts.

“Our dedicated employees continue to work tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country moving, advance critical infrastructure and update technology and services, and provide safe transportation to customers,” said Amtrak President & CEO William Flynn. “However, without additional funding for 2021, we will be forced to further reduce service, defer critical capital projects and make more job reductions despite this important progress.”

The Republican-controlled Senate did not act on a pair of bills — the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act — passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have provided additional emergency funding for Amtrak to maintain employment and service levels as the nation continues to cope with the coronavirus. Instead, funding was maintained at 2020 levels by Congress.

In reaction to not having the nearly $5 billion needed to maintain operations, carrier leadership reduced daily long-distance routes to three trips a week and cut about 2,000 unionized employees effective Nov. 1 over the objections of SMART-TD and other unions representing Amtrak workers.

The carrier had expected to break even for the first time in its history during the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 2019 to Sept. 2020.

Read the carrier’s report.

Local 18 member passes from COVID

Our union is in mourning after losing Jose “Joe” Alfaro, a member of SMART Transportation Division for more than 15 years, to the COVID-19 pandemic on Nov. 13. He was 58 years old.

Brother Jose Alfaro of Local 18 in El Paso, Texas, a 15-year SMART-TD member, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 13, 2020.

Brother Alfaro was a member of Local 18 in El Paso, Texas, and worked as a trainman/brakeman for Union Pacific.

He leaves behind his wife of 22 years, Ruoana and four children: Avan Brian, Mia Brianna, Vanessa and Robert.

An online fundraiser has been established by Local 18 Secretary & Treasurer Catarino Montero with the proceeds going to benefit Brother Alfaro’s family.

“His wife and kids wanted us to thank you from the bottom of their hearts for your prayers and donations. She is grateful for everything you all have done,” Montero wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We personally wanted to thank everyone for all your donations and help during this time. At the end of the day, we are all a railroad family and unite to help one another out, and during these tough times it has really shown!”

When asked to describe Joe, co-workers shared:

“Joe always would show up to work with a smile and a genuine greeting, so even if you were having a bad day, he always seemed to bring out the best in you.”

“He was a great switchman and better friend.”

Follow this link to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there are currently no plans for a memorial service. In lieu of flowers, donations to the fundraiser would be appreciated.

SMART-TD offers its sincere condolences to Brother Alfaro’s family as well as his union brothers and sisters in Local 18 and beyond.

Let us all keep our veterans in mind

Veterans Day marks the end of World War I — that fierce global conflict that cost millions of lives – and while the memory of that conflict fades further into history, the need for the heroism and sacrifice on the part of our military personnel endures more than a century later.

Our military members uplift and shield us, and our veterans are a source of patriotism and pride for what they have done and what they contribute to our organization. They deserve our thanks and recognition as SMART-TD members and as American heroes.

I myself am an U.S. Army veteran who served for three years during the Gulf War era. One of the key goals of my administration is to give those members who are military veterans the recognition that they deserve for answering the high call of serving our country and to defend the freedoms that we enjoy.

To that end, we continue to urge those who served to let us know the details of their military careers via the SMART-TD Member Info Update form on our website. We are working to highlight our continuing work to recognize and amplify the importance of veterans to our union in our organizing efforts. We also are moving quickly with special plans to pay tribute and highlight members’ military service and continue to update our Veteran Services page with resources that could help our American heroes.

Each and every veteran deserves to feel a sense of appreciation today on this Veterans Day.

On behalf of SMART-Transportation Division, to all U.S. military veterans, we thank you once again for your service.

Fraternally,

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division
U.S. Army, 1988-1991


Services and discounts

As an annual tradition, many businesses provide free services or discounts to veterans. Here are some of those available today.

https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/80496/organizations-offer-national-level-veterans-day-virtual-events/

https://www.va.gov/outreach-and-events/events/

https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/80347/veterans-day-2020-discounts/

SMART out at Biden rally in Pennsylvania

SMART-TD retiree Gregg Weaver, left, and his wife Carol wear SMART “Blue Collar Biden” shirts as they watch Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speak Saturday, Oct. 24, in Bristol, Pa.

SMART representatives had a front-row seat as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Oct. 24 at Bristol Community College in Bristol, Pa.

SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and Gregg Weaver, a retired TD Local 838 member and former Local 1390 officer who served as a conductor for many Amtrak rides taken by Biden, were in the front row at the “drive-in” rally that was broadcast live on CNN from the town outside Philadelphia.

“What we heard from Joe Biden today was a concrete plan,” Sabol said. “He has a strategy to address the virus. He has a plan to repair the economy. He has ideas and has a strategy to make things better going forward with a focus on transportation and infrastructure.”

Weaver, who worked the rails on both the passenger and freight side with Conrail for 42 years, said Biden has proven his concern for the working people. Weaver’s son, Blake, a Local 838 member, followed in his father’s path and has been an Amtrak conductor for more than 16 years.

Gregg Weaver, a retiree from TD Local 838, and his son Blake, a member of TD Local 838 and an Amtrak conductor, attend Joe Biden’s rally on Saturday, Oct. 24.

“Everybody wants to talk to him (Joe Biden) after the speech – there were politicians, the big-money donors who have millions,” Weaver said. “He didn’t go after the big donors. He picked a blue-collar working man to come talk to him. He has time for us.”

Biden addressed the COVID pandemic at the outset, mentioning that the country had set a record for daily cases with more than 80,000. The Biden campaign has observed social-distancing and mask protocols at its rallies to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Most of the attendees participated in the rally from their cars, honking their horns in unison to show appreciation during the speech.

“I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said. “We can build back better.”

With just days until Election Day, Biden’s speech touched upon a number of union-related issues, such as infrastructure, the gigantic $1.5 trillion corporate tax cuts in late 2017 that remain the signature legislative accomplishment of the current administration and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

“This guy’s not on the level. He thinks Wall Street built thus country,” Biden said. “You and I know who built this country … working people built it — the middle class, and unions built the middle class.”

In the April 2018 SMART Transportation Division News reported how Class I rail carriers reaped great benefits from those Republican tax cuts.

Union Pacific (UP) received a $5.8 billion boost. CSX saved $3.6 billion, Norfolk Southern (NS) about $3.48 billion and Kansas City Southern (KCS) $488 million. BNSF, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, reported in its Form 10-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it received a tax benefit of $7.4 billion. Savings for the two Canadian-based Class I railroads also increased, reported at $1.4 billion (U.S.) for Canadian National (CN) and about $406 million (U.S.) for Canadian Pacific.

“Vice President Biden understands where working people are coming from. He’s been there. He knows what kind of struggle the working people of country are going through,” Sabol said. “With Biden, SMART members, labor and the middle class will absolutely have a seat at the table.”

Today, thousands of SMART members and other unionized essential frontline employees still are waiting for additional assistance and protections that are being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. For others, enhanced unemployment and sickness benefits that were in effect and a lifeline early in the pandemic have expired.

“How many [parents] a day can look at their kids and say with confidence, ‘everything’s going to be OK’ and mean it?” Biden asked. “Times are hard. Unemployment is way up. Folks are worried about making their next rent or mortgage payment, whether their health care will be ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Worried about sending their kids to school … worried about not sending them to school.

“They see folks at the top doing much better while the rest are wondering who’s looking out for me. That’s Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Legislation to help union workers such as the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act has been stopped by Trump and his Republican allies, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

Attendees of the Joe Biden rally in Bristol take a group photo before the former vice president’s speech. From left are Mary Kate Weaver; Carol Weaver; TD Local 838 retiree Gregg Weaver; Tyler Hutchinson; SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and TD Local 838 member Blake Weaver.

Weaver reminds his SMART-TD brothers and sisters that railroaders especially need to keep in mind that their benefits are vulnerable to the whims of Capitol Hill.

A vote for Trump and for his Republican allies is opening the door for workers’ health care, jobs and pensions to be targeted, he said. Children would be off their parents’ health coverage at age 18 instead of being covered until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.

Weaver said a vote for Democrats would protect union jobs and railroaders. Biden would not be hostile to Amtrak, whereas Trump and Republicans have habitually tried to cut funding for the national passenger rail network.

“Joe Biden has got their backs. He’s not going to make things worse for them,” Weaver said. “There will be a lot less fighting with the Democrats than with the Republicans.”

Biden gave a brief outline of his economic recovery plan — taxes would not be raised on any family making less than $400,000, while making corporations pay their fair share.

“It’s time for working people and the middle class to get tax relief,” Biden said.

He also said his administration would focused on job creation and education.

“We’re going to create millions of union jobs modifying the infrastructure to modernize it, “ he said.

Biden also emphasized in the speech that he is not banning fracking, an accusation leveled by Trump lately on the campaign trail.

PSR, Amtrak funding discussed before U.S. Senate committee

Amtrak’s financial situation and the freight rail industry’s continued use of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices were the focus of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing Oct. 21.

Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn repeated his plea for almost $5 billion in emergency funding to help the nation’s passenger carrier weather the continued downturn in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The carrier has made drastic long-distance service cuts, going from daily to three trips per week on many routes. Furloughs for almost 2,000 Amtrak employees are scheduled to take effect in November.

“Virtually all of the CARES Act money has been spent,” Flynn told the committee. “These workforce adjustments are essential with current financial funding.”

A number of legislative actions, including the HEROES Act and the INVEST in America Act, while passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, have been stalled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the GOP-controlled Senate. The emergency funding provided by such legislation would help the carrier rebound, Flynn said.

“Once the pandemic eases, Amtrak plans to grow,” he said.

A second panel featured a discussion of PSR.

Rudy Gordon, CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, expressed concerns from a shipper perspective about the redeployment of furloughed railroad workers, saying that he fears delays in service and shipments on the part of rail carriers when the economy rebounds.

PSR has caused “a tipping point” at the expense of customer service, Gordon said, and said that if rail service erodes further at the expense of the carriers obtaining lower operating ratios (ORs) that the Surface Transportation Board should intervene.

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, offered written testimony concerning PSR.

“Across the sector, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, threatening both the health and livelihoods of employees,” Willis stated. “At the same time, freight railroads, at the insistence of Wall Street investors and hedge fund managers, have pursued operating practices that undermine basic tenets of rail safety, ask frontline workers to do more with less, and threaten the reliable and efficient customer service that should be the hallmark of this industry.”

The lone labor representative invited to testify in person was Dennis Pierce, president of the Teamsters Rail Conference.

Other industry stakeholders appearing were:

  • Paul Tuss, executive director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
  • Frank Chirumbole, vice president global supply chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
  • Kent Fountain, chairman, National Cotton Council
  • Ian Jefferies, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Railroads

Watch the hearing by following this link.

Showing their pride as election approaches

SMART members are sending in their photos showing their support for Joe Biden, the presidential candidate who has been endorsed by your union. To submit your photos in support of candidates endorsed by SMART, email news_TD@smart-union.org.

To get involved, text SMART Army to 21333 and for voting information, text SMART vote to 21333.

From left, local chairperson Edgar Menendez; vice local chairperson Herminio Hernandez; member Emmerett Watson; member Silvena Cazares; and Legislative Representative Latonia Martinez of TD Local 1608 show their support. Photo submitted by SMART-TD California State Legislative Director Louis Costa.

Front row, from left: Rosana Santana, executive secretary; Maria Magallon, operations manager; and Iveth Lopez, administrative assistant. Back row, from left: Local 1608 Chairperson Edgar Menendez; Local 1563 Chairperson Robert Gonzalez; Local 1565 Chairperson Quintin Wormley; Local 1564 Chairperson Andy Carter; GO-875 General Chairperson John M. Ellis; Local 1563 Vice Local Chairperson Jaime Delgadillo; and Local 1564 Vice Local Chairperson Greg Smith. Photo submitted by TD GC Ellis.

Local 72 (Battle Creek, Mich.) Alternate Legislative Representative Ray Sones shows his support for SMART-endorsed presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The Staggers Act — 40 years later: Congress should consider its collateral damage to the RR industry and move to fix it

Earlier this week marked the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act. The major railroads are celebrating this anniversary. That is not surprising because deregulation of the railroad industry, along with post-Staggers government approval of mergers and control transactions have produced a highly concentrated, but lightly regulated, industry. It has produced a 20-year run of historic profits for the railroads, and record returns for their shareholders. In the recent past, shippers had no complaints about Staggers because shipping rates declined in real dollars; but they now worry about the quality of service and railroad responsiveness to their needs: As a concentrated, but deregulated, industry, it has little need to answer to its customers.

This is a particularly inopportune time to celebrate passage of the Staggers Act because, in recent years, finance interests have led or pressured the railroads to exploit the deregulatory regime formulated when they were in economic distress to implement so-called “precision scheduled railroading” and other cost-cutting measures that have eroded service and eliminated tens of thousands of good-paying railroad jobs.

One group of major industry stakeholders never celebrated the effects of the Staggers Act: railroad workers. Between the passage of the Act and completion of the major merger and control transactions, rail industry employment was substantially reduced (from about 500,000 in 1980 to about 250,000 in the early 2000s).

Among other things, the Staggers Act facilitated sales of rail lines to smaller railroads that employed fewer workers, paid less and had less-beneficial work rules. Those sales were accomplished without traditional employee protections. At first, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved these types of sales after concluding that the lines to be sold were likely to be abandoned. But then it began to approve sales of what it called “marginally profitable” lines (which, by definition, were somewhat profitable). The major rail carriers protected their own interests in these transactions; they placed restrictions on the sales (physical or contractual) so that the purchaser railroads could interchange traffic only with the seller carriers; that way the major carriers divested themselves of less-profitable lines which gathered local freight, while ensuring that they retained the long haul movement of the freight generated on those lines. Rail Labor characterized these as sham transactions, but the ICC approved them, citing the Staggers Act and the deregulatory spirit of the Act. The ICC also allowed companies that owned existing rail carriers to acquire new lines that often connected with the lines of their existing subsidiaries without employee protections that were required when rail carriers acquired lines from other rail carriers by using the scheme of creation of new subsidiaries that the ICC treated as non-carriers since they were new corporations, even though they were commonly owned and controlled with existing carriers.

In approving the major merger and control transactions of the 1990s that reduced the number of Class I carriers to a mere handful, the ICC and Surface Transportation Board relied on Staggers Act amendments and the deregulatory mandate of the Staggers Act. Those transactions were approved based on the notion that shippers and the public would benefit from the consolidations. The railroads asserted, and the ICC and STB agreed, that mega-carriers would provide better and faster service through longer-end-to-end runs, reduced interchanges, and greater system velocity; that efficiencies would be achieved that would result in savings that would be passed along to shippers and the public in general; and that the economies of scale available to larger carriers would allow for increased investment in rail infrastructure.

During the same period that Congress and the ICC and STB deregulated the railroads and facilitated and approved consolidations as in the public interest, the agencies dramatically increased their regulation of Rail Labor by allowing the merging and commonly controlled rail carriers to use agency processes to gain dramatic changes in rates of pay, rules and working conditions outside the procedures of the Railway Labor Act. When the final big control transaction had been completed, railroad industry employment had been effectively halved, and rates of pay, rules and working conditions were forcibly and dramatically changed under the auspices of ICC and STB authorizations.

In the post-Staggers minimal-regulation environment, after the big merger and control transactions were consummated, the profits of the new mega-carriers soared. And for a while, the railroads followed-through on their representations that service would improve, and infrastructure investments would increase. But several years ago, hedge funds and private equity interests took note of railroad profitability and the very light nature of the regulatory regime for such a concentrated industry. There were attempted hostile takeovers of major railroads, and so-called activist investors increased their stakes in railroads; these financial interests promised to institute practices to reduce operating ratios (costs relative to expenses) and increase profits by dramatically cutting costs and service, by focusing on easier-to-serve/high-profit ratio customers, eliminating flexibility in pick-ups and deliveries of rail cars, requiring customers to conform to rigid schedules and lengthening trains (with some as long as 3 miles). This was accomplished through the so-called Precision Scheduled Railroading operating method. At the same time, capital infrastructure work was reduced to further improve operating ratios. As rail carriers that pursued this path saw their operating ratios decline, and their stock prices increased, other railroads adopted similar business models. Shipper complaints escalated. The STB held hearings and tinkered with complaint programs, but it generally was of the view that there was little it could do under the post-Staggers de-regulatory regime. In the meantime, rail employment again took a precipitous decline, from about 245,000 in 2015 to under 200,000 in January 2020. The profits of the major railroads have skyrocketed over this several-year period.

At the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Act, members of Congress, the STB and industry stakeholders should consider whether the current regulatory regime that was developed when the railroads were in financial turmoil and well before agency approval of the big merger and control transactions, makes sense today. Consolidation of the industry was approved because the transactions were deemed to be in the public interest. And with those approvals and the exclusivity that flows from holding an operating certificate comes the responsibility to provide adequate and responsive service. But the financial interests that are currently driving the industry have ignored those aspects of the approvals and the certificates. While a return to the heavy regulatory scheme developed before railroads had competition from aviation and trucking on the federal interstate highway system would not be appropriate, a regulatory approach recalibrated to recognize the reality of the industry as it is today is warranted.

This recalibration is necessary to ensure that rail customers receive adequate and responsive service, and that the industry continues to provide good jobs for railroad workers.

American Train Dispatchers Association
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division/IBT
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19
International Association of Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Association of Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division
National Conference of Firemen and Oilers 32BJ/SEIU
Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM)
Transport Workers Union of America

President Ferguson: This election is pivotal

The following article appeared in the August/September 2020 edition of the SMART Transportation Division News and is referred to by President Ferguson in the video above.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With the 2020 general election right around the corner, we are dedicating a large portion of this edition of the SMART-TD News to what may be the most-critical question we’ve ever been faced with: Who should serve as President of the United States for the next term?

Divided and contentious as this subject can be, I am asking that you take the time to read through with an open mind, and think critically about what we have riding on the outcome of this election as unionized essential transportation workers.

In determining who SMART and its Transportation Division should endorse, first and foremost we listened to what our members had to say. I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you who responded to our surveys and emails, called our office, and wrote to us to express your viewpoints. Your opinion matters to us above all else. With that being said, we also considered external sources and blocked out those that misrepresented the candidates and their intentions, or were biased towards one end of the political spectrum or the other.

Problem is, there is an abundance of misinformation coming from all directions. In a world where it’s difficult to trust virtually every source of information, where should we turn?

Fortunately, in this election we have a race where both candidates have set precedent in the White House; President Trump as the incumbent with nearly four years of experience under his belt, and Joe Biden with eight years of experience as our former Vice President. We also examined the promises that each candidate has made on the campaign trail, and compared those to their actions while holding elective office. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

Below are some examples that you can trust, because they are based on objective fact – no conjecture, no spin, no bias, and no BS:

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) appointments

In March 2009, the Obama/Biden administration nominated Joseph C. Szabo for the position of FRA administrator; a career railroader, SMART-TD member and Illinois State Legislative Director. Brother Szabo was the first FRA administrator to come from a rail labor background, and he served until 2015 when the Obama/Biden administration appointed Sarah Feinberg to the position.

Under Szabo’s tenure, accidents, injuries, and fatalities dropped to record-low levels, and the FRA improved its rules pertaining to fatigue mitigation and training requirements. Under Feinberg’s tenure, the FRA issued notice of a proposed rulemaking which would have required two-person train crews.

In July 2017, the Trump/Pence administration nominated Ronald Batory, the former CEO of Consolidated Rail Corporation, for the position of FRA administrator. Within one year of Batory’s nomination, the FRA had begun allowing Kansas City Southern to utilize Mexican train crews to cross our southern border and operate trains into Laredo, Texas.

SMART-TD and other rail labor unions had to sue the FRA to rectify this issue – a process which took more than two years to resolve.

During that time, the Trump administration ignored rail labor’s pleas to secure our southern border and prevent American jobs from being lost to foreign countries; both of which were campaign promises of his.

In May 2019, the FRA withdrew its proposed two-person crew rulemaking, claiming that research didn’t support implementing such a rule, and that two-person crews would unnecessarily impede the future of rail innovation and automation.

More on two-person train crews, and National Mediation Board (NMB) appointments

With Mr. Batory leading the FRA and its withdrawal of the proposed two-person crew rule, the nation’s rail carriers saw opportunity and in October 2019, eight (8) railroads filed a lawsuit against SMART-TD, attempting to force us to bargain over crew consist on a national level. To better their chances, the railroads filed their lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas, which is notoriously one of the least labor-friendly courts in the country.

The case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge who in February 2020 ruled in favor of the rail carriers and ordered us to negotiate over crew consist, despite the fact that moratoriums are in place barring such negotiations.

At the same time they filed the above lawsuit, the railroads turned to the NMB, requesting that they begin the process of forcing SMART-TD into binding arbitration over the same crew-consist issues. The NMB is controlled by a 2/3 majority of Trump-appointed members, as follows:

■ Mr. Gerald W. Fauth III, a former consultant and president of a company that railroads hire for mergers, acquisitions, time studies, cost analyses and traffic analyses.
■ Ms. Kyle Fortson, a former labor policy director for Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Despite SMART-TD’s objections, in January 2020, the NMB granted the railroads’ requests and voted by a 2/3 majority in favor of moving forward with the binding arbitration process.

In stark contrast to the above, Joe Biden has met with SMART’s leadership and committed to defending two-person crews. For more than 30 years, Biden commuted for several hours per day on Amtrak. To this day, he remains on a first-name basis with some of our members.

With respect to the NMB, the lone Obama/Biden appointee, Linda Puchala, is the former president of the Association of Flight Attendants. In the crew-consist binding arbitration
decision, Ms. Puchala wrote nearly three pages in dissent objecting to the NMB’s decision.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) appointments

Similar to the other regulatory agencies mentioned in this article, the FMCSA’s stated purpose is to establish policies governing carriers and ensure their compliance, thereby reducing accidents and protecting our bus members and the passengers we carry.

Under the Trump administration, the post of FMCSA administrator was vacant until February 2018, when Raymond P. Martinez was nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Martinez’s nomination was lauded by carrier-sponsored lobbying groups such as the American Trucking Associations, the American Bus Association and the United Motor Coach Association.

In October 2019, Martinez resigned as FMCSA administrator and Jim Mullen assumed the position of acting administrator. Mullen served in that capacity until his resignation in August 2020, which left Wiley Deck to act as FMCSA administrator.

This frequency in turnover has largely resulted in an agency without clear direction or leadership.

However, there has been one consistent theme over the last few years; the FMCSA has lent a sympathetic ear to the carrier-sponsored lobbying groups that endorse President Trump, while largely ignoring organized labor and the general public. This is evidenced by the FMCSA’s waiving of hours-of-service requirements for Mexican carriers, which already have inadequate regulations when compared to their U.S.-based counterparts. FMCSA has also turned a blind eye to carriers’ efforts to eliminate drivers’ breaks, including meal and restroom breaks, and they have allowed outsourcing of school bus drivers to third-party rideshare companies with questionable practices for conducting the requisite, thorough background checks for drivers.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appointments

Similar to the NMB’s structure, the NLRB is required to have five members with a simple majority appointed by the president. To clarify the importance of these positions, these are the individuals who are in charge of investigating and remedying unfair labor practices with the carriers, as nominated by the Trump/Pence administration:

■ John F. Ring (chairman), a former management and labor relations attorney, appointed in 2018.
■ Marvin E. Kaplan, former chief counsel of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, whose 2017 appointment was supported by a number of business special-interest groups.
■ William Emanuel, a former labor law attorney for transportation, logistics, and manufacturing companies, who was appointed in 2017.

With respect to the other two NLRB seats normally held by minority party appointees, President Trump has stated his intention to re-appoint Lauren McFerran, although he has yet to follow through. It is also apparent that he intends to leave vacant the seat that had been occupied by Democratic appointee Mark Gaston Pearce, resulting in a board with three Republican members and no or perhaps eventually a
single minority party member.

Since the law requires only three NLRB members for a quorum to conduct its business, the agency has pressed forward with its two vacant seats and issued a series of decisions, rulemakings and initiatives that
heavily favor corporations and repeal myriad existing worker protections. Under President Trump’s direction, the NLRB has acted on every single item on a top-10 corporate interest “wish list” that was published by the Chamber of Commerce in early 2017.

Department of Labor (DOL) appointments

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Eugene Scalia as the new labor secretary is driving wide rifts among HR and benefits professionals, with some praising his industry knowledge as a boon to businesses. Others decried the choice, saying he’d hurt the American worker. Scalia has spent his career fighting for the interests of financial firms, corporate executives and shareholders rather than the interests of working people.

In another example of stark contrast, in 2009 the Obama/Biden administration nominated Hilda Solis for the position of labor secretary. At the same time, Solis joined Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force, and pressed ahead with a clear and unapologetic agenda to aggressively enforce workplace protection laws, and enact new rules and regulations intended to grant more power to unions and workers. Corporate interest groups, antiunion organizations, and Republican Congress members adamantly opposed Solis’s nomination. Following Solis’s resignation in 2013, the Obama/Biden administration praised her accomplishments and chose Tom Perez, a former civil rights attorney who dedicated much of his efforts to increased protections for the elderly, war veterans, and labor unions, as her successor. Perez was known for regularly making house calls and onsite trips to obtain personal feedback from workers.

Legislation affecting all TD members

In July 2020, SMART-TD and other rail labor unions were successful in getting the U.S. House of Representatives to pass H.R. 2, which contains:

■ Two-person freight crew requirements;
■ Bus and transit operator safety measures;
■ Blocked rail crossing enforcement measures;
■ Cross-border solutions;
■ Hours of service requirements for rail yardmasters;
■ Additional funding for Amtrak;
■ Requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines for providing personal protective equipment and cleanliness standards for essential employees.

When passed to the U.S. Senate as a part of the Moving Forward Act, President Trump threatened to veto the bill. Following suit, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called the bill “nonsense,” “absurd,” “pure fantasy,” and vowed that it will die before ever getting to the White House.

As previously noted, Joe Biden has met with SMART leadership and pledged his support for these issues.

Handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Beginning in February 2020, before it was known that the virus had reached this country, we began making myriad preparations for a worst-case scenario, including modifications to our Health & Welfare Plans and a legislative agenda that make sure our members are protected. As a part of those efforts, in early March when there were fewer than 200 confirmed cases in the U.S., we wrote to the railroads, the FRA, the FMCSA, OSHA, and the Department of Transportation demanding that mandates be issued requiring essential employers to comply with basic CDC guidelines for COVID-19 cleanliness, including providing essential employees with the proper protective equipment and social-distancing measures.

As you can probably surmise by now (if you are not already aware) the response from the rail carriers, bus carriers and transit agencies was that the responsibility of adhering to CDC guidelines was entirely up to the employee. In the instances where a few regulatory agencies, such as the FRA, bothered to respond, we were told that they essentially trust the carriers to do the right thing, and in their
view, it isn’t necessary or appropriate to issue mandates.

Instead, we had to take matters into our own hands by cataloging the carriers’ violations and shortcomings via an online reporting tool, which continues to serve its purpose to this day.

What about the booming economy and increased rail traffic?

As is usually the case, over the last decade the number of carloads originated by U.S. Class I railroads has fluctuated with the economy, usually varying by single-digit percentages from year to year. Despite this relative consistency, the railroads’ operating ratios and revenues have gone up by double-digit percentages, while at the same time tens of thousands of rail labor employees have been furloughed.

This is mostly due to the fact that Wall Street investors have taken an interest in our nation’s railroads, and they are obsessed with so-called “Precision Scheduled Railroading” practices, which have resulted in (among other detrimental effects) the doubling and tripling of train length and tonnage, and thus, the reduction of crews.

Under the Trump administration, the White House, FRA, Department of Transportation and other regulatory authorities have refused our requests to mandate the train length limitations and issue safety regulations that we, and the general public, deserve.

It’s also worth noting that, according to the Association of American Railroads, there has been no significant increase in coal shipments from 2016 to today. President Trump’s promises to revive this business would have been hugely beneficial to our brothers and sisters whose livelihoods depend on these shipments, and it was a part of Trump’s policy that had our full support.

Instead, we’ve been handed broken promises.

But my 401(k) is at an alltime high, doesn’t that count for anything?

Of course it does. However, more important than the inevitable ebb and flow of the stock markets is the very real threat of bus and rail automation, train crew consist changes, reduction of federal subsidies for certain carriers such as Amtrak, and the funding and administration of the Railroad Retirement Board and Social Security Administration.

Every single budget from the Trump administration proposed the reduction or elimination of funding that not only employs our members, but protects their retirement and health & welfare benefits. If not for the hard work of our Legislative Department and the support of certain members of Congress, Amtrak would have gone bankrupt under the Trump administration. This single event would deal a devastating blow to the solvency of our Railroad Retirement benefits.

In addition to the above, automation of trains and buses, and the elimination of crew members and operators alike would have compounding effects that reach far beyond the obvious unemployment issues and the solvency of our retirement funds. As we all know, furloughs tend to hit our youngest members (not just in seniority, but also in age) the hardest. From a healthcare and benefits perspective, these are our healthiest members with the lowest frequency of major medical, dental, vision, short-term disability and long-term disability claims. There is a direct correlation between extensive furloughs and the already difficult-to-manage rising cost of our benefits.

The downstream consequences of Trump’s policies can easily extend to our higher seniority members who are immune to furlough.

We’re all in this together!

In conclusion

While this edition of SMART-TD News might not change your mind about who you’re going to vote for this November, we certainly hope it will help to shed some additional light on the importance of this election and what we all have at stake. When casting our ballots, we’re making the choice between better protections and job security for our members, or leaving our regulatory agencies in control of the very Wall Street investors, CEOs and corporations that they are intended to protect us from.

We’re making the choice between tough bargaining with the nation’s rail carriers that leads to the best possible deal in our next contract, or risking letting President Trump make carrier-friendly appointments to a Presidential Emergency Board that will determine our fate.

We’re making the choice between protecting our working class or continuing on our path of worshipping the almighty dollar, while throwing caution and safety to the wayside.

One thing is certain — on our current trajectory the rich will continue to get richer, while unionized labor and other hard-working citizens are left behind to pick up the scraps.

So, I ask all of you today: Are you ready to stand up to the abuse we’ve been dealt for these last several years? Are you prepared to cast a vote that will help to ensure that your family and future generations have the ability to earn a living wage, with choice health-care and retirement benefits? Are you ready to begin rebuilding an America that works for all of us, and not just our most wealthy and elite citizens?

Regardless of the outcome, I pledge that we will continue to fight for the protections, pay, benefits and retirement that we deserve. Without your support, however, this becomes exponentially more difficult, if not impossible. It’s going to take ALL of us to make this happen.

Thank you, and God bless.

Fraternally,
 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

DIPP Assessments reduced effective January 2021

The SMART Transportation Division Discipline Income Protection Program (DIPP) is decreasing its monthly assessments from 96 cents to 81 cents per $1 of daily benefits, effective January 1, 2021.

Participants in the Plan may elect to increase their benefit level or modify their coverage at any time by submitting the appropriate form to the Transportation Division office. Next month, SMART-TD will be communicating these reduced assessments to Local Treasurers so that the necessary changes are made to payroll deductions.

This announcement is informational and no action is required on the part of plan participants at this time.

DIPP trustees are SMART General President Joseph Sellers Jr., SMART General Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Powell and SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson.

Follow this link to view the updated SMART TD DIPP Schedule of Maximum Benefits.

Two members lost in accidents

Our union is in mourning after losing two of its active members this week: one in a work-related fatality and one in a traffic accident.

Ryan Sandy, 37, a member of Local 662 (Richmond, Va.) and a former local chairperson of LCA-201C, was killed in an on-the-job accident at 2:45 a.m., Monday, Oct. 12 in the Acca Yard in Henrico County, Va.

Sandy had been a member of SMART Transportation Division since February 2009 and worked as a conductor for CSX.

Sandy

An online fundraiser has been established for his family at www.GoFundMe.com. Brother Sandy leaves behind his wife and best friend, Kate; and his children, Jayden, Shannon, Kasen, Jasper and Henry.

“We are all shocked and saddened by his passing,” fundraiser organizer Michael Carter posted. “It’s now our turn to give back and help his wife and their children as they deal with the loss of their loving husband and father.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into Brother Sandy’s death, marking a change brought about by the insistence of SMART-TD safety leaders.

A number of worker fatalities over the past two years involving union workers went without an NTSB-led investigation, a situation that SMART-TD leadership made clear needed to be changed.

Across the country, Local 556 (Tacoma, Wash.) is mourning the loss of one of its officers.

Clayton Hoffman III, general chairperson of GCA-TMB (Tacoma Municipal Beltline) and local chairperson of LCA-TMB1, died in a fatal traffic accident Oct. 9. He was 43 years old.

Hoffman

The circumstances of GC Hoffman’s death are being investigated. He had been a member of the union since April 2004. He became GC on Oct. 1, 2012, and immediately set to work, said current Local 556 President Bill Price.

“During his time, Clayton negotiated one of the best contacts in shortline history for his members and brought those members to a livable wage,” Price said.

Price said that Hoffman served as a fierce representative of his fellow members and will be missed.

Local 556 brother Kody Henderson, local chairperson of LCA-001a, had this to say about his fallen brother:

“He was union leadership powerhouse and a union leader I looked up to. He was there when I initially took office in 2015 and helped guide me through this local chairman position. We would speak often, and as time went on we would reconnect to share stories and discharge stresses of dealing with management to one another.”

Brother Hoffman is survived by his brother, his sister and his mother.

“Clayton will be missed by all here at Local 556,” Price said.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its condolences to the relatives, friends and the brothers and sisters of Locals 662 and 556 on the passing of Brothers Sandy and Hoffman.