Author Archive

Nuria Fernandez confirmed by Senate to lead FTA

By voice vote June 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nuria Fernandez as the 15th administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Fernandez

Fernandez joined the Biden administration as deputy administrator of the agency on Jan. 21 and had served as the senior FTA official until her confirmation.

Her prior experience includes as general manager/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), chief operating officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and senior VP of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She also served as Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation, overseeing O’Hare and Midway airports.

Fernandez served as acting FTA administrator for the Bill Clinton administration in 1997 and is a past chair of the American Public Transportation Association from 2019-20.

INVEST Act passes committee with safety measures, including two-person crew, intact

After a session that began the morning of June 9 and carried on overnight into the pre-dawn hours of June 10, the INVEST in America Act passed out of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with two-person crew and other provisions important to SMART Transportation Division members intact.

“We are one step closer to success,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “This was a marathon session, but one that had the best possible outcome for our members. We thank the committee members for their work and now turn our focus to getting the legislation’s passage in the full House.”

The bill, H.R. 3684, a five-year, $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, now moves to the full House for consideration after passing the committee 38-26. Two Republicans, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico, voted along with 36 Democrats on the committee to pass the bill.

Peter DeFazio, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, bangs the gavel after passage of the 2021 INVEST in America Act on June 10. (Screen capture from House T&I Committee YouTube)

“I commend my colleagues for their hard work helping craft these two bills to deliver what Americans expect and deserve: safe roads and bridges, reliable transit options and a robust passenger rail network, wastewater systems that aren’t on the brink of failure, and a commitment to address the existential threat of climate change,” said Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). “In many ways, the choice couldn’t be easier—because the best part of rebuilding our infrastructure for the modern era is the incredible opportunity for our nation that comes with it. We’re talking millions of good-paying jobs that can’t be exported, real and sustained support for U.S. manufacturing, and the chance to make our nation a world leader once again. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.”

H.R. 3684 contains many provisions important to SMART-TD members.

The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes. Similar to a 2020 version of the bill, provisions of the legislation mandate two-person freight rail crews and take steps to address the problems of bus operator and transit worker assault as well as other issues faced by SMART-TD’s bus, rail and transit members.

Early Thursday, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania withdrew Amendment 091 that would have struck the two-person crew freight requirement.

Before his withdrawal, Perry argued in a glitchy video that Positive Train Control and technology made creating a federal crew standard unnecessary.

“It should be one or the other, not all the technology and then also with all the manpower. All it does is add additional cost to the freight rail system and the cost to consumers,” he said before his withdrawal.

The INVEST in America Act and how it protects TD members

A surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced June 4 by chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has a wide-reaching positive impact for members of the SMART Transportation Division.

Mostly mirroring the identically named INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last summer but died in the Republican-held Senate, the 2021 version known as H.R. 3684 is a $547 billion five-year surface transportation bill with a two-person freight crew provision and encompasses other issues important to all TD members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

The bill directs federal investments in roads, bridges, transit, and rail, re-imagines national transportation policies and helps put President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that invests in American workers and communities into motion.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: we can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said.

Of particular importance to TD members are the portions of the INVEST in America Act that cover bus, transit and freight rail.

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

What follows is a recap of some of the provisions within the bill most important to SMART-TD members:

Amtrak

  • The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.

Bus

  • Creates a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) training center modeled on the successful National Transit Institute, but with a frontline employee mandate to focus on training for new technologies, safety and emergency preparedness.
  • Expands FTA’s safety plan to include a focus on passenger and personnel injuries, assaults, and fatalities; a risk management process to address transit worker assaults; a joint labor/management safety committee empowered to approve the safety plan; and a comprehensive frontline workforce training program on safety and de-escalation.
  • Prevents a transit agency from deploying an automated vehicle that duplicates, eliminates, or reduces the frequency of existing public transportation service or a mobility on demand service. Transit agencies considering transit automated vehicles and mobility on demand service are required to develop a workforce development plan describing how the automated vehicle will affect transit workers. Ensures transit workers are given fair notice if their job is jeopardized by a transit automated vehicle or mobility on demand service.
  • Authorizes FTA research on redesigning bus driver compartments to improve driver visibility, expand driver functionality, and reduce driver assault.
  • Directs the Transportation secretary to review the costs and benefits of requiring lap/shoulder belts in large school buses and to consider requiring seat belts in newly manufactured school buses. Requires newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with automatic emergency braking and electronic stability control systems. Directs the secretary to conduct research and testing on fire prevention and mitigation standards—including firewalls, fire suppression systems, and interior flammability and smoke emissions characteristics—for large school buses and consider issuing updated standards.

Freight rail

  • Requires the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rescind any special permit or approval for the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car issued before the date of enactment. Also prohibits DOT regulations on the transport of LNG by rail tank car from taking effect until DOT conducts a further safety evaluation. Directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate an evaluation of the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail.
  • Improves rail safety by addressing highway-rail grade crossing needs.
  • Requires a study on the effects of long trains.
  • Requires FRA to increase its roster of rail safety inspectors by 20 percent.
  • Requires FRA to collect data on train length and crew size when an accident occurs.
  • Requires the creation of a standardized FRA safety investigation process.
  • Requires FRA to engage in a public process before granting waivers from, or suspensions of, railroad safety standards and regulations.
  • Creates a federal blocked crossing program to collect data and enforce a 10-minute blocked crossing limit.
  • Has a two-person crew freight train mandate that, like the 2020 bill, has some exemptions for short lines and train length. These are:
    • The train operations are not on a main line.
    • The train does not exceed a maximum speed of 25 mph on territory with an average track grade of less than 2% for any segment of track that is at least two continuous miles.
    • The locomotives are performing assistance to a train that has incurred mechanical failure or lacks the power to traverse difficult terrain, including to or from the location where assistance is provided.
    • The locomotives are not attached to any equipment (except a caboose) and do not travel further than 30 miles from a rail yard.
    • A location where one-person operations were being utilized one year prior to the date of enactment of this bill, only if the DOT Secretary determines that the operation achieves an equivalent level of safety.

    Short-line exception
    In addition to the above, a train may be operated with a reduced crew, if the carrier has fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and an annual revenue of less than $20,000,000.

    A train must be operated by a two-person crew (no exception), if:

    • It is transporting one or more loaded cares carrying material toxic by inhalation.
    • It is carrying 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block.
    • It has 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid throughout its consist.
    • It is 7,500 feet in length or longer.
  • Has a cross-border provision for the southern border of the U.S.
  • Makes yardmaster employees subject to FRA’s hours of service protections.
  • Directs the FRA to take such actions as are necessary to ensure that certain older air brake control valves are phased out on rail cars operating in cold regions of the United States, an issue brought to light by SMART-TD leadership in 2019.
  • Directs the DOT to require railroad carriers to regularly report on failures of positive train control (PTC) systems.
  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule on fatigue management plans within one year.

Transit

  • Establishes a working group to improve the musculoskeletal health of transit and commercial vehicle drivers by developing stronger ergonomic seating standards in transit and commercial vehicles. Requires the working group to compare design standards for women to those for men.
  • Provides funding for corridor planning and development of high-speed rail projects, reducing traffic congestion and shortening travel times.
  • Requires passenger and commuter railroad carriers to implement response plans and employee training in order to address assaults against both passengers and employees. The section also requires railroads to report annual assault data to FRA.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the U.S. House on June 9.

Read a section-by-section summary of the 2021 INVEST in America Act. (PDF)
Read the bill. (PDF)
Read a fact sheet about the bill. (PDF)

SMART-TD Leaders Pledge Support to 2021 INVEST in America Act

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 4, 2021) – Leaders of the SMART Transportation Division today announced their full support of the 2021 version of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

DeFazio

The transformational $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced today by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio of Oregon contains critical safety reforms for the bus, transit and freight rail industries. Similar to a 2020 version of the bill, provisions of the legislation mandate two-person freight rail crews and take steps to address the problems of bus operator and transit worker assault as well as other issues faced by SMART-TD’s bus, rail and transit members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

A markup of the bill is scheduled to take place June 9.

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.

Biden budget proposal boosts funds for RRB staffing

The 2022 fiscal year budget proposed by the Biden administration May 28 offers a net increase in funding to the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) to cover accumulating administrative costs and to improve customer service.

The White House’s budget request of a little over $125 million for RRB, if approved by Congress, would result in a gain of $11 million for RRB to cover staffing needs to better serve railroad workers nearing retirement, retirees and their survivors.

In its budget request to U.S. House leadership and to Vice President Kamala Harris, RRB reported that it has a staffing deficit of 12% from its minimum levels and that the RRB’s programs office has been operating at a reduced capacity because funding for the agency has been nearly flat for five years. Its workforce also is aging, with nearly a quarter of its workers now eligible to retire and 231 employees eligible to retire in the next year.

The added funding will allow RRB to increase its ranks to 801 full-time employees at a time when it needs workers to take care of retirement, survivor claims and numerous other customer-facing duties that had been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and chronic understaffing. In its budget request, RRB reported that just 35% of the 1.2 to 1.3 million calls its Bureau of Field Services received were answered in FY2020.

“We are operating in a transitional state that requires a sufficient investment in staffing to sustain benefit determination and payment operations, which still rely heavily on manual processing, while ensuring that the agency retains the knowledge of our laws and systems critical to modernizing benefit payment systems,” the agency stated. “The RRB believes that an increase in staffing is critical to the success of the agency over the next few years.”

The budget request is not the only way the current administration is working to improve RRB.

The agency’s years-long project to upgrade its IT infrastructure finally received full funding through Biden and Congress’s American Rescue Plan. The agency said that the modernization of RRB’s systems should also help to open the door to better service and more efficiency once fully implemented.

“We are grateful to the Congress for providing annual and supplemental appropriations that have fully funded RRB’s IT Modernization program,” RRB stated.

Read the RRB’s budget request and its 2022 Fiscal Year performance plan.

After 44 years, John Dunn of Local 756 in Texas pulls the pin

From left, Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders; SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson; Lisa & John Dunn; TD Vice President Chad Adams; and Alt. Vice President/General Chairperson GCA-927 Scott Chelette, attend a celebration for John Dunn’s retirement on May 26.

After 44 years with Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific, John Dunn of Local 756, a great advocate for members in the great state of Texas in which he lives, has called it a career.

Dunn joined our union back in November 1977 after hiring on with Missouri Pacific in July 1977.

That began a long association with the union where Brother Dunn served in a number of leadership positions, including six years as a vice general chairperson of GCA-927, 16 years as local chairperson for LCA-927, 13 years as an alternate legislative representative and two years as his San Antonio local’s legislative representative. He served as the assistant Texas state legislative director starting in February 2020, and even had a stint on the SMART-TD Executive Board prior to his retirement, effective May 31, 2021.

“I guess I’m well-known because I’ve represented so many people,” Dunn said when contacted as he drove home from a union meeting at Local 1670 in Laredo, Texas, a mere four days before pulling the pin. “I’ve been doing this for so long … my reputation preceded myself.”

Dunn

Brother Dunn became an engineer in 1980 and started a notable streak of union activism in 1987 after his uncle, the local delegate, suggested he run for alternate delegate. Dunn ended up attending his first convention in Miami Beach, Fla., to start a streak of nine conventions that “Big Bad John” attended as Local 756’s delegate, taking the time to kick off his opportunities to speak with a reminder to all that he hailed “from the great State of Texas.”

In 1997, Brother Dunn began to get more and more involved in the representational aspect of things by attending regional meetings, getting to know Designated Legal Counsel Steve Young and always looking to educate himself so that he could defend people when targeted for alleged infractions by carriers.

“I was very lucky that they had regional meeting seminars – I went to those,” Dunn said. “A lot of times they were standing room only – there was a wealth of information, and I took tons of notes. All that information is very helpful. There is so much information you can use. Every time you go you can get something new. The guys who are doing it now are doing a phenomenal job. Education is vital to be a successful local chairperson.”

He learned things well, and it got to the point where Dunn even had people from other rail labor organizations asking him to represent them. He also got to see the sore spots where carriers needed to improve their treatment of workers.

“Attendance – railroads are really hitting people on that,” Dunn said. “The railroad wants more and more and more out of their employees.”

Dunn recalled having to defend one worker in a disciplinary hearing for an attendance violation years ago who took time off because his young child had died.

“Things are going to happen to workers’ lives outside of work and there needs to be a change in attitude on the part of the carriers,” he said.

His dependability and advocacy in defending and serving his fellow union brothers and sisters also earned him the respect of his peers.

“John was the go-to guy for everyone in and around San Antonio,” Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders said. “He worked tirelessly for our membership.”

Often, his family life and his union commitments crossed over. His 25th wedding anniversary plans with his wife Lisa were disrupted because Dunn was assigned to investigate a fatality on the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern short line. He also remembered a time when he had his daughter, then seven, sit off to the side while he was engaged in an arbitration hearing. But all these served as signs of his commitment to represent and help his union brothers and sisters to be treated fairly.

In addition to being honored by Local 1670, Brother Dunn’s career also was celebrated May 26 at the Local 756 monthly meeting as more than 50 people, including SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, Vice President Chad Adams, Alt. Vice President Scott Chelette and Saunders, attended the festivities.

“There are so many accomplishments that Brother Dunn achieved throughout the years,” Chelette said. “But his drive, motivation, and caring spirit will be missed the most. For the last 21 years or so, John has went to every ‘new hire’ class held in San Antonio and talked to them about the union and what to expect as a railroader.”

Paving the way for a person new to the railroad industry became a mission of sorts for Dunn – one that made a lasting impression on some. After he announced his retirement, Dunn was approached by a yardmaster who recalled the significant impact Brother Dunn had made by introducing him into the union and taking the time to give him the lay of the land.

“I made it a point to welcome them into the union,” Dunn said. “I wanted to make them aware that we’re here to help them — take them to lunch, give them the contact information that they’d need and they remembered that.”

His advice to the newer generation of railroaders and union members is first to not take things for granted — benefits such as insurance and retirement had to be fought for.

“I’ve always been proud of being a member of this union. Sure there were guys who complained — but where would we be without our union?” Dunn said. “People way before me worked hard and fought hard. People working the road had to pay for their lodging up until 1960. The union got us lodging and meals.”

The new members should be welcomed in, learn the culture and learn the job, Dunn said. By going to meetings they can become comfortable, learn and get involved to strengthen the organization from the local level on up.

“Volunteer to do stuff,” he urged. “You have to have passion, commitment, ownership and believe in what you’re doing. Start off small and attend every union meeting you can. Instead of listening to what’s being said in the crew room, go to the union meeting to be properly informed.”

“The union is able to do what it’s able to do by the strength of its membership. We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” Dunn said.

The strength he added to our organization was celebrated at no fewer than three local union events.

“I am truly humbled by them making the effort to recognize me,” Dunn said. “I have to thank everybody in the locals who have supported me for a number of years and have been so kind in wishing me well. I always refer to them as my ‘railroad family’ — there are a lot of great men and women out there. I’m leaving the railroad, but I’m not leaving them. It’s been a helluva ride — I’ve enjoyed it all.”

John Dunn cooks on the train-shaped barbecue trailer he created.

Post-retirement, Dunn said he’ll be spending more time with Lisa, his wife of 28 years; his daughter, Mallory, who is attending nursing school on a UTUIA scholarship; and his son, Jake, who is a pipefitting apprentice.

Plans will include traveling and reigniting his hobby of welding — Dunn has constructed a massive barbecue trailer in the shape of a steam engine and also has a computerized plasma cutter he might use to craft with as his wife continues to work a bit longer.

“Godspeed John. We love ya, and will miss you, but wish you well in this next chapter of your life!” Saunders said.

The SMART Transportation Division thanks Brother Dunn for his decades of service and wishes for him and his wife, Lisa, many years of happy and healthy retirement.

Memorial Day message from TD President Ferguson

Brothers and sisters:

As we mark a second Memorial Day in what we hope are the waning days of the coronavirus pandemic, let us all take the time to offer a measure of respect to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.

Our union takes seriously the duty to show appreciation to members of the military, both living and no longer with us. We must remember all they have done for our country and, by extension, all of us in times of conflict and of tranquility. Their fights have preserved the freedoms established at our country’s founding and have enhanced the strength of our nation. The Memorial Day holiday serves as a great reminder to show our gratitude and respect.

At a time where we still battle a virulent enemy, please take some time to pause in remembrance of the debt we owe to our servicemen and -women in the United States Armed Forces who fought and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms of our country that are too easily taken for granted.

Also, as a reminder, our union wants to honor our brothers and sisters who have served in the military. If you are a veteran, please let us know by providing information about your service so we can recognize you in the future.

May God bless our troops, both living and those who have passed.

Please be safe, and thank you.

In solidarity,


 
 
 
 

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Learn more about Memorial Day
Update your veterans’ status
SMART-TD resources for veterans

STB chair to Class Is: You have cut the workforce too deep

On May 27, the chair of the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) Martin J. Oberman reached out to all Class I CEOs asking them whether the carriers are prepared to reverse the workforce cuts they have made in anticipation of handling an economic rebound as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.

Oberman

“I am specifically requesting that you also address whether you have any long-term plans, including your hiring plans for 2021 and 2022, to reverse any of the diminishing workforce levels which have resulted from your strategies in recent years,” Oberman said in his letter.

Rail employment data collected by the board indicate that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, that overall Class I rail employment has declined from 127,867 to 115,485, a reduction of 12,382 jobs. Train and engine personnel employment has been reduced by Class Is by nearly 5,000 workers from 51,801 in March 2020, to 46,951 in April 2021, the latest month for which STB data is available.

Oberman expressed concern that recent rail service problems reported by some shippers may relate to that broader trend of rail labor reductions over the last several years in addition to the furloughs and quarantines brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I recognize that these rail service challenges, at least to some extent, have been related to workforce reductions resulting from COVID-19 cases, quarantines, and furloughs based on the temporary decline in demand and the resultant adjustments made by railroads in nearly every facet of their businesses,” he wrote. “But I am also concerned by the extent to which these service issues may be related to or exacerbated by a broader trend of rail labor reductions that has been occurring over the past several years.”

Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), adopted by CSX under the helm of the late E. Hunter Harrison, has become an acceptable operating scheme among the largest U.S. railroads focused on reducing operating ratios by lengthening trains and emphasizing cost reductions by slashing employment, reducing the time available for inspections and mothballing equipment, as reported by The Associated Press and VICE Magazine.

From an economic perspective, Oberman said the STB has received some significant reports of flaws in the Class Is’ service model.

“Although many shippers have reported that railroads are providing consistent and dependable service, the Board has also received concerning reports from a meaningful number of rail customers of subpar performance, including missed switches, railcars delayed at intermediate yards or interchanges, extended out-of-route movements, and prolonged dwell at origin for some unit train traffic,” Oberman observed. “Additionally, we have been made aware of instances of significant congestion at various intermodal facilities, which has resulted in delayed train arrivals and disruptions to container availability.”

A review of share prices since Harrison was placed atop CSX by a hedge fund in March 2017, shows that shares for most of the Class I carriers have more than doubled since March 2017, except for Canadian National and BNSF (which is privately owned).

Conversely, STB rail employment data from April 2021, indicate that overall Class I employment has declined by nearly 34,000 jobs from 149,323 in March 2017, while train and engine personnel employment has gone down by 12,240 jobs from 59,191 in March 2017.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said he was pleased to see STB Chairman Oberman and the board taking an active role in protecting rail shippers and making sure T&E crews are properly staffed.

“This is a good first step in getting people back to work and getting the rail workforce to an adequate level,” President Ferguson said. “Let’s get our members some relief so they’re able to receive adequate rest and a quality of life they deserve.”

Link to STB article regarding the letters.
Link to STB site with Oberman’s letters to carrier executives.

Local 17 vice president passes away from injuries

John Pohle is surrounded by his family in this photo. Brother Pohle was critically injured in an at-work accident April 30.

Brother John Pohle, vice president of Local 17 (Marshalltown, Iowa), passed away in the hospital on May 25, 2021, nearly a month after he suffered a critical injury while working April 30 in Union Pacific’s Marshalltown Yard.

Brother Pohle, a member of the union for more than 13 years and a local officer since 2012, had been in a medically-induced coma in the weeks since the accident amputated his right leg.

LCA-953B had established an online fundraiser for Pohle, his wife and their three sons after Brother Pohle’s injury. That fundraiser remains open to continue to assist them in this time of devastating loss.

Follow this link to contribute to the fundraiser on GoFundMe for Brother Pohle.

The SMART Transportation Division extends its deepest condolences to Brother Pohle’s family, his friends and especially his brothers and sisters of Local 17, which he helped to lead for nearly a decade.

Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issues alert

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issued an alert late last week in response to three rail fatalities that have occurred since early March.

Two of those incidents resulted in the loss of life of SMART-TD members — Taj Ellis and Buddy L. Strieker — and occurred during shove movements.

The third incident occurred on Pan-Am Railways in Newington, N.H., on May 19 when a worker was fatally injured while attempting a coupling on a curve.

“While these recent cases have not yet been analyzed, the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the three fatalities that have already occurred during 2021 and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting shove movements, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes,” the group said in its alert.

A flyer of the alert to print and share is available.

House transportation leaders request GAO study on PSR

DeFazio

WASHINGTON — The chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and the chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ) are requesting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the impacts that the implementation of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) by Class I railroads are having on workers, safety, freight shippers, passenger railroads and long-term management of the nation’s railroads.

“PSR in practice means the bottom line drives the decisions,” said Chair DeFazio. “Longer trains, unhappy shippers and a workforce pushed to do more with less is not a model to chase after – unless you’re on Wall Street. But we can’t let hedge fund managers write the rules of railroading. Last Congress, my Committee heard from various stakeholders concerned for the immediate and long-term impacts of PSR. This study, passed by the House last year in my surface transportation reauthorization bill, the INVEST in America Act, will help us find ways to address the impacts this railroad management strategy has on workers, freight shippers, passenger railroads and rail safety.”

Payne

“Precision scheduled railroading is being used more and more throughout the rail industry,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. “But I am concerned that this strategy could come at the expense of worker safety and smart, long-term railroad management. We need more information about this practice to determine whether it is beneficial or harmful to our nation’s railroad system.”

Read their letter making the request to the GAO. (PDF)

UTUIA announces new field structure

United Transportation Union Insurance Association (UTUIA) President Kenneth Laugel proudly announced this month a plan intended to broaden the scope and availability of all of the fraternal benefit society’s services to SMART Transportation Division members and its customers nationwide.

“After serving a broad spectrum of our customer base during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that there were avenues where UTUIA could construct more efficient, more convenient and broader ways to serve all our customers,” Laugel said. “We are excited and confident that these improvements will not simply maintain, but elevate the level of service that our members have come to enjoy and expect.”

First and foremost is a revamping of the agency’s structure approved by the UTUIA board that comes in three major components:

  1. UTUIA agents who were in the former position of Field Supervisor have been dispersed among seven regions encompassing multiple states. Now known as Regional Insurance Managers, they oversee states in the Western, Great Plains, Southwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. The accompanying map shows specifics on the regional structure.
  2. Positions of Territory Manager and Assistant Territory Manager also have been created to provide a broader support system to improve service within each region.
  3. Finally, the position of Local Insurance Representative has been redesigned, meaning that every Transportation Division local will have at least one person singularly devoted to fulfilling the needs of members regarding UTUIA benefits.

“These changes are all designed to better increase our visibility to the membership,” Laugel said. “Ultimately with more ‘boots on the ground’ our members will see the greater value that the UTUIA represents to the SMART-TD family.”

The change in structure is not the only innovation that the society is undertaking.

UTUIA also has established a partnership with US Bank subsidiary Evalon Inc. to provide secure credit-card processing with full encryption so that paying premiums online is protected at the maximum level available.

“Elavon has a proprietary service that shields all sensitive data,” Laugel said. “UTUIA has seen the damage security flaws and breaches have caused to customers in our field. We will always protect members’ confidential information.”

A Credit Card Services page has been set up on the UTUIA website (www.utuia.org) for enrollment in online premium payments and provides another level of convenience for people who still may be hesitant to venture out as the nation continues to contend with COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a challenge for UTUIA and essential workers alike, but Laugel noted that the 152-year-old fraternal benefit society has continued to be there unabated and undeterred — paying claims and providing scholarships, extending premium grace periods, making policy loans and continuing its steadfast support with charitable donations and contributions to the SMART-TD Disaster Recovery Fund.

“Through this time we have continued to make changes that will serve to strengthen our Society and better serve our members,” Laugel said. “We are proud of this effort and are even more proud to continue to protect and serve our members and our customers with our full range of insurance and financial benefits as we emerge from the pandemic.”

A letter from UTUIA President Kenneth Laugel and Secretary Treasurer Jeff Becker to SMART-TD members with more details.

Visit the UTUIA website for more information