The Federal Railroad Administration on Sept. 21 sided with a SMART Transportation Division request to reject the extension of COVID-related regulatory waiver requests by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
The waivers, initially granted in March 2020 by the Trump administration in response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, were roundly criticized by the SMART Transportation Division at their inception. They had been extended on multiple occasions since then and covered regulations governing:
Locomotive engineer skills examinations
Locomotive and conductor certification
On Sept. 13, the SMART-TD National Legislative Department filed public comments in objection to the latest extension request, saying the following:
“It is hard for this Organization to grasp that the railroads are seriously concerned about the pandemic when they are doing little to nothing to prevent its spread. In fact, it seems they only want the CDC guidelines to apply where they might be most able to cut an operational corner, rather than provide a safe and sterile work environment,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes wrote. “According to our applicable members: locomotive, crew room, and transport vehicle cleaning and sanitation has all but stopped (and has been for quite some time). Clearly, prevention of the spread of the virus has taken a back seat to waivers and relief from rules. Safety is either important or it isn’t. It doesn’t just apply here and there.”
FRA concurred with many of the points referred to by SMART-TD in its response, especially regarding training of new rail employees. The agency noted that carriers appeared to use the waivers of at least two rules for an intent outside the purpose originally sought. “FRA’s investigation of these concerns revealed that in numerous instances the railroads were utilizing this relief not to facilitate social distancing, but instead, out of administrative convenience,” FRA’s Karl Alexy wrote.
The SMART-TD National Legislative Office noted that the agency appears to be more responsive to safety concerns expressed by labor and commented on the renewed receptiveness the agency has displayed since the administration of President Joe Biden took charge at the beginning of the year.
“A change in leadership at FRA has made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We thank Deputy Administrator Amit Bose for his agency’s thoughtful consideration of our input as they made a decision on the extensions.”
In the same response to AAR, FRA granted two other extensions to which the SMART-TD National Legislative Department did not object that covered quick tie-ups and locomotive engineer and conductor recertification timelines.
Last week, Bose appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding his nomination to become administrator of FRA. His nomination remains before the committee as additional written questions were posed by committee members and submitted to nominees after the Sept. 22 hearing.
President Joe Biden last week announced two nominees — Gerald Fauth III and Linda Puchala — to return to the National Mediation Board (NMB).
Gerald W. Fauth III, the current NMB chairman, was nominated for another three-year term. He has served on the board since November 2017.
Fauth has 40 years of experience in the private sector and federal government working in the transportation industry. He has been directly involved in negotiating, mediating, arbitrating, facilitating, supporting and/or deciding the resolution of hundreds of complex transportation problems and disputes.
In addition to his NMB experience, from 1999 to 2003, Fauth served at the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) as chief of staff and senior advisor to a board member and was directly involved in the decision-making process in hundreds of formal decisions involving all matters of STB jurisdiction. In 1998, Mr. Fauth was named by the STB an original member of the Conrail Transaction Council established to provide a forum for constructive dialogue and timely and efficient communication of information in order to resolve implementation problems and railroad service concerns associated with the Conrail railroad transaction, the largest rail transaction in history.
Ms. Puchala has served as a member of the NMB since her confirmation by the U.S. Senate in 2009. Prior to her service as a board member, Ms. Puchala worked as a mediator, sr. mediator (ADR) and as the associate director of alternative dispute resolution services over a 10-year career at the NMB. During her tenure, Puchala has demonstrated leadership and professionalism that has earned her the respect of both parties across the mediation table. Puchala has also pursued innovative strategies to resolve pending arbitration cases, sought to modernize the NMB’s management practices and has fought for policies that will protect the rights of workers to have a union voice. Puchala also obtained important labor relations experience as a former international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and as a staff director at the Michigan State Employees Association of AFSCME.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will have some major shoes to fill with the April 13, 2019, retirement of Robert “Bob” Lauby, the agency’s chief safety officer.
Lauby had served in that capacity for FRA since September 2013. He was a frequent presenter at SMART Transportation Division regional meetings and worked to provide regulatory oversight for rail safety in the United States while overseeing the development and enforcement of safety regulations and programs related to the rail industry.
“Serving as the associate administrator for Railroad Safety and FRA’s chief safety officer is one of the highlights of my career,” Lauby said. “The job has been both challenging and fulfilling.
“Over the years, we grappled with many important issues and have significantly changed the industry for the better.”
Lauby had a hand in several regulatory safety efforts at FRA such as Positive Train Control, conductor certification, training requirements, drug and alcohol testing for maintenance of way employees, roadway worker protection, passenger equipment standards, system safety and others.
Other safety oversight improvements happened as a result of major accidents. Some of the major ones included crude-oil accidents at Lac Megantic, Ontario, Canada; Mount Carbon, W.Va.; and other locations; commuter train accidents at Spuyten Duyvil and Valhalla, N.Y.; and Amtrak passenger train accidents in Philadelphia and Chester, Pa.; Dupont, Wash.; and Cayce, S.C.
“No matter the challenges swirling around him, Bob had safety in mind,” said National Legislative Director John Risch. “He’s been great to work with and one of the most committed, level-headed professionals in the rail industry.”
Lauby said that he treasured any interaction he could have with members of rail labor as these helped to broaden his perspective about whom he was working to protect.
“I always took time to talk to the SMART TD membership to get their complaints, opinions, and perspectives on the latest industry issues,” Lauby said. “I often left enlightened or with a new perspective.
“Railroad managers are experts on what is supposed to happen. SMART TD members are experts on what actually happens. They always know what works and what does not work.”
In his more-than-40-year career, Lauby’s railroad and transit experience included safety, security, accident investigation, project management, project engineering, manufacturing and vehicle maintenance.
He joined the FRA in August 2009 as staff director of its newly established Passenger Rail Division in the agency’s Office of Safety and was later promoted to deputy associate administrator for regulatory and legislative operations at FRA. One of his responsibilities in that role was to oversee the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).
Prior to his time at FRA, Lauby was director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad Safety, overseeing hundreds of rail accident investigations for NTSB and coordinating with our union’s Transportation Safety Team in many investigations. He was NTSB’s representative on RSAC.
Lauby addressed SMART TD members in a workshop at the 2018 Seattle, Washington, regional meeting.
“At our regional meetings, I would introduce Bob and tell the troops that Bob was the big gun and can handle all the tough questions, which he always did,” Risch said at a party celebrating Lauby’s retirement in late March.
Lauby said he took his multiple presentations at TD regional meetings, including at the Seattle regional meeting last July, seriously — he felt he owed it to the attendees to give them useful information.
“I looked forward to the meetings each year and spent hours preparing my presentation and preparing for the questions I would get at the end – during the Q and A session,” he said. “I wanted the material I presented to be timely and useful to the membership, and I always tried to include the inside scoop – the stuff nobody else would talk about!”
But the benefits from his visits and interactions went both ways, he said, and showing up at the meetings gave him a fresh perspective on the industry.
“I always enjoyed speaking to the SMART TD membership – both at the Regional Meetings and when they were on their jobs,” Lauby said. “Whenever I traveled by train, I tried to spend time with the train crew or ride the head end to find out the issues of the day.
“I learned more about railroading from the working men and women of the railroad industry than from anyone else.”
Lauby’s departure is leaving a vacancy that FRA will have a difficult time filling, Risch said.
“No one will really fill your shoes because there is no one with the knowledge and experience to do that,” he told Lauby at his retirement party. “You committed your working life to rail safety, you have been a good friend of mine and a good friend to railroad workers everywhere.
“We wish you all the best as you enter this next stage of your life.”
Lauby said his career leaves him with a sense of gratitude.
“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the industry I love, in a role where I felt I could make a difference,” Lauby said. “I will miss the thousands of people I interacted with each year. That includes the FRA employees and railroad industry labor and management … all the folks I dealt with at the various RSAC meetings. People are the most important part of any organization and the railroad industry is no different.”
Amtrak employees represented by SMART Transportation Division General Committees of Adjustment GO-769, GO-663, and GO-342 (Conductors, Assistant Conductors, and Yardmasters) voted in overwhelming favor of ratifying a tentative agreement reached last month.
The agreement, effective April 1, 2018, provides a compounded 18.83 percent pay increase over the life of the contract, which runs through 2021, plus retroactive pay.
The contract also caps monthly healthcare contributions at $228 while adding services such as telemedicine and a fixed 24-month continuation of coverage period, among others. It establishes AMPLAN 1A, a lower-cost healthcare plan that will be available to all employees beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and compulsory for new hires during their first five years of service.
For members of the military who lose earnings because of their service, the agreement accounts for up to 120 hours of “make whole” pay.
SMART TD President John Previsich and Vice Presidents John England and John Lesniewski led the negotiating team, and a tentative agreement was reached Jan. 11.
“Their combined efforts were instrumental in reaching our goal of gaining wage increases and certification allowances that are comparable to industry standards,” General Chairperson Dirk Sampson (GO-769) said in a Feb. 6 letter to his membership announcing the vote results.
General Chairperson Robert Keeley (GO-342) in a letter to his membership expressed gratitude to leadership and to fellow members of the negotiating committee, including Vice General Chairperson Charlie Yura and Secretary Rick Pauli.
“We walked into negotiations together and we found success together,” Keeley said.
As did his fellow GCs, Fran Ariola, general chairperson of GO-663, expressed appreciation to leadership, members of the negotiating team, his colleagues and to his membership.
“I would like to thank you for this opportunity to represent our GCA and our members during this negotiation process,” Ariola wrote in a Feb. 6 letter.
SMART Transportation Division General Chairpersons Dirk Sampson (GO 769), Robert Keeley (GO 342) and Fran Ariola (GO 663) announced today that they have reached a tentative agreement with Amtrak on behalf of their members employed by the passenger railroad.
The chairpersons convened Jan. 10 and 11 at SMART TD headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, to continue negotiations over a new contract for Amtrak employees represented by the union. Assisted by SMART TD President John Previsich and Vice Presidents John Lesniewski and John England, union officials and Amtrak representatives reached tentative agreements for each bargaining group.
Each proposed agreement will be submitted for a ratification vote of the affected members.
Copies of the proposed agreement and information on ratification will be communicated by the General Chairpersons to their respective memberships with balloting materials to be prepared and distributed beginning Jan. 15.
Please click on the link below to sign (and please share) this online petition to the White House asking the FTA to approve funding that has long been earmarked for San Francisco’s Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) a high-speed, electric commuter train system project:
The petition urges President Donald Trump to reverse Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s decision, which was to stop the project by placing $647 million in federal funding on hold. This transportation project has been years in the making and promises to replace Caltrain’s current diesel-fueled commuter trains with high-speed, electric commuter trains.
Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris of Calif. released the following joint statement: “This decision is incomprehensible and will cause delays and millions of dollars of additional costs that could jeopardize the entire project.”
President Trump’s repeated campaign promises centered on safeguarding American jobs, creating thousands of new jobs and upgrading and developing our infrastructure. If that is still true, Trump must allow this project to move forward, as Caltrain PCEP will create nearly 10,000 jobs, not only in California, but in other states as well, including Utah, Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Please sign the petition and share it with your brothers and sisters of of all trades.
ABC News.com reported that following last week’s deadly New Jersey Transit crash in Hoboken that killed a woman standing on the platform and injured more than 100 commuters, NJT announced a new mandate that requires the presence of both the engineer and a conductor during the final phase of the commute, when the trains are pulling into NJT’s Hoboken or Atlantic City stations. Read the complete article here.
Amtrak employees represented by the SMART Transportation Division (UTU) have ratified a five-year agreement with management of the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak).
The new pact covers approximately 2,300 members employed as conductors, assistant conductors, yardmasters and dining car stewards.
The agreement is retroactive to 2010 and the new rates of pay should become effective within 30 to 45 days. Payment of retroactive wages will be made approximately 60 days after the wage rates take effect.
“The membership recognized the value of the proposed contract and in ratifying the agreement have secured the wages and benefits that were hard-fought and hard-won by the negotiating team,” said SMART Transportation Division Assistant President John Previsich.
With the assistance of Previsich, the contract negotiations were conducted by Amtrak General Chairpersons Dirk Sampson (GO 769), Bill Beebe (GO 663) and Robert J. Keeley (GO 342).
“I must thank President Mike Futhey and Assistant President John Previsich, whose efforts made this agreement possible,” Sampson said. “Despite moments of uncertainty that existed, their leadership, patience and confident demeanor kept this very long and difficult round of negotiations moving forward. I would also like to recognize the efforts of General Chairperson Bill Beebe, Vice General Chairperson Charlie Yura and Local 1361 Chairperson Gary J. Hopson for their assistance in bringing these negotiations to a conclusion.”
Chairperson Robert Keeley added, “I would also like to thank the aforementioned, along with General Committee Secretary Charles Fowler, Vice General Chairperson Salvador Ruiz, Local Chairpersons Keenan Lett and James Madden, and Brother Cleophas Brickhouse,” Keeley said. “Solidarity has always been a fragile thing, fraught with complex and difficult commitments. Real solidarity is an easier statement to make than it is to keep and put into practice. We walked into negotiations together, and we found success together. I want to be sure to thank all involved for demonstrating union solidarity at its very best.”
The agreement was passed by nearly 60 percent of eligible train-service members that voted and by 86 percent of eligible yardmasters that voted.
After more than two years of negotiations, three UTU-SMART general committees representing some 2,300 Amtrak members have reached a deal with the passenger carrier on a new contract.
General Chairpersons Bill Beebe, Robert Keeley and Dirk Sampson represent Amtrak conductors, assistant conductors, yardmasters and dining car stewards.
The parties first began negotiations in 2010 and were initially unable to resolve their differences on the terms and conditions of a new contract. After a number of sessions, the services of the National Mediation Board were requested and a Federal mediator was assigned.
UTU-SMART Assistant President John Previsich, who assisted in the negotiations, said that, although the progress remained slow and difficult, the mediator was ultimately successful in moving the parties forward to a satisfactory conclusion.
The tentative agreements must now be ratified by affected members under provisions of the UTU (SMART Transportation Division) Constitution. Ballots are going out by mail and the tentative deadline for the return of ballots is April 10.
The proposed agreements follow the pattern of pay increases and health & welfare modifications reached by other organizations in earlier settlements. The increases are effective beginning back to 2010 and, as a result, employees covered by the new agreements will receive a significant amount of back pay once the contract is ratified, Previsich said.
“In addition, the parties were successful in resolving the difficult issue of financial recognition for the increased obligations and rule modifications that are required by Federal certification of conductors,” Previsich said.
General Chairpersons Beebe, Keeley and Sampson thanked Previsich for his assistance during the negotiations and also pointed to the valuable contributions and perseverance of Vice General Chairpersons Gary Hopson, Charlie Yura and Charles Fowler.
“I commend Chairpersons Keeley, Sampson and Beebe for the professionalism and dedication to the membership exhibited during this very difficult round of negotiations,” Previsich said. “Their commitment, along with the knowledge and contributions of the vice general chairpersons, resulted in tentative agreements that stand as testimony to the value of working together for the benefit of the men and women who we represent.”
Contract talks on Amtrak are continuing, General Chairperson Dirk Sampson reports.
“As these negotiations are ongoing and sensitive, I am not a liberty to release the details,” he said.
“My main priority with Amtrak is getting this contract settled,” Sampson said. “Mediation talks are ongoing. Currently, mediation sessions are scheduled for Feb. 13 and 14 and March 20 and 21. We are still trying to resolve a few difficult issues. The negotiation team will continue to press its demands with the assistance and guidance of Assistant President John Previsich.”
UTU Amtrak conductors and yardmasters are currently in mediation with regard to an amended wage, benefits and working conditions agreement.
The UTU and Amtrak are far apart on a few difficult issues.
At this time, the parties are exploring alternative methods of interest-based resolution. This may or may not work. The UTU and Amtrak have an accelerated schedule with dates in January.
It will be known at the end of these sessions whether this approach has any hope of success, or if it will be necessary to go down the traditional path of self-help under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.