On January 9, 2022, tragedy struck in the form of a fire for Alaska Railroad conductor and SMART-TD Local 1626 (Anchorage, Alaska) member Danielle Gallagher. Gallagher and her two children lost their home near Palmer, Alaska, that night, reports Local 1626 Secretary & Treasurer Justin Voss.
“Danielle is a conductor for the Alaska Railroad and a very dedicated employee. She loves her job! Not only is Danielle a great coworker, she is also [a] great friend. She is always willing to reach out and lend a hand and helps anyone in need. No matter the situation,” Toppin said on the GoFundMe page. “This is now our chance to help her and her awesome kids and say, thank you for always having our backs.”
In addition to the loss of their home, some of the family dogs were lost in the fire. The farm animals, including horses and cattle and other livestock, were not harmed.
Brother Charles F. “Chuck” Reiring passed away Dec. 14, 2021, at age 41. He is survived by his daughter, Dixie (pictured), his wife and son Charles III.
Brother Reiring joined our union in January 2018 and worked as a conductor for BNSF.
Fellow SMART-TD member Gary Brunt Jr. of Local 1544 (Maywood, Calif.) has established a memorial fund on GoFundMe in memory of Brother Reiring, with whom Brunt had trained when both hired on as BNSF conductors.
“There wasn’t a time he didn’t speak of how much he would want for his daughter, son, or wife, Angie to have. He will forever be remembered for his sacrifice, duty, and love for his family,” Brunt wrote.
Brother Reiring is survived by his wife of 18 years, Angie Vierra; his daughter, Dixie; and his son, Charles III.
August 31st was a day that would forever change the lives of member David Mitchell (Local 937 in Mart, Texas) and his family. It was the day that he would come home with a diagnosis of COVID-19. By September 7, Mitchell’s wife, Michelle, would begin to show symptoms, and on September 13, she was hospitalized with severe COVID pneumonia. By Sept. 14, all four of the Mitchell kids had been diagnosed as well.
Although David and his kids recovered quickly from COVID-19, Michelle did not. Her health continued to decline and on Oct. 5, she had to be intubated.
“Oct. 6th after picking up my son from Timberview High School following an active shooter at his school, as if I wasn’t under enough stress already, I walked into my wife’s ICU room and touched her leg and her heart stopped,” David said. “Michelle was revived, and shortly after that her kidneys failed and her liver failed.”
Although Michelle’s breathing slowly began to improve, other parts of her did not. The doctors took her off of sedation for three days, but she did not wake up. The doctors then decided to run a CT scan and MRI on both sides of her brain and discovered that Michelle had had multiple strokes on both sides.
David reports that Michelle’s organs are back in working order and that she is recovering slowly. The strokes have caused left-side paralysis and her motor skills have been affected as well. Her largest hurdle is learning to walk again at the rehab facility.
“She still is extremely weak and has paralysis on her left side and needs lots of rehab to get all of her motor skills back. And that’s a fight she’s ready to take on headfirst,” David said.
Alternate Vice President and GCA-927 General Chairperson Scott Chelette, who brought Brother Mitchell’s situation to SMART-TD’s attention, has gotten together with local chairpersons to provide Christmas gifts for David’s children.
“Brother Mitchell was especially appreciative of the fact that the International and the President’s office cared enough to want to help in any way they could. I explained to him that this is what an organization should do for each other, and he and every other member will see us getting back to that way of thinking,” Chelette said.
Local 569 Local Chairperson Lawrence Perkins is collecting Christmas gifts for the family. Gifts can be mailed to Perkins at 412 Rocky Creek Drive, Mansfield, Texas, 76063-8800. Brother Mitchell has three boys — ages 6, 9, and 16; and one daughter, age 14.
During this time, Brother Mitchell has been off work just trying to take care of his family. As a result, finances are tight with him not working, coupled with hospital and rehab bills. A GoFundMe has been set up by David to help the family during this difficult time. Click here to donate.
A union sister is trying to help the most important woman in her life receive the care she needs after two devastating strokes.
Local 1558 member Jenell Rose, left, stands with her mom, Kecia Jordan, president of Local 1558, in this photo that was taken prior to Sister Jordan’s strokes.
Member Jenell Rose of Local 1558 (Bergenfield, N.J.) has started an online fundraiser after her mother Kecia Jordan, the president of Local 1558, had a pair of strokes.
The medical crisis began when Sister Jordan, 51, caught COVID-19 and was unable to work for Rockland Coaches.
“Within a few days of her diagnosis, COVID-19 caused her to have a stroke,” said General Chairperson Richard Finley (GCA-RCL).
Sister Jordan was hospitalized as a result of the first stroke and was receiving care when she had a second stroke. She has been in recovery ever since and three weeks ago entered a rehabilitation facility, Finley said.
“Kecia has been a valued member of our local. Fortunately, she is starting to recover,” Finley said. “She is learning how to do all the basic stuff that we have taken for granted in our lives. Due to this medical condition, this has devastated her financially.”
Sister Jordan not only is a local president. She works with Finley as GCA secretary and is also secretary for LCA RCL1. Most importantly, she’s an inspiration and guiding light for her daughter and fellow union member.
“She is an amazing woman, the biggest heart and forever my number one supporter. I would do anything to have my mother back to her normal self,” Sister Rose wrote on GoFundMe. “I know everything takes time so I’m here for anything & everything she needs. We as the family are doing the best we can to maintain all that she has as well as fixing her home so she’s able to recover as best and fast as possible.”
The Pullman neighborhood in Chicago will be abuzz on Labor Day weekend 2021 for the grand opening of the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory Grounds. Pullman has been preparing for this moment for decades, and in earnest since President Barack Obama designated the Pullman National Monument in February 2015.
The public is welcome for a weekend of family friendly events on Saturday, Sept. 4, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including:
tours of the new visitor center (free)
tours of the first floor of historic Hotel Florence (free)
programs under the tent at the factory site (free)
walking tours and self-guided tours of the historic community (free)
tours of historic Pullman-built rail cars, sponsored by Amtrak, Metra and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners
The Pullman National Monument and State Historic site is at 11001 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago, IL 60628, the site of the former Pullman company town. The town was the vision of George M. Pullman, who founded it May 26, 1880. Pullman hoped that by building the town, he would attract skilled workers to build his luxury rail cars – known as the Pullman Sleeping Car, they were the first railcars in existence designed to accommodate overnight travelers.
Guests of the Pullman historic sites will find an exhibit chronicling the rise of the town and its role in labor history and the 1894 Pullman strike endorsed by labor leader Eugene Debs, a former secretary of one of SMART-TD’s predecessor unions, as well as the struggles of the black Pullman porters who formed the nation’s first black labor union – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The events this weekend are being managed by the Historic Pullman Foundation, which is led by former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator and retired UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, the president of the foundation.
“Historic Pullman Foundation is thrilled to help welcome the public to Pullman National Monument and Pullman State Historic Site, an incredible new cultural attraction in Chicago,” said Szabo. “On Labor Day weekend and through ongoing programming and exhibits at the Monument and its partner sites, visitors to Pullman have many opportunities to learn about the continuing American story that is Pullman.”
GCA-505 Long Island Rail Road General Chairperson Anthony Simon has teamed up with SMART Sheet Metal Business Managers Dante Dano (SM Local 137) and Eric Meslin (SM Local 28) to plan an annual golf outing in Bronx, N.Y. to benefit LaborPress.
LaborPress is one of the largest labor news organizations in the nation. They were founded in August 2009 by LaborPress President Neal Tepel to provide a media outlet for unions and workers. Their articles regularly appear in the New York Daily News and on their website. iHeart radio’s WOR radio station features their daily reports.
LaborPress.org regularly has features on the transportation and building trades industries, which is why our union is happy to help them out with their golf outing. Most notably, LaborPress recently posted spotlight features on Simon, Dano, Meslin and General President Joe Sellers.
According to Simon, GCA-505 and SMART Locals 137 and 28 regularly work together on joint efforts and this event is no different. The keynote speaker for the event is none other than SMART General President Sellers. During his lunchtime speech, Sellers plans to discuss infrastructure issues important to both the transportation and sheet metal sides of the union, as well as the need for more unionized workers in the workforce. Also speaking during the event are representatives from the AFL-CIO and the North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU). Legislators are expected to attend as well.
“We are honored to have our general president attend this event as the keynote speaker. This event takes place in New York, where many labor leaders throughout the state will join us to hear Joe’s opinions on the labor movement and the infrastructure bills that we are fighting for in Washington,” Simon said. “This event shows that when we all stand together with both transportation and building trades, our voices and actions are stronger than ever.”
The golf outing is being held Sept. 10, at the Pelham Bay Golf Course, 870 Shore Rd., Bronx, NY 10464.
SMART TD Local 1470 (Edmonston, Md.) Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger is doing his part to get the public vaccinated against COVID-19. A 35-year member of the National Guard, Wetzelberger was on the reserves list when he heard about his unit possibly being part of vaccination efforts. With 33 years of seniority as a conductor at Amtrak, he took a military leave of absence from being a conductor to be part of the front-line vaccination effort.
Before shots got put into anyone’s arms, they needed a plan, and Wetzelberger was instrumental in that, too. His first task after being called to duty was to work with the Maryland Department of Health and get in contact with local health department administrators and secretaries so he could schedule mobile vaccination teams from his unit to go out to drive-up and brick-and-mortar vaccination sites to help get members of the public their shots.
When Maryland decided to start doing mass vaccination sites, Wetzelberger volunteered to be the on-site commander at the M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play, and got the site up and running within 18 days with the help of the University of Maryland Medical System. He brought 71 airmen with him to help operate the site.
““Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
– SMART TD Local 1470 Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger
“It [the Ravens’ stadium] went from a barren, first-class, club-level football stadium, to a fully-operational clinic within 18 days,” said Wetzelberger. “And our highest output in one day was 6,152 vaccinations. We did that in one day at the end of April.” He urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. He’s seen the effects of this virus and knows that it isn’t going away anytime soon if people are unwilling to get vaccinated.
“Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much just foddering and just wrong information is out there about these vaccines. One of the main takeaways is, you’ve gotta do research. Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. You gotta do research to protect yourself.”
He added: “People are taking chances with their health right now, and they’re just believing anything someone puts online, and it’s a shame because these vaccines are highly effective, they protect you against this nasty virus. I’ve known many people who’ve gotten this thing, and it’s everything from losing their sense of taste and smell all the way up to dying. So there’s no reason to take a chance.”
If you are unvaccinated and interested in protecting yourself and others, visit www.vaccines.gov to find your nearest vaccination site.
Brother Karl Middlemas, 62, of Local 807 (Tucson, Ariz.) – a member of our union for more than 13 years – died when the crew van he was being transported in collided with a tractor-trailer late on July 6.
Brother Middlemas hired on in 2007 and most recently served as a conductor for Union Pacific. He had completed his shift July 6 and was en route back to Tucson from Nogales when the van was struck at 11:24 p.m. local time on Interstate 19 south of Tucson. He was killed instantly in the crash.
He enjoyed working on and restoring cars, especially classic Mopars.
Additional details on a memorial will be updated when received.
Individual shooters will be placed in teams of five when competing or entire teams of five can register as a group either in-person or online. The deadline for advance registration is Sept. 20 for the Colorado event and Oct. 18 for the New Jersey event.
Family members and friends of all SMART members can take part in these team shoots, the proceeds of which go toward the Alliance’s efforts to preserve, restore and conserve natural and outdoor resources in our country. In addition to the competition, awards, door prizes and premium drawings will take place at both events. There also are sponsorship opportunities available.
Additional information will be shared as the shoots approach. Questions about registration and sponsorships can be directed to Chris Piltz of the USA at 203-767-0745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.
Buddy Lee Strieker, an officer of Local 219 (Hannibal, Mo.) for the vast majority of his 24-plus years with our union, died as a result of a switching accident on April 7 in Louisiana, Mo. He was 56 years old.
Brother Strieker was vice local chairperson of LCA-001A and the secretary/treasurer of his local for more than two decades. A trainman/brakeman for BNSF, he also served as an LCA secretary and as a delegate for his local at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in 2019.
An investigation has been launched by the National Transportation Safety Board into Brother Strieker’s death with a member of the TD National Safety Team participating.
Brother Strieker was a veteran of the U.S. Army. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Lisa; his son, Matthew; a granddaughter; two step-grandchildren; three brothers; two sisters and other relatives.
“Away from work, Buddy loved being outside and visiting the family farm,” his family wrote in Brother Strieker’s obituary. “Buddy had a green thumb and enjoyed working in his garden where he grew tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, and banana peppers. A wonderful cook, Buddy made the most delicious cheesecakes, birthday cakes, and soups.”
Tony Wyman, a union brother out of Local 445 (Niota, Ill.) remembered on an online memorial page how he was mentored by Brother Strieker after hiring on as a BNSF conductor.
“Buddy … told me ‘as long as you’re with me you’ll be OK,’ ” Wyman wrote. “I’m heartbroken that he is gone! Buddy had a story or a joke every time he went to work! People of the BNSF family in Quincy lost a legend …and I mean a serious legend!”
The SMART Transportation Division offers its deep condolences to Brother Strieker’s family, friends and to his Local 219 brothers and sisters for the loss of this stalwart and dedicated member of our union.