On Wednesday, Sept. 30, members of SMART Transportation Division led the way, along with members of the BLET and TCU/IAM,uniting in cities across America to spread awareness about cuts coming to Amtrak if the Senate fails to act now.
On Sept. 9, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn appeared before a U.S. House committee saying that the carrier needs approximately $5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If no additional funding is provided by the federal government, the carrier has announced cuts, effective Oct. 1, of approximately 2,000 unionized employees and a planned reduction of service that would hit long-distance and state-run routes that serve rural areas especially hard.
Rallies were scheduled by SMART-TD and other unions to take place a day before the planned cuts in four major cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
In a show of supportfor Amtrak funding and in an effort to raise awareness, Wisconsin State Legislative Director Andy Hauck and Michigan State Legislative Director Donald Roach, with the help of Local 168 member Nate Hatton (Dearborn, Mich.),also led the members in conductingpop-up rallies in Milwaukee and Dearborn, Mich., respectively.
SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson accused Amtrak management of setting up the nation’s major passenger carrier to fail at the rally in Chicago, “They [Amtrak’s Flynn and his board] want to take Amtrak and reduce it to a three-day-a-week service for a long-haul with a two-day layover here in Chicago when you’re trying to go from New York to L.A. How is that fair to the ridership? There’s no way that’s going to survive. That’s set up to fail. The couplets aren’t there. They can’t keep people moving. They’re setting us up to fail.”
Ferguson continued to address the assembled crowd, “We bust our butts, day in and day out, to give our country this service, and this is what the board wants to do. Now you guys have gone one step further, you Amtrak employees. You voted to waive off your pay increase this past July. You did what was best for this country and for Amtrak, didn’t you? How did you get repaid? With the threat of furlough tomorrow, right? Twothousand people could be in the streets tomorrow!”
Ferguson also pointed out that Amtrak management is restarting their salaries and 401(k) contributions coinciding with the Oct. 1 scheduled implementation date of furloughs of 2,000 union members. He also stated that Amtrak management has restructured their bonus program to better benefit themselves.
“We’re not going to take that! We’re not going to stand for that! Not when you gave up your pay raises to protect this country and this service! Unheard of! So, let’s get busy out there! Let’s get fired up!”
Meanwhile, at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol building, SMART General President Joe Sellers gave a rousing speech to the crowd featuring many members employed by Amtrak who might lose their jobs.
“You are our essential workers. You are moving our essential workers. Every day, to the hospitals, to the first responders, to the police. You are moving America! We need to continue to make sure that you have the funding, to continue to make sure that you continue to move America through this pandemic! We need you! And we need Congress to make sure that they pass the HEROES Act.”
Sellers pointed out that the HEROES Act, or H.R. 6800, was relaunched on May 15, 2020, and has yet to be voted on by the U.S. Senate. “We need to make sure that the new relaunched HEROES Act is passed. To protect you. To protect essential workers. To protect the job that you do, day in and day out,” Sellers said.
Sellers concluded his fiery speech by thanking our essential Amtrak members, “I want to thank you for the work that you do, and Congress should be thanking you for the work that you do day in and day out! We need the Senate to make sure that they take this seriously. The White House is dragging their feet. The Senate is dragging their feet. That is unacceptable! Thank you, brothers and sisters. We are going to make a difference and we are going to effect change. We are going to effect change in November, and we are going to carry this through.”
SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity was also featured in a report that aired on Fox 5 News in D.C. at the rallyand U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts also spoke at the rally.
New York City and Los Angeles, Calif.
General Chairperson Anthony Simon (Long Island Railroad) and Scott Carey, legislative representative of Local 95 (Albany, N.Y.), took part in a rally with BLET and TCU members outside Penn Station, while California State Legislative Director Louis Costa led a morning demonstration in front of L.A.’s Union Station.
In Dearborn, Hatton told the Arab American News, “This is a slap in the face to all the essential workers who have been serving the public throughout the pandemic — sacrificing their health and time with their families and loved ones. In 2019, we moved a total of 1,540,972 passengers on the Michigan Corridor. In Dearborn alone, we boarded and deboarded 73,589 passengers. When this pandemic first began, we were told not to wear masks or gloves as it would frighten passengers, while management was told to work from home. As a union, in good faith, we decided to give up pay to help the company only now to be furloughed.”
SLD Donald Roach also pointed out to the news outlet that H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act,which included funding for Amtrak, passed the House on July 1 and has stalled on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
“This cut from Amtrak is not just employees being furloughed, it’s reducing service from three trains a day in both directions, east and west, to one train a day to Chicago and the shutdown of the Grand Rapids–to–Chicago line,” Roach said.
Local 168 member Joel Myers was there rallying along with one of his two children. Myers stands to lose a lot if furloughed with one of his sons currently going through chemotherapy treatments.
“If we are all furloughed, we will need to figure out how to keep food on the table for our families,” Hattontold the Arab American News. “We will be losing a great public utility. This will greatly impact Dearborn and the Metro Detroit area as this is a mode of transportation that people rely on.”
In Wisconsin, SMART members along with All Aboard Wisconsin boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder and rode to Wisconsin Dells, SLD Andy Hauck told SMART-TD. “We had press coverage at both locations and an event in Wisconsin Dells. The train crew was excellent. [The riders] included six legislators and prospective legislators that SMART-TD has supported.”
The rallies caught the notice of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who embarked on a whistle-stop tour aboard an Amtrak train that departed from Cleveland the day after the first presidential debate and later went into Pennsylvania.
“It’s safe to say I’ve gotten to know the hardworking men and women of @Amtrakover the years — I’m proud to stand with them as they face furloughs due to funding cuts. These essential workers have kept us moving during this pandemic –– now it’s time we have their backs,” Biden’s tweet the evening of Sept. 30 read.
SMART-TD is urging members to contact Congress about passing emergency funding for Amtrak. Not only are the livelihoods of SMART and other union members at stake, but Railroad Retirement will also take a huge hit to its funding if these layoffs stick.
The same cannot be said for front-line SMART Transportation Division members who have sprung into action to help their communities and fellow members cope with the effects of the coronavirus.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters has been providing cleaning supplies to members to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters (GCA-449) was able to engineer an agreement with a local distillery that provided alcohol-based hand sanitizer to members free of charge.
“I explained our travel ban exemption and our lack of access to running water,” Wolters said. “They seemed more than happy to help our union.
“I decided I can’t rely on the carrier to protect the members, so our officers are donating cleaning materials daily and cleaning when they can.”
Attention to sanitation of work areas also has been a challenge that General Chairperson Larry Miller (GO 386) is doing his best to help meet by providing disinfecting wipes to workers in packages provided by the union.
“I wanted to do all I can on my part to keep our members supplied with whatever I could get at our local stores,” said Miller, who was elected an alternate vice president at last year’s Second SMART-TD Convention. “I know it is not a lot, but it does make a dent. If we all pull together as the SMART-TD team, we will get through this.”
Member Mike Speier of Local 6 (Indianapolis, Ind.) took the initiative of purchasing a number of spray bottles from the dollar store, mixing up a bleach solution with four gallons that he purchased on his own, and then placing the filled spray bottles around the yard office.
“They can put posters up when the cows come home, but that’s not keeping us safe,” Speier said. “It’s cheap to do, I followed the instructions on Google and have been filling them up and giving them to the guys.
Mike Speier of Local 6 in Indianapolis, Ind., poses with his two daughters. Speier has been supplying fellow workers based out of the Avon, Ind., terminal with bleach water to help disinfect their work areas.
“If I keep my brothers and sisters safe and healthy, it ensures that I come home safe and healthy.”
If managers would give workers a bit of extra time to sanitize and disinfect their worksites — about 10 minutes — and allow the people to pull together, it’d help to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading, he said.
“You have a half-dozen guys buy bottles and bleach water, and we can really nip this in the bud,” Speier said.
Some members are doing their best to keep others informed.
On the West Coast, General Chairperson James Sandoval of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District and Local 23 (Santa Cruz, Calif.) alternate legislative representative, has been sharing information with members across TD locals and transit agencies alike to help spread information during the outbreak. In particular he is raising awareness about federal and state benefits that are available especially for those who may find themselves unable to work because they or someone they care for is dealing with COVID-19.
“Since we are in uncharted waters with this pandemic, it is extremely important to support each other and share information that may help because there is no book on this,” he said. “I have been sharing information with all District 3 general chairpersons, our International, our local labor counsel and other unions. We must step up to make sure nobody feels alone right now because things are changing at a rapid pace.”
Sandoval says that a cooperative effort has brought about shift adjustments at both Santa Cruz’s bus and paratransit properties by the carrier, which also has eliminated disciplinary procedures on sick calls, begun a no-question 10-day stay-at-home policy, supplied personal protective equipment and implemented bus sanitation practices.
“I couldn’t have accomplished improving our workplace strategy around COVID-19 to help protect our members without the support of my great team at our local. I have always believed that working together means we can get through anything — we will come out of this stronger than ever!”
Johnny Walker, legislative representative for Local 610 and secretary of the Maryland State Legislative Board, has been using his experience in the military and as a railroader to help pull people in his neighborhood and at his workplace together to cope with the stresses posed by the pandemic.
He praised the efforts of General Chairperson Jerome Johnson (New Jersey Transit conductors) of Local 60 in Newark, as doing an exemplary job in keeping things moving in this time of crisis, as are other NJT members.
“He has been doing everything he possibly can to protect his members and the riding public. After all, NJT operates in and out of New York City,” Sabol said. “Our N.J. bus members as well have been dealing with fuller buses because of route cuts.”
These examples, as well as other members’ efforts that haven’t yet been reported to us at news_TD@smart-union.org, are what’s going to keep the country moving and our fellow brothers and sisters healthy as we all work through the challenge of this pandemic.
Union leadership is reviewing each and every submission and is working to get those problem areas resolved, but keep in mind it is impossible for your general chairperson or state legislative board to adequately respond if the situations are not reported. The more details we receive, the better chance we have of getting them corrected.
“I read each and every one of these reports, and we all discuss it daily to ensure someone is following up with a corrective action plan,” said Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson. “Our general chairpersons are doing a fantastic job, and in many cases they are teamed up with our vice presidents in keeping the pressure on the carriers to get the unsanitary conditions and lack of supplies fixed. Our Legislative/Safety Department is following up on the national, state and local levels where needed to ensure members’ voices and concerns are being addressed.”
Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson of the TD President’s Office encourages members to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas on how SMART-TD members can help pull together resources to assist each other during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes branding supplies with SMART decals so that people know that the union is helping to provide the materials that otherwise would not be available.
By voting absentee, Virginia residents can make sure their work schedule or a family emergency does not impact their right to vote. To vote absentee in Virginia, voters must have a reason (code 1D or 1E should work for rail workers and retirees).
“No matter whom you choose, choose to vote early!” Hobbs said.
All SMART members are invited to participate in annual Labor Day parades.
On Monday, Sept. 2, in Galesburg, Ill., Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director-elect Jared Cassity is scheduled to be in attendance to march alongside members of TD Local 195 and all other members who attend the 127th edition of the parade, a tradition that recognizes the sacrifice and contribution that workers have made in building our nation.
“Galesburg holds the title for the second-oldest consecutive Labor Day parade in America,” said Local Chairperson Bryan Roberts (LCA 001E) of TD Local 195. “We will have a photo with everyone before the parade begins and a float available to ride in the parade.”
Roberts said participants should meet between 8 and 9 a.m. at the TD Local 195 union hall in the basement of the Bondi Building, 311 E. Main St., lower level. There is an access door off Kellogg Street as well that leads downstairs to the union hall in addition to the building’s main entrance.
Roberts said there will be a picnic with food and drink provided immediately following the parade at Lake Story, Pavilion 3, 1572 Machens Drive in Galesburg. The pavilion is immediately to the left when turning off Lake Story Road toward the Main Pavilion across from the softball fields, Roberts said. Alcohol is prohibited on site.
All members in Galesburg and the surrounding area are invited to participate.
“We hope to see everyone there,” Roberts said.
In Nebraska, food and fun are on the schedule at the membership feed 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, the night before the big parade in Omaha.
Parade T-shirts will also be distributed at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall, 3333 S. 24th St., in Omaha.
Line-up for the parade takes place at 9 a.m. the following day at the northeast corner of 17th and Mike Fahey streets. Attend the feed or contact State Legislative Director Bob Borgeson for more details on participating at email@example.com.
And members, if you attend this or any other Labor Day event, please send in your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in the next edition of the TD News!
A workers summit for union members from all over Nebraska is scheduled to take place on Monday, May 6 in North Platte, Nebraska.
Jim “Doc” Moore, a retired associate professor of labor history at Cornell University’s School for Industrial and Labor Relations, will moderate the meetings at 1 and 5 p.m. at the Ramada Inn and Suites, 2102 S. Jeffers St., North Platte, NE 69101.
Among scheduled presenters at the summit, which is open to all union members and their spouses, are Sue Martin, president of the Nebraska AFL-CIO; John Kretzschmar, director of the William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and SMART TD Nebraska State Legislative Director Bob Borgeson.
The summit is again being organized by Terry Sigler, a retired legislative representative of SMART TD Local 286 in North Platte who remains active in union matters, especially when it comes to safety. Among topics discussed at the successful inaugural meeting in April 2018 were the state’s two-person crew bills and OSHA funding.
“The purpose of the Workers Summit is to unite all the unions to better inform the membership of the issues that are important for their safety and welfare,” Sigler said.
North Dakota locals will be holding informational meetings for their members on April 30 in Fargo, May 1 in Minot, and May 2 in Bismarck.
These meetings provide an exceptional opportunity to learn about your benefits and visit with union officers and representatives from the Railroad Retirement Board, UTUIA, health care and other insurance plans as well as SMART TD Designated Legal Counsel.
All members, retirees, and spouses/significant others are welcome to attend any of the meetings. There is no registration; just come if you can.
For further information, call State Legislative Director Jim Chase at 701-223-0061 or email email@example.com.
Here is the schedule:
Tuesday, April 30, 1 p.m. Biltmore on Main Hotel & Suites
3800 Main Ave., Fargo .
Wednesday, May 1, 1 p.m. Grand Hotel
1505 N. Broadway Ave., Minot
6 p.m. Social & 7 p.m. Annual Retirement Banquet .
Thursday, May 2, 1 p.m. Quality Inn
1030 E. Interstate Ave., Bismarck
Transportation Division Local 367 (Omaha, Neb.) has announced that the 10th annual SMART Day at the Races will be at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 26 at the Fonner Park Racetrack, 700 E. Stolley Park Road, Grand Island, NE 68801.
This year the race will be in honor of the late General President Joe Nigro. Nigro attended this event in 2014 at a time when the SMART merger was still contentious.
“Joe was amazing. He won over everyone attending that day and calmed everyone’s nerves as to the future of the union,” said Vice Local Chairperson Rich Mohr. “We are hoping to present to someone from the international a framed photo from that day in hopes that it will be forwarded to Joe’s family.”
For those who RSVP, free clubhouse seating, programs and food will be available. A free catered barbeque will follow the races at Boarders Inn and Suites, 3333 Ramada Road, Grand Island, NE 68801.
There will be a free shuttle between Fonner Park and the hotel. Boarders Inn and Suites is also offering a discounted member rate and free breakfast. To take advantage, call the hotel at 308-384-5150.
To RSVP for the SMART Day at the Races, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Mohr at 785-409-4540 or Cliff Gordon at 308-530-5766.
“Please come and enjoy a day at the horse races with your SMART union brothers and sisters. There will be food, drinks and a good time will be had by all,” Mohr said.
Just after midnight on April 11, BNSF Railway LCA Secretary and Local Trustee Carlos Barela sustained life-threatening injuries while switching in the Belen Yard in New Mexico.
Local 1168 Local Chairperson Tanner Griffitt and other local chairpersons have organized a GoFundMe account on Barela’s behalf. The page states that due to the severity of his injuries that Brother Barela may never be able to work or provide for himself or his family again.
Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering and his BLET counterpart Matthew Parker explain why two-person crews are necessary in an op-ed on the website of The Nevada Independent.
In the article, Doering and Parker refute some of the carriers’ most common arguments as to why two-person crews should not be legislated. They specifically mention a letter in support from Larry Mann, who helped to draft the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and is SMART TD’s rail safety coordinator to the designated legal counsel.
“‘The FRSA has been in existence since 1970, and no court has ever ruled that collective bargaining agreements or any rights under the Railway Labor Act preempted a safety law,’ Mann wrote. … Mann pointed out that Wisconsin enacted two-person crew legislation in 1997 and had the law challenged by four rail carriers. The law was upheld in 1999 by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The Assembly Growth and Infrastructure committee recently voted on April 11 to send Assembly Bill 337, the state’s two-person crew bill, to the Assembly floor and recommended that it be passed as amended.
The sons of member Byron Watson have been labeled as heroes after saving a 4-year-old girl from drowning while at a birthday party March 24 at the Santa Maria Beach in Santa Cruz, California.
The boys’ mother, Nicole, who was watching over her boys while they were swimming in the ocean, recounted the story.
“I was watching my boys, but I looked away for a second and missed the boys seeing her drown. Rhys – he’s 7 – said ‘I think that girl is drowning’ to Bryce, who is now 11, and Bryce said, ‘No she’s just playing.’ And Rhys said, ‘No, I saw her head go underwater.’ And that’s when Bryce jumped in the water. I saw my-then-10-year-old holding this girl above his head in the water and I saw this man, the girl’s father, running, and he patted her on the back and water started coming out of her mouth.”
Both Byron and Nicole are really proud of the action their boys took.
“I’m very proud of my boys. We try to instill in them the ability to care for others, and that’s what determined the actions that they took. They live that out daily,” Byron said.
“I’m super proud. I’m really proud of them and they’re really proud of each other. I’m really proud that they were able to remain calm — they get that from their father — and save the girl,” Nicole said. “Bryce has a new-found confidence in himself, so that’s really cool.”
The 4-year-old girl (her name has not been released) was expected to make a full recovery thanks to both boys.
Byron reports that both boys learned to swim when they were about 6 months old. Byron is a bus operator for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District and a member of Santa Cruz Local 23 since 2006.
The Watson family (from left): Byron, Kesia, 7; Bryce, 11; Rhys, 7; and Nicole. (Picture provided by Nicole Watson.)
Two SMART Transportation Division members from Local 524 in Palestine, Texas, were given the privilege by Union Pacific Railroad (UP) to serve their country as conductors on President George H.W. Bush’s funeral train, Thursday, Dec. 6.
The funeral procession consisted of two trains. The lead train, operated by BLET Division 139 locomotive engineer Aaron Braud and SMART TD Local 524 conductor Laymon “Billy” Blanton, consisted of 10 passenger cars and two locomotives and carried dignitaries and part of the Secret Service detail.
Although he didn’t get to interact with any of the family or many of the dignitaries, Blanton said that the crew was in constant contact with the Secret Service, with Service agents pointing out possible problem areas along the route.
The second train, led by UP locomotive No. 4141 — “The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum engine,” was operated by BLET Division 139 locomotive engineer June Nobles and SMART TD Local 524 conductor Randy Kuhaneck, both whom — like the late president — are Navy veterans. This train, consisting of two locomotives and 11 cars, carried members of Bush’s family as well as his casket in car six.
The 2 1/2-hour journey began in Spring, Texas, and traveled 70 miles to President Bush’s final resting place in College Station, Texas, at his presidential library. The funeral train had been in the works since 2009, when federal officials contacted UP and asked, at Bush’s request, if they could provide the funeral train.
“We said, ‘Of course, and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be a part of it,'” UP spokesperson Tom Lange told CBS News.
This wasn’t the first time that Blanton had served on a special train. He said he’s crewed trains carrying UP executives as well as holiday trains and charity trains in the past.
Blanton said that the experience of doing his job on special trains is always tense, and the funeral train was one of his most stressful experiences on the rails.
“The past four days have been nerve-wracking. That was the most stressful thing I’ve done, bar none,” Blanton said. “You got the face of the company behind you on that deal. The whole nation and world was watching. Nothing could go wrong.”
Despite the stress that came with it, Blanton said he was honored to be part of the crew.
“I was just tickled to be picked. It was such an honor to serve UP, the nation and especially the Bush family,” he said. “Now I’m glad I did it. My family got to be there to see it and to be a part of history along with me.
“It was all quite the spectacle. I saw some things that I thought only ever happens on TV. It was a really neat experience,” he said.
Blanton also said he was proud to represent his union and said that this was a great chance for SMART TD conductors to shine.
“I love being a conductor,” Blanton said. “I could’ve been an engineer years ago, but I love the job of conductor. I like being on the ground and in charge. I’m proud to be a union guy.”
SMART TD is proud to represent you and congratulates you and Kuhaneck on this momentous occasion and a job well done.