Archive for the ‘Local Corner’ Category

Grand opening of Pullman National Monument and Pullman State Historic Site this weekend

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
  • car caravan, live music and more (free)

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.

Visit this link to learn more about the Historic Pullman Foundation and the weekend’s planned activities. Follow this link to follow the foundation on Facebook.

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.”

General Chairperson Anthony Simon co-chairs golf outing event with SM business managers

Simon

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.

Click here for a flyer with more information on costs and contacts.

SMART-TD Local Leader and Air National Guard Lt. Col. Does His Part to Get Shots in Arms

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.

Local 807 member killed in transport accident

Middlemas

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.

GCA-953 organizing educational sessions

Attendees participate in an educational session in Topeka, Kan., on June 23. (Photo courtesy Zach Nagy)

The leadership of GCA-953 (Union Pacific) have kicked off a slate of educational sessions for local officers and members.

The first of six sessions took place June 22 and 23 in Topeka, Kan., with General Chairperson Luke Edington, Associate GC Ian Reynolds and Sr. Vice GC Zach Nagy hosting and teaching the classes.

The curriculum included training on serving as a union officer, an overview of officer duties, website training, filing a proper time claim, writing a discipline appeal and a mock arbitration session.

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson made a guest appearance through Zoom, Vice President Brent Leonard spoke in person and Larry Romine from Reliable Retirement spoke through Zoom.

“We had attendees including local presidents, local chairpersons, vice local chairpersons and secretary/treasurers from four states in attendance,” Nagy said.

The GCA  has plans for five more sessions in Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Portland and Waukesha, Wis., as the summer progresses.

For more information about time and locations, email Nagy at znagy@utu953.org.

Sporting clay shoots planned in Colo., N.J.

Members are invited to compete in a pair of team clay shoots this autumn in conjunction with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

The first shoot is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 25 at Colorado Clays, 13600 Lanewood St., Brighton, CO 80603. The second is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 23 at Red Wing Sporting Clays, 317 Sooys Landing Road, Port Republic, NJ 08241.

Click here to register for the Sept. 25th event. Click here to register for the Oct. 23rd event. For both events, in-person registration runs 7:30 to 9 a.m. local time, and the entrance fee includes lunch, beverages, 10- or 20-gauge shells and clay targets. Individual registration for those ages 18 and older is $175, while registration for youths is $125.

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 chris@unionsportsmen.org.

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.

Buddy Strieker, S&T of Local 219, dies in at-work accident

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.

Key bills introduced that intend to boost transportation safety in North Carolina

Legislators in both the North Carolina state House and Senate have introduced bills to keep freight rail operations on the state’s more than 3,300 miles of track running safely and efficiently. A bus safety bill is also in the works in the state.

H.B. 408 and S. 348 require a crew of at least two qualified people in the operating locomotive of trains transporting cargo and hazardous materials in the state for public safety. H.B. 408 has four bipartisan primary sponsors including Rep. Wayne Sasser (R – Dist. 67), Rep. Carolyn Logan (D – Dist. 101), Rep. Charles Graham (D – Dist. 47) and Rep. Verla Insko (D – Dist. 56), and 30 co-sponsors. The Senate version of the bill got a late start due to the Ninth Circuit court ruling and so S. 348 only has two Democratic primary sponsors including Sen. Sarah Crawford (D – Dist. 18) and Sen. Julie Mayfield (D – Dist. 49), and three co-sponsors. Both bills have had their first reading and have been referred to the Transportation Committee and Rules Committee, respectively.

Ron Ingerick, SMART-TD North Carolina state legislative director

“It is vitally important to maintain the presence of two crew members in the locomotive,” said Ron Ingerick, North Carolina state legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division. “Despite any advances in technology, there is a safety factor called ‘the Rule of 2’ in having the engineer and the conductor in the cab, just like how airplanes have pilots and co-pilots. With the size and complexity of the modern freight train, each crew member has responsibilities, and simultaneously performs duties in providing safe and efficient operation. These crew members are the first responders to a grade crossing collision, derailment or other emergency situation.

“The public safety of our communities is non-negotiable, and H.B. 408 and S. 348 will help prevent potential accidents or derailments. The citizens of North Carolina deserve to feel safer with two crew members in the cab in the trains that roll through their communities, day and night.”

Another bill filed in the House looks to curtail railroads’ use of giant trains that block crossings. H.B. 438, filed March 29, has three Republican representatives as primary sponsors: Rep. Howard Penny (R – Dist. 53), Rep. Jerry Carter (R – Dist. 65) and Rep. Mike Clampitt (R – Dist. 119). The bi-partisan bill currently has 21 co-sponsors — two of which are the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee — and is still accepting more. H.B. 438 intends to place a limitation on train length, which has been growing from an average length of a mile and a half five years ago to now sometimes exceeding four miles. The main culprit is an operating strategy initiated in 2017 by the nation’s biggest railroads called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).

“Since the evolution of PSR, trains in this state have increased in length and weight, with haphazard train builds, fewer safety-critical inspections, and maintenance being deferred —increasing the risk of derailments,” said Ingerick, who is an active railroader, as well as our N.C. state legislative director who brings awareness to legislators in Raleigh. “A train that is longer is harder to operate. Also, concerns have risen from local communities and emergency responders as these longer trains have increased instances of blocked crossings.”

Blocked rail crossings cause an inconvenience for motorists, who must find alternate routes, especially in rural areas. They also pose a safety risk to pedestrians who may attempt to go under or climb over rail cars to continue their travels. A blocked crossing can play a part in delaying or detouring emergency responses when seconds or minutes count, sending responders out of their way when their aid is needed.

“Railroads are looking at returns and how their stocks are doing on Wall Street,” Ingerick said. “PSR puts safety last and profit first and makes a dangerous business even riskier.”

Lastly, Ingerick reports that the Bus Safety Risk Reduction Act has been released from bill drafting and will be filed in the coming week. The bill will include risk analysis, barriers, de-escalation training and data collection.

“Overall, I feel that we’re in a good position right now concerning these bills, but we need continued involvement from the membership in order to get these bills passed,” Ingerick said.

Local 934 mourns as member dies in accident involving crew transport vehicle

SMART Transportation Division Local 934 member Curtis A. Deines, 52, a member of our union for more than 20 years, died before dawn on the morning of March 19 after the SUV he was being transported in was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle on U.S. Highway 2 near Ravenna, Neb.

The driver and three other rail workers in the SUV that Deines was riding in were transported for treatment, as was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, according to the Star-Herald of Scottsbluff, Neb. Deines passed away at the scene of the accident, the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department stated in an accident report.

Deines

“He will be greatly missed here in Alliance,” said Local Chairperson Wendie Henderson of the Nebraska local.

Born in Torrington, Wyo., Brother Deines was a hall-of-fame athlete from his time as a center on the Chadron State College football team. He graduated college in 1996 with a degree in education.

He then entered into service with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in the maintenance of way department and then transferred into train service as a conductor.

Great sources of pride and joy for him were watching his son, Colin, and daughter, KayLeah, succeed in life and becoming a grandpa, his family wrote in his obituary.

“Curt was loved by all and will be greatly missed for his big heart and infectious laugh,” his family wrote. “The role Curt played in each of our lives will never be forgotten.”

Brother Deines is survived by his wife, Sonya; his son, Colin Deines, and Colin’s girlfriend, Catie Williams; daughter, KayLeah King, and her husband, Robert; two grandchildren; his parents; his sister, Staci John, and her husband; two nieces; and a number of in-laws and other relatives.

A private memorial service is scheduled for March 27.

Click here to view Brother Deines’ full obituary and to leave condolences for the family.

The funeral home is accepting memorial donations in lieu of flowers. Checks can be made out to Sonya Deines and mailed to Chamberlain Chapel, 1700 Hwy. 20, Chadron, NE 69337. Online donations are also being accepted through a Go-fund-me page that has been set up to help out the family financially. 

SMART Transportation Division joins in mourning Brother Deines and offers its sincere condolences to his family and friends, his union brothers and sisters in Local 934, and to all who knew him.

Members rally to save their jobs at Amtrak

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 support for Amtrak funding and in an effort to raise awarenessWisconsin 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 conducting pop-up rallies in Milwaukee and Dearborn, Mich., respectively. 

Chicago 

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? Two thousand 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!  

Washington, D.C. 

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 rally and 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.  

Dearborn, Mich. 

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 onesIn 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 RapidstoChicago 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,” Hatton told 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.”  

Milwaukee

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 @Amtrak over 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  

Click here to easily contact your representatives in Congress. 

 

Members’ efforts help to cope with COVID-19

As COVID-19 has spread across the country, some carriers and businesses have been caught flat-footed in dealing with the pandemic as indicated by field reports we’ve received from members.

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.

Larry Miller

“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

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.

Walker wrote a guest column published on the SMART-TD website talking about how members will be essential in guiding the country through this challenge.

Sabol

New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol also has been working closely with the state AFL-CIO to distribute information to members, especially members employed by New Jersey Transit, which has been particularly hard-hit 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.

And don’t forget that there’s a form where members can report conditions not meeting CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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 jgibson@smart-union.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.