New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol met with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Westfield, N.J., an encounter that was later featured in a video produced by the DOT and then shared on Buttigieg’s official Twitter account in conjunction with Labor Day on Sept. 6.
Sabol, of Local 1447 (Newark, N.J.), met Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 9 and discussed his career as a freight rail conductor, remote-control operator and as a SMART-TD union officer.
“I got involved in my union right away, and that’s because of safety,” Sabol told Buttigieg. “Railroading is the most dangerous job in the country.”
A member of the SMART-TD National Safety Team, N.J. SLD since December 2016, and also his local’s president, Sabol reminded the Transportation Secretary of something that sometimes is lost among the public.
“Our railroads and bus operators, which we represent as well, they’re first responders,” he said.
Sabol recalled the efforts made by TD members to help evacuate people in tunnels during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.
Sabol also said that the passage of infrastructure legislation will improve with an expansion of service, better accessibility to riders and improved safety for a number of TD members.
“The best part of my job is being able to help people,” Sabol said. “As you the mayor were able to help all those people, I do it at a different level with a different group of people.”
Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be increasingly important as regulatory efforts develop to make the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and certified engineer — enforced on freight trains throughout the United States.
The Biden administration announced earlier in the year that FRA is revisiting the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding freight train crew size and would be prioritized at some point in the autumn.
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.
SMART Local 88 Organizer Al Lopez was featured earlier this month in the weekly newsletter of the Western Region of the AFL-CIO. Below is the full text of the newsletter’s profile. Congrats Brother Lopez!
Al Lopez is a member and organizer for International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 88 and has dedicated many years to being politically active in fighting to elect worker champions, in addition to his staff duties. He has served as a captain for labor programs since 2006 and now serves as a local union coordinator for the Southern Nevada Central Labor Council. He is also a founding member of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement chapter in Las Vegas that was chartered in 2020.
Everyone knows Lopez for his support of campaign program volunteers; and on days he isn’t knocking on doors, you can find him behind the local’s massive barbecue grill.
Everyone knows Lopez for his support of campaign program volunteers; and on days he isn’t knocking on doors, you can find him behind the local’s massive barbecue grill. “I’ve put in well over 14 years of cooking ‘sheet metal hamburgers’ (as volunteers refer to them), hot dogs, chicken and carne asada for candidates and for charities like St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. Local 88 retirees deserve recognition for the fine craftsmanship it took to build our beast of a barbecue,” Lopez said.
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.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to move a lite engine from customer to customer. I like moves like this because they are different from the normal everyday work of a local road switcher. This move was no different from normal railroading, other than this yard bird caught my attention. It was an old U.S. Army EMD SW8 with its original number and livery poking through the faded paint.
My father-in-law is U.S. Army (retired), a bit of a railfan, and he loves this sort of thing. I wrote down the locomotive’s info. and made the move from plant-to-plant. Long after the train was put to bed and I was home, I decided to do a bit of research on this locomotive wondering if it had ties to my father-in-law’s Army career.
To my surprise, I found out this lonely yard bird was a veteran — not just a transportation corps veteran, but a Korean War veteran. This locomotive has been halfway around the world and in a major conflict and is now retired, shifting coal to provide power to southern Maryland, still doing what it was made to do — railroading.
During this health crisis, I look back to my military career as a U.S. Navy Corpsman and also at my current career. Like this yard bird, many railroaders’ paths crossed both in military and railroad service. These two things make us more versatile in the worst of situations, especially in crisis, and more capable to cope with what the railroad throws at us.
Because of this, we can set an example to our fellow railroad workers and our community. Our military backgrounds in discipline, self-reliance and basic medical care are literally life-saving. Our railroad skills of planning, job briefings, safety, situational awareness, and being tasked to fix anything so that the job gets done make us adaptable in any situation. Both careers together make us unstoppable, no matter what life throws at us.
Living in the D.C. area for 20-plus years, I am unfazed by major incidents locally. I’ve been through numerous blizzards, crippling weather and one minor earthquake. Presidential inaugurations, protests and disruptive visits from dignitaries occur frequently. I’ve lived through the D.C. sniper and September 11th attacks — both instances so close that I had shopped at the Home Depot visited by the snipers and had smelled the Pentagon burning 14 miles away.
In all these events, I was essential personnel — tasked to come in both in a medical role and as a conductor. Since 1997, I, like many of us, know that when you are called there is no voicemail or marking off. This coronavirus has caused this to happen again, and it’s now our time to shine.
This crisis may create panic. However, we have what it takes to get through this. We are prepared for long hours, days away from home, and anything thrown at us. We are also nomads who go where the work is. A lot of us are scattered throughout our divisions and stay at different terminals. We can use this to our advantage. You may be able to find needed items that are in short supply at home, in abundance at other locations. They also might be near the terminals or hotels we lay over in.
As union members we can be ahead of the game with our wide network of resources. Members who are coming to another terminal can get with each other and pool resources. If outlying members can get paper towels and home terminal members can get mac and cheese, trade with each other so both benefit. Schools are closing and lots of our loved ones are teleworking now. Helping keep our home fronts happy and safe will take a load off while the carriers are working us harder than ever in this national state of emergency. Getting rest is important, and it’s going to be potentially harder and more stressful. If you live near a fellow member and can help with childcare or other things, let them know. This too will help with a lot of stresses we have. When laying over if you are able to go out and get supplies, go as a crew so you both can get items if your home needs them and there is a limit to get them. Only get what is needed and don’t hoard — this helps no one.
Lastly, if you like hot lunches or get things from the gas station, make sure you’re prepared for those possible closures. Bring non-perishable alternatives so you are not stuck without food at work or away from home.
As always, we are a crew, so look out for each other if you can. Most times we are the only ones who look out for us. We must keep this up by showing unity through this crisis and beyond.
Get to know your local community and your neighbors. They may not know you or your background or even who you are. My neighbors are mostly government workers who only know my odd hours or that I’m the guy who shovels everyone’s walk in a bad snowstorm. With social distancing they know that I’m still working keeping our country moving. I’ve offered to search other stores for provisions that they may need on my way to and from work. Our trash service was delayed, so while having conversations six feet away, I said I was getting in touch with the trash service to plan on an area away from our homes to stage trash if there is a future disruption, remembering my military sanitary training.
As railroaders, we all have this training and these skills. We know when to use them. I had an old timer tell me, “We are not paid for what we do, we are paid for what we know. You must be a proactive conductor, not a reactive conductor.”
Now more than ever I understand what he meant. Use your skills and training to better our workplace and community in this crisis. Be prepared, vigilant and safe. Please look out for each other in this national state of emergency. And absolutely do not put yourself in danger under the guise of a national emergency. We all need to come home the same way we came into work.
With this and all the amazing things I’ve done over my railroading career. I’m really proud that I can provide service to my country once again even if it’s in a small roll like this. This is an amazing time to be a railroader both in great moments and in hardships. We are the nation’s backbone in transportation. We ship more freight in a day than a trucker does in a lifetime. And for over 150 years we have been supplying this nation with its needs. Through two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic and numerous other hardships, railroaders have come through. We will not let our nation or each other down.
Be safe, brothers and sisters. We will overcome this. Nothing stops a determined union member.
Johnny R. Walker,
Secretary, Maryland State Legislative Board and Legislative Representative, Local 610 (Baltimore, Maryland)
Ty Dragoo: On Making A Difference By Becoming A Convention Delegate
Ty Dragoo is the Kansas State Legislative Director for SMART TD.
From roll calls and speeches to flags and ticker tape, the national conventions are usually conventional pep rallies for the two major parties. But this year, the Democratic and Republican delegates and the rules that govern their gatherings matter.
On the left, the democratic field is full of candidates.
On the right, Donald Trump is the apparent nominee in the Republican convention.
I have been a national delegate to the 2012 and 2016 Democratic conventions for the State of Kansas. I was first approached about running as a delegate when elected to the labor committee of the Kansas Democratic Party. I quickly realized that this was an excellent opportunity to advance SMART’s legislative priorities. The notion that we, as labor, could have a seat at the table was paramount.
After all, it’s the delegates at the convention — not the voters back home — who have the last word on the nominees.
Any time there’s a closely contested nomination, it does come as a surprise to primary voters that the delegates are the ones who ultimately make the decision. That is why we need as many people in the labor movement involved in this process as possible.
How exactly the delegates do this is complicated. Here are the answers to some questions you may have had about the nominating process.
What is a delegate?
Delegates are the individuals who vote for their party’s presidential nominees at this summer’s conventions. The 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held from July 13th to 16th, 2020, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Since by tradition, the convention of the party currently holding the White House is held after that of the opposing party, the 2020 Republican National Convention will be held on August 24th to 27th, 2020, at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Who gets to be a delegate?
Most delegates are grassroots party activists who campaign to represent their congressional district or their state at large. But both parties also set aside a certain number of delegate slots for “party insiders.”
On the GOP side, these are each state’s party chair and two Republican National Committee members. The committee members — 112 in all — also make the rules that govern the national convention.
Under the Democratic Party’s system, about one-sixth of the delegates are party officials, members of the DNC, all the Democrats in Congress, all Democratic governors, and distinguished party leaders (such as all former and current presidents and vice presidents). Unlike the Republican party leaders, these 700 or so Democratic superdelegates aren’t bound to primary results and can vote for whomever they wish after the first round of balloting.
How do you become a delegate?
The rules for delegate selection are complex, varying not only by party but by state, by year, and even by congressional districts.
Most states stipulate that elected delegates should be reflective of primary results. The best place to start is to ask your State Legislative Director or State party.
Just how committed are the delegates?
All Democratic delegates, except the superdelegates, are pledged to vote at the convention for their state’s or district’s winner. On the whole, the GOP delegates are also supposed to reflect the will of their state’s voters, but the rules give them some leeway.
Why is it important as a union member to become a delegate?
Here are a few of the reasons SMART wants YOU to serve as a delegate at the national conventions.
The parties need our economic class. States strive to reflect their diversity in the makeup of their delegations. SMART’s membership is comprised of good-paying middle-class jobs, making union members a natural fit.
It’s a powerful way to shape labor policy. Members’ voices deserve to be heard. As a delegate, you’ll help draft the party platform, including making labor a central issue in the upcoming election.
You could end up picking the party’s nominee. If nobody wins in the first ballot, delegates are free to shift their votes to the (pro-labor) candidate of their choice.
Getting to see democracy in action, up close, as a party VIP, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us.
The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
Richard Brzozinski, 78, is remembered as a compassionate man and model employee of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in a recent story by Newsday.
“A veteran Long Island Rail Road conductor on the Babylon line, Brzozinski made a habit of learning the names of all of his regular passengers and their spouses. He’d arrive to work every morning in a freshly pressed uniform. And Brzozinski would always ensure that a seat was saved for his elderly passengers,” Robert Brodsky of Newsday wrote.
The story further gives accounts of praise from passengers who wrote to MTA about Brzozinski and recounts two separate incidences where Brzozinski was called upon to save passengers’ lives with the use of CPR.
SMART-TD Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon is quoted, saying, “Richie was always a professional and always demanded perfection from his co-workers. He wore his uniform impeccably and made sure his crew members did the same. He prioritized the safety and service to our customers, led by example, and received the respect of everyone he overlapped because of those principles.”
Brother Brzozinski began his membership with UTU Local 645 (Babylon, N.Y.) in August 1961, following in his dad’s footsteps as a conductor for the LIRR. He worked for a time with his father John and younger brother Jack (retired LIRR engineer). He retired with 38 years of service in 1999.
Brzozinski died in his home Nov. 19, 2019, after a three-year battle with heart disease. He is survived by his wife Mary; two sons; brother Jack; sisters Joanne, Linda and Sharon; and two grandchildren Jack and Jenna.
On July 22 of this year, Local 1715 member Karen Taylor was shot five times in broad daylight while her Charlotte Area Transit Systems (CATS) bus was stopped to unload passengers.
“…just as the last person stepped off of her bus, a man appeared out of nowhere and shot five times into her bus,” Taylor’s daughter, Latavia Clark, wrote on a gofundme page opened for Taylor. “All five shots struck my unsuspecting mother in her head, neck, shoulder and ear. One bullet and bullet fragments are still lodged in her skull.”
Taylor has already had four surgeries and is facing more in the future. The road to recovery is expected to be a long one and the bills are adding up as Taylor’s worker’s compensation claim has been denied.
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.
Come Nov. 7, Macon County, Ill.’s county government could be getting a SMART influx with two candidates with Transportation Division ties seeking office in the Nov. 6 elections.
Lloyd Holman, a member of the SMART TD Alumni Association, is seeking a seat on the Macon County Board in his first run for office.
Lloyd Holman, a SMART TD Alumni Association member, is seeking a seat on the Macon County (Ill.) Board.
“My union experiences have provided me with a wealth of knowledge on contracts, legislation, safety and healthcare,” Holman said. “I have chosen to use that energy, experience and knowledge to help build a stronger community.”
He said he decided to run in November 2017 after receiving requests from Macon County board members and other community leaders.
“Although I have never considered myself a politician, apparently others feel I could make a positive contribution,” Holman said.
As the LCA 453 legislative representative for nearly three decades (1983-2011) and a former Illinois State Legislative Board chairperson for 16 years, Holman has said his experience with UTU/SMART TD helped to lay the groundwork for his run. Holman said the Macon County board chairman even helped to circulate his nominating petitions while Holman was incapacitated briefly during recovery from neck surgery.
“I have had the privilege and honor to work with and around some very dedicated and amazing union brothers,” Holman said. “Being part of the union has provided me with a very diverse education and support, even after my retirement.”
That support has extended to his campaign, where he’s received support from his union brothers and sisters.
“Finances are paramount in getting your name, face and position into the public eye,” Holman said. “My union brothers and sisters have been helpful in that area as well.”
He encourages union brothers and sisters to get informed on the issues that matter to them and get involved by voting and campaigning if possible.
“Remember that voting is a right and a privilege,” he said.
Also running in Macon County, Ill., is April Kostenski, wife of SMART TD member David Kostenski, who is treasurer of Local 768 (Decatur, Ill.).
April Kostenski, the wife of SMART TD Local 768 Treasurer David Kostenski, is running for Macon County, Ill., treasurer.
With three years’ experience as a treasurer for the Macon County Democratic Central Committee, April chose to seek the county government post.
“I knew with my education and background, I could offer our residents a positive change in the treasurer’s office that will promise a better tomorrow for future generations,” she said. “I know that I can do a better job serving my community — I decided I needed to be a small part of the solution.”
The mother of 14-year-old son Dawson and 12-year-old daughter Olivia said the time factor is a big challenge in running the campaign she wants to run.
“Sometimes I just need more hours in a day!” she said.
However, SMART TD has helped by providing support to her campaign.
“The Illinois Legislative Board and Bob Guy particularly, do a great job of keeping us informed,” Kostenski said. “Since I announced my candidacy, being a SMART TD family member has opened doors to the other labor organizations. The support from SMART TD and all organized labor is very humbling.”
Kostenski encourages SMART TD members and their families to get involved, volunteer and know their candidates as the election approaches. State legislative boards are great resources to provide information about candidates and donations to the UTU Political Action Committee helps candidates such as April make their runs for local office, she said.
“Running for public office has been a positive experience,” Kostenski said. “I have had many new experiences, met a lot of great people and learned a lot along the way. Sometimes you don’t know what you are capable of until you try.”
And lastly, members need to show up Nov. 6 or beforehand.
“Every vote counts and makes a difference where you live,” Kostenski said.
Right next door in Indiana, Jessica Bailey is seeking the office of Porter County clerk.
Jessica Bailey, wife of SMART TD Local 1383 Legislative Representative Ryan Bailey, is running for clerk in Porter County, Ind.
The wife of Local 1383 (Gary, Ind.) Legislative Representative Ryan Bailey, Jessica is on the Portage Township school board.
Ryan Bailey is a 14-year railroad veteran who works at Canadian National’s Kirk Yard in Gary and is secretary on the SMART TD Indiana State Legislative Board’s Executive Committee.
Jessica and Ryan live in Valparaiso, Ind., with their two children, Bryce, 17, and Emma, 14.
“Jessica’s race is going to be a battle of shoe leather,” said Indiana State Legislative Director Kenny Edwards. “No donation is too small.”
To donate to her campaign, send contributions to:
Committee to Elect Jessica Bailey
641-1 Old Forge Road
Valparaiso, IN 46385