Archive for the ‘Amtrak/Commuter’ Category

Local 1361’s Carol Jones featured in video as part of SMART Women’s Week

Longtime Amtrak conductor Carol Jones, a local chairperson with SMART-TD Local 1361 out of New Haven, Conn., and a member of our union for 23 years, was featured in a “Sister Stories” video during SMART Women’s Week in early March. See the embedded video above to watch her story of coming up in the transportation industry and working as a pioneering woman in the passenger rail sector.

VSTD waiver of elimination period extended through June 2021

Dear Member:

As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020. Further announcements to you advised that the Plan would be extending the waiver through February 2021.

We are pleased to announce that the waiver of the elimination period is extended through June 30, 2021. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning
in the months of March 2020 through June 2021, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and
increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after July 1, 2021.

We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.

Sincerely,
Board of Trustees
Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr.,
General President SMART

Mr. Jeremy Ferguson,
President-SMART Transportation Division

Mr. Joseph Powell,
General Secretary-Treasurer SMART

The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201

View this announcement in PDF form.

Signing of COVID aid bill enables SMART-TD bus, transit members to get rolling

President Joe Biden today signed his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan intended to stabilize the nation’s economy as it continues the task of rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 525,000 people in the United States.

The plan has $30.5 billion in emergency funding reserved to assist transit in the country rebound after an immense drop in use as a result of the coronavirus outbreak nearly one year ago. That amount is $10.5 billion more than the $20 billion requested by Biden in his initial version of the bill that was unveiled before he took office.

Passenger transit services were hit hard by the virus with ridership declining 95% for some carriers. In the initial stages of the pandemic, only essential workers used public transportation as many people in a number of highly populated areas went into lockdown.

“Our bus and transit members have been on the front lines working to provide for their families and to continue to keep the country running in the year since the coronavirus emerged in the United States,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said after the bill’s signing. “The transit funding provided by this plan will provide security for them going forward.”

Amtrak, the nation’s largest passenger rail carrier, also experienced a massive decline in ridership as a result of COVID-19. The carrier is slated to get $1.7 billion to help restore service that had been reduced last autumn, resulting in furloughs of SMART-TD and other unionized workers.

The carrier already announced that it will resume full long-distance service as a result of receiving the funds from the relief plan.

“‘Amtrak Joe’ and Congress has delivered for us,” Hynes said. “The American Rescue Plan is a much-needed boost that will allow Amtrak to recall all of our furloughed members and restore long-distance service very soon.”

The plan passed along party lines in both the U.S. Senate and in the U.S. House except for Democratic Congressman Jared Goldman of Maine, who voted against it.

The American Rescue Plan provides direct payments of $1,400 to individuals making up to $75,000 annually, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments and $14 billion for vaccine distribution. The bill also provides $130 billion to elementary, middle and high schools to assist with safe reopening.

In addition to providing direct payments to individuals, the plan also expands jobless benefits through September and child tax credits to assist families who are continuing to struggle through the pandemic.

“Elections matter, and never more than the last election,” Hynes said. “It’s time to hold those who were elected to office to the promises they’ve made. This is evidence that that is happening.”

Unions: With service cuts, LIRR leaders risk COVID spread and exhibit ‘lack of good faith’

Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) implemented planned service cuts the morning of Monday, March 8, in spite of objections made weeks ago by union leadership and echoed by New York state senators just before the cuts went into effect.

The result?

This photo, provided by a LIRR worker to Alternate Vice President/General Chairperson Anthony Simon, shows a crowded Long Island Rail Road car early March 8, the day LIRR implemented service cuts.

Crowded cars and the potential for the early morning commute from places like New Hyde Park or Jamaica Station to become a COVID spreader event with no opportunity for social distancing, as shown by photos provided to SMART-TD Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon by frontline workers, thousands of whom he represents as general chairperson of GCA-505.

“These reductions have now made Long Island Rail Road service unsafe as far as allowing for social distancing is concerned,” Simon said.

In response to LIRR leadership’s implementation of the cuts, which reduced weekday service to the equivalent of what the system offers on the weekend, more than 3,000 unionized workers from SMART, SMART-TD and six other labor unions submitted the following message via email on March 8:

“WE THE UNDERSIGNED; ARE LIRR WORKERS WHO ARE OUTRAGED BY THE DECISION TO REDUCE SERVICE FOR LIRR RIDERS AT A TIME WHEN OPENING THE ECONOMY, CONTINUED DISTANCING, INCENTIVIZING CUSTOMERS TO RETURN AND PRIORITIZING THE USE OF FEDERAL DOLLARS IS CRUCIAL TO A FULL AND SAFE RECOVERY. WE ARE DISGUSTED THAT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THESE CUTS AND THE INSENSITIVITY TO OUR QUALITY OF LIFE FOR OUR FRONT-LINE CRAFTS HAS DESTROYED OUR MORALE AND TRUST IN THE AGENCY. WE DEMAND YOU LISTEN TO YOUR “HEROES” AND RESTORE SERVICE FOR THE BETTERMENT OF OUR SYSTEM.”

In addition to Simon, SMART-Mechanical Division General Chairperson John McCloskey and TD yardmaster General Chairperson Michael Miele signed the letter addressed to New York Metropolitan Transit Agency Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye and LIRR President Phillip Eng.

“The MTA’s desire to outsource our work, disregard our membership’s quality of life and forget about what we have delivered throughout a global pandemic is inexcusable,” the union leaders stated. “We certainly hope you can get on the right track in winning us back for the good of this great railroad that we have built and have always been proud to serve. Until then, we will continue to work hard for our customers with the understanding that there is a lack of good faith and insufficient appreciation toward our members from leadership.”

Other unions that signed on to the letter included the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Transportation Communications Union; International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers; National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU 32BJ; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and Independent Railway Supervisors Association.

Read the letter. (PDF)

SMART-TD officer, New York senators object to LIRR service reductions

SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President and General Chairperson Anthony Simon and eight New York state senators took the CEO and chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transit Agency to task for planned service reductions for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).

The carrier plans to reduce weekday service to the equivalent of a weekend schedule beginning March 8, a move described by state Sen. James Gaughran and seven colleagues as operating LIRR as a “skeleton service.”

“We urge you to reconsider this decision and withhold implementation of the planned service reduction,” the senators wrote in their letter, dated March 3. “These ridership cuts will negatively impact countless essential workers, like the workers of the MTA, who rely on public transportation to earn a living, support their families, and contribute to our economy.”

In his letter dated Feb. 24, Simon communicated to MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye that this course of action also did not seem to be a sound strategy as a potential spring economic awakening for New York City appears to be approaching.

Alternate Vice President and GCA-505 General Chairperson Anthony Simon appears Sept. 30 at a rally in New York City.

“While the MTA should be incentivizing customers back to the system, why would we choose now to reduce service further?” wrote GC Simon of GCA-505, which represents SMART-TD members employed by LIRR. “It makes no sense that riders should now have to return to a system with limited service opportunities and potential concerns for safe distancing capabilities when vaccine availability is improving and both federal and state leaders are attempting to stimulate the economy.”

The service reductions were supposed to last only until particular projects were completed by LIRR but could now be extended past the May 23 date that LIRR had given, according to Simon.

Both Simon and the senators made special note that SMART-TD members have worked through the pandemic, risking infection by COVID-19 as they continued to serve on the front lines of public transport. Simon argued in his letter that federal funds provided by the Biden administration should be used to maintain service to LIRR riders to ensure they have substantial service and a safe environment.

“Our members have weathered the effects of this pandemic as the heroes you’ve gratefully declared them to be time and time again. They have delivered to the riding public through some of the most difficult times in the history of our railroad,” Simon wrote. “Now is the time for them to continue delivering by leaving the adjusted weekday schedule as is and not seek a limited savings opportunity by creating a disincentive for our customers to come back.”

Read the senators’ and Simon’s letters. (PDF)

Union Plus program offers help to those affected by winter storm in Texas

If you are a union member who participates in certain Union Plus programs and have been affected by the severe storms in Texas, you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant program.

Union Plus Disaster Relief Grants of $500 are available to eligible participants of one of the following programs:

  • Union Plus Credit Card Program
  • Union Plus Mortgage Program
  • Union Plus Personal Loan Program
  • Union Plus Life Insurance
  • Union Plus Accidental Death Insurance
  • Union Plus Auto Insurance
  • Union Plus Retiree Health Program

To qualify for a Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant:

  1. Your residence must be in a county qualifying for individual assistance money from FEMA. To check if your county has been designated as an area eligible for individual assistance, visit FEMA’s disaster declarations page.
  2. You must have had a Union Plus Credit Card for at least three months, Union Plus Personal Loan for at least six months, Union Plus Mortgage, Union Plus Retiree Health Insurance, Union Plus Life or Accidental Death Insurance or Union Plus Auto Insurance for at least 12 months with that account or policy in good standing (be up to date on payments).

If you participate in the Union Plus Credit Card Program and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-622-2580.

If you participate in any other of the designated programs and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-472-2005. The Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund has provided nearly $1 million in assistance to union members facing hardships following Hurricanes Michael and Florence, floods and other natural disasters. Head to the Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund page to learn more about the benefits and eligibility requirements.

Additional information about Texas disaster assistance is available here.

NLD Hynes appears on the Rick Smith Show

National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes was a guest on the labor-oriented Rick Smith Show on Feb. 24 where he discussed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier this week that threw out the Federal Railroad Administration’s negative preemption claim which would have nullified our two person state laws.

In addition to talking about the two-person crew ruling that reinstated state laws governing crew size, Hynes also discussed the history of railroads using technology not to improve operations but instead to eliminate jobs to increase profits and the need for Amtrak safety to be tightened in the wake of January’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Listen to the podcast here.

 

 

Staggered by winter storm, SMART brothers and sisters in Texas need our help

Dear members of the SMART Transportation Division:

Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Texas are struggling with the effects of the winter storm that devastated the state’s infrastructure this month.

Many people throughout the state — from big cities to rural areas — are dealing with displacement or damaged homes as a deadly icy blast made roads impassable, froze pipes and knocked out power. But even where power has been restored, Texans face the challenge of rebuilding and recovering. The silver lining is, and will continue to be, that the generosity of people around the country is helping to uplift people so that they may reclaim their lives.

We are asking our SMART-TD family to rise to the call and give so that the daunting task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for our people in Texas. In cooperation with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and thanks to efforts by SMART Army volunteers, our union already has boots on the ground and we are helping to provide necessities to those stricken by the storm.

Of particular need are:
• Drinking water, including five-gallon jugs.
• Residential plumbing materials of all kinds, especially “Shark Bite” or “Gator Bite” brands where soldering is not required that are available at home improvement stores.

Transportation Division Vice President Chad Adams is leading relief/recovery efforts specific to the TD in the state. Contact him at 254-718-2988 or email cadams@smart-union.org to arrange a donation of goods or if you need assistance.

Relief donation sites for goods also have been set up in conjunction with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters:

SMART Local 54
900 West 34th Street, Suite 54
Houston, TX 77292
Call Business Manager Eddie Gonzalez at 713-245-6784 to let him know a donation is coming.

SMART Local 67
11 Burwood Lane
San Antonio, TX 78216
Call Business Manager James May at 210-867-6748 to let him know a donation is coming.

SMART Local 68
1020 South Industrial Blvd.
Euless, TX 76040
Call Business Manager Calvin Jennings at 817-832-2831 to let him know a donation is coming.

State Legislative Boards, General Committees and Locals, as well as individual members, are encouraged to make a financial donation to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund. Together we can help lessen the struggle, strengthen the recovery and bring hope and relief to our members in Texas. Online pay methods are being explored, but the TD Disaster Relief Fund only accepts monetary donations in the form of checks at this time.

Contributions may be sent to:
SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333

Thank you and God bless,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, SMART Transportation Division

Questions about TD Safety Condition Report answered

Shortly after the launch of SMART Transportation Division’s online Safety Condition Report, numerous reports have been successfully submitted and passed along to union leadership for handling. This information will help to make our properties safer and bring any conditions that add risk to our members to light.

Keep in mind – if your state or local leadership already has a successfully functioning safety hazard report system in place, please continue to use that reporting system. This report, which has been developed and instituted by the International, is not to supplant those systems. Instead, it is intended to be available as a reporting mechanism for those that do not already have a system in place or as a supplemental reporting mechanism.

As with all new initiatives, there is a period of adjustment and union leadership wanted to answer a few questions that have been raised.

1. Does the Safety Condition Report replace the filing of a report with my employer, carrier or with my State Legislative Director?

No. If your employer or carrier has a reporting process regarding unsafe conditions, you should fill out their report. Similarly, if your State Legislative Director prefers to use a safety reporting system already implemented, then we encourage that reporting system to be utilized.

Note: It is strongly encouraged that the proper carrier officer receives notification of any unsafe hazard, even if they do not have a process for reporting, if at all possible. Equally it is important that your Local Legislative Representative and officers receive a copy of anything reported to the carrier

2. Should I fill out this form if I have already reported a safety concern to my SLD or my Local Legislative Representative?

No. There is no need to duplicate your effort if you have already reached out to them, but also take note that a report via this form is not a substitute for a report filed with a carrier.

3. By using this report form does my information remain confidential from the carrier?

Yes. As this is an internal reporting system, this information is only available to those union officers that receive the form. That being said, the aforementioned officers may request, in certain circumstances, that this information be shared in order to properly address the reported unsafe issue. However, in those situations, the union officer should receive the reporting member’s permission prior to doing so.

4. Does my Local Legislative Representative get a copy of these reports?

The reports currently go directly to State Legislative Directors for proper handling and dissemination. They are also copied to the General Chairpersons for additional assistance. We found that the turnover of local officers might impede the efficiency of the automated portion of the system, so LRs are not contacted directly via this report. State Directors will take the lead and decide how to proceed with your safety concern, including contacting your local officer(s).

5. I have evidence (photos, video) of a potential safety hazard. How can I share it?

Please be sure that you have checked the option that you request an officer to contact you, and you can then share any evidence you have accumulated directly with the officer handling your report. Future versions of this form may allow for the upload of evidence as we continue to enhance it.

6. I’ve scrolled through the selections and can’t find what I want to report…

If you cannot find your specific issue or concern – use the “other” option and fill in the blanks. It would be helpful to select that you want to have an officer reach out so you can be precise in the type of hazard you wish to report as well as the specific location and details.

7. When can I expect a response to a report that I have filed?

If one is requested, timely responses from a union officer will be given in the order the reports are received.

8. How can I suggest refinements to the report?

We will be continually examining the utility of the form and seeking potential improvements. If you have suggestions, please send them to Senior Communications Coordinator Ben Nagy at bnagy@smart-union.org.

Remember — these are in-union reports. Your union exists to protect its members and filing any safety concern through any union-endorsed medium is your right.

“Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

CDC order requires masks on all public transportation to slow COVID’s spread

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order Jan. 29 imposing a mask requirement applicable to public transportation systems, rail, and van, bus and motorcoach service providers to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

The order implements President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13998, Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, “to save lives and allow all Americans, including the millions of people employed in the transportation industry, to travel and work safely.”

In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on Jan. 31, an agency representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”

In addition to the CDC order, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates issuing additional information and guidance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has posted a web page answering Frequently Asked Questions regarding COVID safety.

DOT will continue to add additional information to the site in the coming days and will be scheduling stakeholder calls beginning this week.

Questions regarding the mask mandate can be sent to the Federal Railroad Administration at RailroadsMaskUp@dot.gov.

Former FRA deputy administrator Bose appointed to again fill post

Amit Bose, who served as deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) during the Obama administration, was appointed to the same post last week by President Biden.

Amit Bose, new FRA deputy administrator, served as chairman for the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.

“We’re excited to be working with Amit Bose,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We’ve had several conversations and he understands and supports our issues. It’s a welcomed new day for rail labor.”

Bose has years of experience serving in the public sector including as FRA deputy administrator, FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs. While in the Obama administration, Bose worked on High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail grants for projects on the Northeast Corridor and has a longtime association with the Corridor.

In addition to living along the corridor in West Windsor, N.J., and working for New Jersey Transit, Bose helped establish and later served on the Northeast Corridor Commission. He also participated in structuring the commission’s cost allocation policy, helped the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) deliver a $2.5 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) loan to Amtrak for its next generation of Acela rail cars, and worked on the environmental review of a number of projects.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia released a statement on Jan. 21 supporting Bose’s appointment.

“Amit Bose will be a great addition to the Federal Railroad Administration. His extensive experience in transportation policy, law and management will be an asset to the Biden Administration,” Coscia said. “Mr. Bose understands the importance of investing in infrastructure to support economic recovery and keeping America’s railroad system reliable and safe. We look forward to working with Secretary designee Pete Buttigieg, Deputy Secretary designee Polly Trottenberg and Mr. Bose to improve and expand passenger rail service across the country.”

Before his return to FRA, Bose served as vice president for HNTB Corporation and as board chairman for the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.

SMART-TD Safety Condition Report is launched for members to submit info about unsafe conditions

To address the growing safety concerns of our membership, we have implemented a universal Safety Condition Report that is now available on the SMART-TD website for all members to use.

This form will become the primary tool to report and collect data concerning unsafe working conditions, including COVID-19 issues, from all members. Organizational information such as Craft, Local, Carrier, State Legislative Director and General Committee are loaded based on a member’s selection using defined database values, ensuring an accurate submission so that the officers responsible for acting on the report are directly and timely informed.

Members are presented a default list of safety hazards (including COVID-19) to choose along with identifying the state and location of the unsafe condition. Additionally, the form will dynamically update based on the members’ input, creating a customized report. After submission, an automated email to the General Chairperson and State Legislative Director with jurisdiction is sent as an initial notification. Full details of the Safety Condition Report are then accessed by these officers via the TD Connect portal along with printing and exporting capabilities for further collaboration with Local officers so that the unsafe conditions can be addressed.

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

It is important to note that the data collected by this Safety Condition Report and the information within are kept and used solely within our SMART Union computer system and are used by SMART-TD officers to assist in addressing the issues presented by members.

“Membership safety and well-being is a founding principal of this Union, but we cannot assist without being properly informed of the unsafe issues facing our fellow brothers and sisters.” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson stated. “These reports are to enhance our safety efforts as many carriers lack proper and effective reporting mechanisms. Our SMART Constitution lists safety as our local legislative representatives’ primary mission, stating ‘They shall report to their Locals regarding the handling of all alleged unsafe or unsanitary working conditions found to exist, or reported to them, within their jurisdiction. They shall undertake to correct such conditions through appropriate measures consistent with the local and national policies of the Transportation Division.’ Therefore, we ask that you also forward this information as soon as possible to your local legislative representative or other SMART Union officer for proper handling. If you are unsure who they are or how to contact them, please contact our office.

“It is imperative that we all accept the personal responsibility to properly document known unsafe conditions, acts and security concerns. If more people would take the time to do this we could, over time, address most of the long-standing concerns we have. Without documentation, nothing will ever change — the issues and concerns will continue to remain and often grow until a very unfortunate situation such as an injury, accident or fatality brings to light what many knew was a problem long ago but failed to address.”

The union’s chief of staff hopes that the use of this form brings hazards that have been taken for granted or tolerated by workers to light.

“Sadly, we hear one particular scenario too often,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Someone says, ‘That has been an issue for a long time’ or ‘Everyone knows that is a problem’ at a particular property. Yet everyone assumes that someone else has written the unsafe condition up and unfortunately, no one has. The issue remains and the carriers use that against us by stating the very same thing — ‘That has been like that forever, and no one has said anything or taken issue with it.’

“This online reporting process is here to change that. Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough. Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

The Safety Condition Report is accessible directly from the SMART-TD home page as both a banner and as a menu item — look for the blinking yellow caution signal.

“Please assist us with assisting you,” President Ferguson said. “All of our members deserve safe working conditions on the job and to return home safely. If there is an issue you want to report — report it.”