The Federal Railroad Administration on Sept. 21 sided with a SMART Transportation Division request to reject the extension of COVID-related regulatory waiver requests by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
The waivers, initially granted in March 2020 by the Trump administration in response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, were roundly criticized by the SMART Transportation Division at their inception. They had been extended on multiple occasions since then and covered regulations governing:
Locomotive engineer skills examinations
Locomotive and conductor certification
On Sept. 13, the SMART-TD National Legislative Department filed public comments in objection to the latest extension request, saying the following:
“It is hard for this Organization to grasp that the railroads are seriously concerned about the pandemic when they are doing little to nothing to prevent its spread. In fact, it seems they only want the CDC guidelines to apply where they might be most able to cut an operational corner, rather than provide a safe and sterile work environment,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes wrote. “According to our applicable members: locomotive, crew room, and transport vehicle cleaning and sanitation has all but stopped (and has been for quite some time). Clearly, prevention of the spread of the virus has taken a back seat to waivers and relief from rules. Safety is either important or it isn’t. It doesn’t just apply here and there.”
FRA concurred with many of the points referred to by SMART-TD in its response, especially regarding training of new rail employees. The agency noted that carriers appeared to use the waivers of at least two rules for an intent outside the purpose originally sought. “FRA’s investigation of these concerns revealed that in numerous instances the railroads were utilizing this relief not to facilitate social distancing, but instead, out of administrative convenience,” FRA’s Karl Alexy wrote.
The SMART-TD National Legislative Office noted that the agency appears to be more responsive to safety concerns expressed by labor and commented on the renewed receptiveness the agency has displayed since the administration of President Joe Biden took charge at the beginning of the year.
“A change in leadership at FRA has made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We thank Deputy Administrator Amit Bose for his agency’s thoughtful consideration of our input as they made a decision on the extensions.”
In the same response to AAR, FRA granted two other extensions to which the SMART-TD National Legislative Department did not object that covered quick tie-ups and locomotive engineer and conductor recertification timelines.
Last week, Bose appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding his nomination to become administrator of FRA. His nomination remains before the committee as additional written questions were posed by committee members and submitted to nominees after the Sept. 22 hearing.
Last last week, FTA published new bus and rail safety data reports to provide a snapshot of transit industry safety performance from 2007–2018 for rail and 2008–2018 for bus, and focus on patterns and trends in events, fatalities and injuries. Report summaries and full reports are accessible on the FTA website with a list of detailed links below.
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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This Labor Day, the SMART Transportation Division is proudly joining the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, (TTD), to recognize and thank frontline transportation workers for their service and sacrifice, and remind Americans that our transportation workers are #EssentialAlways.
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART-TD members were instrumental in keeping the American economy open and functioning by working throughout the pandemic delivering goods and materials and transporting essential workers to where they needed to be. While their heroic efforts during the pandemic undoubtedly saved lives, transportation labor unions want to remind America that their members, and the duties they perform, are essential always.
“I have the highest admiration for the dedication, courage, and drive all of our members displayed as they remained steadfast, working through the initial stages of the pandemic, doing the work that is often overlooked but essential in keeping our country on its feet. They did this during the uncertain initial stages of the pandemic, through lockdowns and beyond,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The word ‘essential’ is the perfect description of all SMART-TD members and other transportation workers who keep our nation functioning and on the move. This campaign and the recognition we hope it brings is well-deserved and overdue.”
The #EssentialAlways campaign comes at a historic crossroads for this dedicated workforce. As the United States continues to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — which millions of frontline transportation workers have disproportionately shouldered — Congress and the Biden administration are pursuing transformational investments in infrastructure as part of the president’s build back better agenda. Highly skilled transportation workers, including SMART-TD members will be vital in achieving these goals and rebuilding our country.
“Frontline transportation workers power the most advanced economy in the world by operating, maintaining, and building the most complex transportation network on earth,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “Whether they’re helping people get to home, work, or school, moving the goods and raw materials we all rely on, delivering our mail, seeing us through a crisis, or building transportation projects of the future, these dedicated professionals have always been essential to the fabric of America, and they always will be.”
Transportation unions are encouraging the general public, elected leaders, and members of transportation and infrastructure community to join the campaign by following and engaging with the hashtag #EssentialAlways on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to watch and share this video explaining the important role transportation workers played before and during the pandemic, and the role they will play for years to come.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, its $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation, by a 69-30 vote, sending the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration and taking a step to end a substantial period of largely flat federal investment in the nation’s roads, rails and bridges.
The bill contains $786 billion to address a backlog of national infrastructure needs, $66 billion for Amtrak and $39 billion for public bus, transit and subway systems.
“This legislation marks the end of a long period of stagnation in the upper chamber of Congress when it comes to putting additional money into the nation’s infrastructure,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “There was a lot of talk of Infrastructure Week and the like in prior years, but nothing ever was accomplished with the bills dying in the Senate. Now we see a strong effort to protect bus and transit workers to shield them from assaults and a major influx of money that will allow Amtrak to provide expanded service and help its national passenger service to flourish. These are very encouraging signs and the bill’s passage is a major win for our Amtrak, bus and transit members.”
Absent from the Senate bill was a two-person freight crew provision that was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives’ infrastructure bill known as the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684). Yardmaster hours of service, also in the INVEST Act, suffered the same fate.
The 10 bipartisan senators who authored the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did not include those items when writing the more than 2,700 pages of the legislation, and no amendment adding a 2PC provision was introduced by senators as the bill was considered for passage. Only bipartisan amendments were considered during the amendment process, and no Republican senators offered to co-sponsor the two-person-crew or yardmaster hours of service items as an amendment.
This does not close the door on national two-person crew bill efforts with House leaders, including Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio, Railroad Subcommittee Chair Donald Payne and other supporters of rail safety, working to find a vehicle to get a legislative solution passed. Regulatory efforts via the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be intensified.
“We ask that members continue to be loud and clear about rail safety and the importance of a certified conductor and certified engineer being in the cab to elected officials via phone call, letter, and email and also by raising public awareness on social media,” Hynes said. “We have come further than we ever have in getting national two-person crew legislation accomplished this cycle. The battle is not over, and there is much more to be done.”
A statement from SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson on the passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
“Brother Trumka was a distinguished, energetic and passionate leader — a true force whose presence will be missed by all who knew and worked with him in advancing the solidarity and selflessness that propels the American labor movement. We share in the sorrow of his passing and mourn with our brothers and sisters in labor. SMART-TD extends our most heartfelt condolences and will continue his legacy of standing up for the working class.“
Trumka was a keynote speaker at the 2019 SMART General Convention. Click below to view a highlight from his address to more than 1200 convention delegates.
You’ve probably heard in the news over the past few days that the U.S. Senate has agreed on a new bipartisan infrastructure package. This article is to provide facts, highlight the ongoing differences between the House’s infrastructure bill and the Senate’s infrastructure bill, show where we stand and what can be done to step up as we fight for public and worker safety and for the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and engineer in the cab of freight locomotives.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a product of the Senate, where a bill needs a simple majority to pass — that means 51 votes. However, unless a bill has 60 senators in solid support, it is vulnerable to a filibuster by any who oppose the bill and thus cannot pass. This bipartisan bill has been a big deal in the news because something is being done about the nation’s infrastructure as some senators from both parties came up with a bill by working together after a long, long period of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Let’s remember that this Senate bill has only been in existence since last Sunday, Aug. 1 — about three days — and things can change quickly.
The House gets a chance to make additions, subtractions, and changes to anything the Senate passes in what is known as the conference process. Be assured that our allies in the House will fight to have portions of their bill reinstated that were left out of this Senate bill, but, as it was when we first passed two-person crew legislation out of the House in 2020, the divided Senate remains an obstacle. Already, we have come farther than we did last year, and this is thanks to involvement from our membership as well as how we improved conditions for success in November 2020.
So the door is NOT CLOSED on a legislative solution from Congress coming through with this bill. A senator could amend the bill to add the two-person crew provision before a vote. The conference process also takes time, and we have strong allies in the U.S. House in Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne who worked to get the 2PC provision in the INVEST Act both times it passed the House. But it’s not DeFazio, Payne or the U.S. representatives who already voted in favor of the INVEST Act’s two-person crew provisions that we need to convince. Republican senators who helped to craft the “bipartisan” Senate bill didn’t include the provision in accordance with the wishes of their railroad industry allies.
So what can you do to help?
We need to be loud and persistent. We need all of you to help. With the work being done right now in Washington D.C. on the legislative, and later this year, on the regulatory channel, now is the time to mobilize across the nation to step up and get the Rule of 2 across the finish line. Red state, blue state, purple state, north, south, east and west. We need to call. We need to email. Share the image above on social media. We need to explain to people in Congress, especially senators:
That public and worker safety is non-negotiable. That lives have been saved because of the presence and combined actions of a conductor and engineer working together. That the people in the freight locomotive provide the same safety functions and duties as a pilot and co-pilot on an airliner. By disregarding the 2PC provision, American lives are going to be endangered.
That the two-person crew component within the original INVEST in America ActMUST be included as the Senate considers this bill. Anything less ignores rail worker safety and community safety, jeopardizes jobs and lets the railroads and their profiteering Wall Street masters dictate what they say is safe rather than what we KNOW is safe.
Keep in mind that second path — the regulatory one — to secure the Rule of 2 is via the Federal Railroad Administration where the agency would promulgate a rule establishing a minimum crew size. Under President Biden, FRA has announced that a reopening of examining a rule concerning crew size would be a priority of the agency this autumn as it attempts to fill the regulatory vacuum that was created under the prior administration.
More about that will be shared as time goes on, but we are farther along the legislative path than we ever have been. We need to use our collective voices to get our message out to Congress.
Let’s continue to persist, step up, go forward and get the word out to Congress. Please get in touch with your senators and talk about the Rule of 2.
National Legislative Director — SMART-TD
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), our 33 affiliated unions, and millions of frontline transportation workers, I urge you to advance the nomination of Jennifer Homendy for Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when the Senate Commerce Committee considers her nomination.
Member Homendy brings decades of experience in transportation safety and a fierce devotion to the protection of transportation workers, passengers, and the public writ large. Since joining the NTSB in 2018, she has worked tirelessly as an advocate for necessary safety improvements across all modes of our transportation network. Prior to joining the Board, Homendy shepherded major safety legislation through Congress as Staff Director of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. Equally important to her deep policy expertise, Homendy possesses a crucial understanding of the role transportation workers play in ensuring the safety and security of our transportation system. There is no person more qualified to serve as Chair of the NTSB.
Member Homendy’s distinguished career in public service and steadfast commitment to transportation safety have proven that she has the leadership, experience, and expertise to confront our transportation network’s most pressing challenges with a strong voice. TTD is proud to endorse Jennifer Homendy, and I urge you to support her nomination.
WASHINGTON – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) opposing the approval of a trust for the proposed merger of the Canadian National (CN) and Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroads. In his letter, DeFazio stated that approving the trust is not in the public interest and would reduce competition.
“A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy,” Chair DeFazio wrote in his letter. “I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.”
In April 2021, Chair DeFazio issued a statement after Canadian Pacific (CP) and CN each made separate multi-billion dollar offers to buy KCS, warning that the bidding war that ensued for the railroad threatened to usher in a new round of consolidations in the rail sector, ultimately threatening jobs and affecting shipping in the U.S.
DeFazio’s full letter to STB can be found below and here.
July 26, 2021
Ms. Cynthia Brown
Chief, Section of Administration
Office of Proceedings
Surface Transportation Board
395 E Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20423
Re: Finance Docket No. 36514, Canadian National Railway Company, et al. – Control – Kansas City Southern Railway Company, et al.
Dear Ms. Brown:
I am writing to express opposition to the voting trust proposed by Canadian National Railway Company (CN) in its proposed merger with Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS). I am concerned that this proposed trust is not in the public interest. The trust would reduce competition and prejudice the outcome of the Surface Transportation Board’s merger proceeding.
In its May 14, 2021, submission to this docket, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice explained how voting trusts reduce competition both in general for railroad mergers and in particular to the consideration of a voting trust for CN and KCS. In general, putting two formerly competitive businesses under a single holding company immediately reduces the parties’ incentives to engage in competition. While the Surface Transportation Board regularly allowed railroad trusts throughout the many railroad consolidations of the 1980s and 1990s, the board has made the requirements to approve a voting trust more stringent since 2001 as part of an overall reform of merger rules. Now, according to 49 CFR 1180.4(b)(4)(iv), applicants must demonstrate that trusts would be in the public interest. Approving a CN-KCS trust would signal to the rest of the rail industry that the STB is engaging in business as usual, despite the requirement to consider the public interest, and could launch a new round of mergers.
Specifically with regard to the potential for a CN-KCS trust, I am concerned that approximately 300 current customers overlap on the CN and KCS networks. A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy. I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.
I trust that the Surface Transportation Board will look at the specific facts of this action and conclude that approving a trust is too much, too soon. Too much authority in one company to somehow keep two companies competing against each other that have significant service overlap and too soon because allowing the trust creates a new floor purchase price for any other potential competitive bidders for KCS railroad.
DeFazio, along with New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, were two of the main architects of the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), a surface transportation reauthorization bill that encompasses substantial investment in the nation’s infrastructure as well as in the safety of the people who keep the country moving that passed the U.S. House on July 1.
“PSR is not some fancy optimization strategy to increase freight volume or improve operations and reduce emissions; rather, it is a business strategy promoted by Wall Street to boost short-term profits,” DeFazio wrote.
He noted in his column that shippers, communities and the rail workforce all have been negatively affected by PSR.
“Let’s not forget that prior to COVID-19, from 2015 to 2019, the freight railroad industry slashed the average size of its workforce by over 17%,” DeFazio wrote. “It’s little wonder that STB Chairman Martin Oberman has sought information about how such a reduction may be related to or contributed to recent shipper complaints.”
The INVEST in America Act looks to protect bus and transit workers from assault, improve school bus safety and maintain safe freight rail operations. It contains increased funding for Amtrak passenger rail service and protects the environment, the public and rail workers alike by putting into law the Rule of 2 — that, like a pilot and co-pilot in the air — a certified engineer and a certified conductor remain present in the cab of freight trains when operated through the nation’s communities.
President Joe Biden last week announced two nominees — Gerald Fauth III and Linda Puchala — to return to the National Mediation Board (NMB).
Gerald W. Fauth III, the current NMB chairman, was nominated for another three-year term. He has served on the board since November 2017.
Fauth has 40 years of experience in the private sector and federal government working in the transportation industry. He has been directly involved in negotiating, mediating, arbitrating, facilitating, supporting and/or deciding the resolution of hundreds of complex transportation problems and disputes.
In addition to his NMB experience, from 1999 to 2003, Fauth served at the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) as chief of staff and senior advisor to a board member and was directly involved in the decision-making process in hundreds of formal decisions involving all matters of STB jurisdiction. In 1998, Mr. Fauth was named by the STB an original member of the Conrail Transaction Council established to provide a forum for constructive dialogue and timely and efficient communication of information in order to resolve implementation problems and railroad service concerns associated with the Conrail railroad transaction, the largest rail transaction in history.
Ms. Puchala has served as a member of the NMB since her confirmation by the U.S. Senate in 2009. Prior to her service as a board member, Ms. Puchala worked as a mediator, sr. mediator (ADR) and as the associate director of alternative dispute resolution services over a 10-year career at the NMB. During her tenure, Puchala has demonstrated leadership and professionalism that has earned her the respect of both parties across the mediation table. Puchala has also pursued innovative strategies to resolve pending arbitration cases, sought to modernize the NMB’s management practices and has fought for policies that will protect the rights of workers to have a union voice. Puchala also obtained important labor relations experience as a former international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and as a staff director at the Michigan State Employees Association of AFSCME.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 1, 2021) — SMART Transportation Division leaders expressed their appreciation as the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (H.R. 3684) successfully passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives, 221-201, on July 1 with two-person crew and other transportation safety provisions important to TD members remaining intact.
“This bill is a great step ahead for the country as it works to repair years of inattention given to the country’s infrastructure,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The INVEST Act also pays heed to many safety concerns expressed by labor — the essential workers who helped move our nation through the COVID pandemic — bus operators, freight rail workers and transit workers. We thank Peter DeFazio, Donald Payne and all those in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who spurred H.R. 3684 to passage in the full House, and we now look ahead to consideration in the Senate and beyond.”
“We’re very pleased that the House has wisely moved ahead today on the legislative path to ensuring that rail safety’s Rule of 2 is maintained with the INVEST in America Act, and that the bus safety provisions, Amtrak funding and other rail safety components stay in the bill,” SMART-TD National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Now, similar to last year, the time has come to make it crystal clear to senators who might be on the fence that the safety aspects within this bill are not up for negotiation.”
“We truly thank and appreciate those legislators who supported the INVEST Act in its journey through the House and who listened to what we had to say,” Ferguson said. “There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation in the Senate, and the members and officers of our union are ready to put in the time.”
The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.