Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

New Board Member Hamilton Sworn In, Assumes Position with NMB

From the National Mediation Board:

Washington, D.C. – The National Mediation Board (NMB) is pleased to announce the arrival of new Board Member, Deirdre Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 7, 2021. She was sworn in and assumed her position with the NMB on January 25, 2022.

Hamilton

Prior to becoming a Member, Ms. Hamilton worked as a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), working exclusively with the IBT’s Airline Division. At the IBT she represented most of the crafts or classes within the airline industry- including pilots, flight attendants, technicians, and aircraft cleaners- at both commercial and cargo air carriers. Before that, Ms. Hamilton was a staff attorney at the Association of Flight Attendants. In her career, she has handled a wide range of legal matters including National Mediation Board elections and mediation, collective bargaining support, contract enforcement, and litigation of Railway Labor Act issues. Ms. Hamilton began her career as a legal fellow in the General Counsel’s office at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Ms. Hamilton has been an active member of the Railway Labor Act legal community. She has served as a panelist at meetings of the American Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Committee and the Railway and Airline Labor Law Committee. She has also served as a Senior Editor for the ABA Railway Labor Act Treatise.

Ms. Hamilton is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Michigan Law School.

The National Mediation Board (NMB) is an independent agency created by the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor management relations in the railroad and airline industries. To avoid serious disruptions to the Nation’s economy and protect the public interest, the Act imposes on carriers and their employees the duty of settling disputes through negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. The NMB, headed by three Presidential appointees, has as its chief statutory responsibilities: (1) mediation of collective bargaining disputes; (2) determination of employee representation for collective bargaining processes; and (3) administration of a grievance arbitration system.

New FMCSA deputy administrator named

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced in a news release Jan. 19 that Robin Hutcheson will become deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and serve as acting administrator.

Hutcheson has served as deputy assistant secretary for safety policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Biden-Harris administration and had a role in the development of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Prior to being appointed to the Biden-Harris Administration, she was the Director of Public Works for the City of Minneapolis overseeing a team of 1,100 people across nine divisions including drinking water, surface waters and sewers, solid waste and recycling, fleet management, and all transportation functions.

Prior to her appointment in Minneapolis, she served as the Transportation Director for Salt Lake City, UT, working to improve all modes of transportation. Robin also has served as a consultant specializing in transportation and transit and has worked throughout the western United States, in London and France, and for the European Union Commission on Sustainability.

Robin served for seven years on the Board of Directors for the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), most recently serving as its President.

Hutcheson succeeds Meera Joshi, who departed for a city administration role in New York City.

FMCSA was established in January 2000. Formerly a part of the Federal Highway Administration, its primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

TD leadership applauds confirmation of Amit Bose to lead FRA

Amit Bose, who has been serving the Biden administration as acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) since February 2021, was confirmed Jan. 12 by the U.S. Senate to become full administrator. This was a bi-partisan vote 68-29.

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, then-FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13. Bose was confirmed Jan. 12 as full administrator of the FRA.

Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden had been put on hold by Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida after it had cleared the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Oct. 20, 2021.

“We are pleased and excited to continue our collaboration with Administrator Bose and the FRA as we press ahead on important safety issues such as regulating freight crew size,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “Our National Legislative Department and other members of our legislative team have had numerous conversations with Administrator Bose while serving in an acting capacity. We look to build upon the positive relationship that’s been established and on the progress that has been made already, and we congratulate him on his overdue confirmation.”

During his tenure, Bose already has shown that rail labor’s input will be sought, rather than disregarded by FRA. Under the Biden administration, FRA has publicly announced that it plans to reopen the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the regulation of a minimum freight crew size.

Bose was a guest during the October call of SMART-TD state legislative directors and made it clear that the agency will prioritize cooperative efforts between labor and the federal government such as the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), the newly rechartered Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) and Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-way Employees and Signalmen group.

“The lines of communication between labor and FRA have been open ever since his nomination,” National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “We’ve had productive dialogue from the start with Administrator Bose — rail safety is back on the table.”

Bose has years of experience serving in the public sector. He has served two stints as FRA deputy administrator, and has served as FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs including with former Federal Railroad Administrator and SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo of Local 1290 (Chicago).

In addition to living along the Northeast 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.

FRA recruiting for safety inspector openings

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has a number of positions open and is looking for candidates to fill these jobs.

Among the open positions are:

  • Rail Safety Inspector positions in Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin
  • grade crossing and trespasser Rail Safety Inspector positions in California, New York, Connecticut and Illinois
  • track Safety Inspector positions in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia;
  • Railroad Safety Specialist positions concentrating on Kansas City Southern/Union Pacific that based out of Houston, Texas; Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Chicago, Ill.; and Los Angeles, Calif.

“Recruiting is everyone’s business at FRA,” said David Kannenberg of FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety. “FRA is hiring!”

For a full slate of openings at FRA, visit USAJobs.gov.

Senate confirms Deidre Hamilton to NMB

The U.S. Senate in a 52-48 vote Dec. 7 confirmed labor attorney Deidre Hamilton to the National Mediation Board (NMB), shifting control of the the government body that facilitates labor-management relations in the aviation and rail industries to a 2-to-1 Democratic margin.

Hamilton

Nominated by President Joe Biden in April, Hamilton bring more than two decades of labor expertise to the NMB. She has significant experience before the federal courts and the NMB on a wide range of legal issues including union elections, mediation, contract enforcement, and major and minor dispute claims, and has amassed an in-depth knowledge of the Railway Labor Act. Her most recent experience has been in the legal department of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters where she began working with the Airline Division in 2014.

The two other current NMB members, Democrat Linda Puchala and Republican Gerald Fauth, were nominated to new four-year terms by Biden in July. Their nominations have not yet been considered by the Senate.

Two Republican senators crossed party lines to vote with the 50 Democrats to approve Hamilton’s nomination.

AFL-CIO TTD responds to FTA’s NPRM on Transit Worker Safety

The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division division is a member, filed a response to the Federal Transit Administration’s request for information regarding transit worker assaults. Its filing is reproduced below.

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions, we thank you for taking this important step to begin examining the serious safety issues facing transit workers across this country every single day.

TTD’s affiliated unions collectively represent most transit workers in this country, including rail transit, bus, roadway, construction, and maintenance workers. Most of these workers interface directly with the public, and all are exposed to the risks of assault. We have long-called for both legislative and regulatory solutions to increase worker safety, including putting a stop to the scourge of assaults on transit workers.

Background

In 2015 TTD and our affiliated unions successfully fought for the inclusion of assault prevention language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This language required the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that established safety standards, practices, or protocols for protecting transit operators from the risk of assault. Unfortunately, despite our calls for the FTA to expedite the NPRM soon after passage of the FAST Act, the Obama administration did not act on this issue, leaving us in the hands of the Trump administration for four years.

Correctly anticipating that the Trump administration was unlikely to take action on transit assault, despite statutory requirements to do so, our executive committee called on Congress to take further steps to solve this crisis in 2018, including passage of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act. Critically, elements of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, in combination with the Public Transit Safety Improvement Act, both supported by transportation labor, were included first in the INVEST in America Act, and in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was ultimately signed into law on November 15, 2021.

While this is a historic step for transit worker safety, it comes more than seven years after the FAST Act mandated real action to solve this crisis. Tragically, during these intervening years thousands more transit workers have been needlessly attacked – particularly because of COVID safety enforcement – and many more have been killed while performing their duties.

The token action taken by the FTA under the Trump administration fell far short of both what was required in statute and what was needed to help protect these workers. Rather than issuing a rule protecting transit operators from the risk of assault, as required by the FAST Act, the FTA — more than four years after the passage of the law — instead issued a toothless suggestion that transit agencies merely examine the problem if they felt so inclined. Specifically, the notice required local transit agencies to study the problem, but stopped short of requiring any meaningful action. A problem as widespread and important as worker assaults should not be left to a piecemeal approach where workers’ safety is left up to local jurisdictions without resources or meaningful guidance from FTA. Despite TTD’s calls to offer real mitigation strategies that may have included the increased use of driver shields or de-escalation training, the FTA willfully ignored the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of frontline workers.

As mentioned above, the IIJA includes key priorities from the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act and the Public Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which together, will significantly improve safety for transit workers. It is important to note that these safety improvements will only be realized if the provisions required by the IIJA are implanted in such a way that transit agencies are held accountable in the transparent reporting of safety data as well as in their partnership with frontline workers to develop safety plans.

While the applicability of these provisions to this RFI are discussed in greater detail below, specifically they will:

1.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population over 200,000, the recipient must:

a.       Establish a safety committee that is made up of an equal number of frontline employee representatives and management representatives, which has responsibility for:

                        i.      identifying and recommending risk-based mitigations or strategies necessary to reduce the likelihood and severity of consequences identified through the agency’s safety risk assessment;

                     ii.      identifying mitigations or strategies that may be ineffective, inappropriate, or were not implemented as intended; and

                          iii.      identifying safety deficiencies for purposes of continuous improvement.

                iv.      Not less than 0.75 percent of a recipient’s funds must go to safety-related projects eligible under section 5307.

2.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population fewer than 200,000, the agency safety plan must be developed in cooperation with frontline employee representatives. The above-described performance targets and set aside do not apply to those recipients.

3.      Changes to National Transit Database (NTD) reporting: Transit agencies must now report all assaults on transit workers to the NTD, defined as: “a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

TTD cannot overemphasize the need to expeditiously implement these new requirements as, particularly given the increase in assaults faced by transit workers as a result of COVID safety enforcement and in light of the historical circumstances that necessitated seven years of further advocacy to protect our workers, even after Congress recognized the need for additional protections and mandated FTA to uphold its responsibilities to transit workers.

What types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support roadway worker safety?

Roadway workers can be particularly vulnerable to injury due to the nature of their jobs, and we strongly believe that FTA has a duty to provide regulation to ensure that these workers are protected. Too many tragic incidents have occurred leading to serious injuries and deaths that could have been avoided with adequate protections in place. We support the comments of NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy regarding the need to end the use of Train Approach Warning (TAW) and similar protocols. The safety of workers’ lives deserves many more redundancies than TAW can provide, as demonstrated by the many tragic incidents cited in NTSB’s letter.

One important redundancy that should be utilized is Positive Train Control systems (PTC), which provide crucial information to locomotives. We encourage the use and expansion of PTC and view it as an important safety tool. However, the PTC systems are only part of a solution that should include multiple redundancies and fail-safes. PTC systems can only notify operating engineers of messages sent by dispatchers or readings picked up on installed sensors. There are no sensors on locomotives or tracks that specifically check for the presence of workers. Additionally, dispatchers do not always have accurate reports of which tracks are occupied by roadway workers, and even small errors can have deadly consequences. Occasional human error is an unavoidable fact of life, and the only way to ensure safety is to have layered mechanisms designed to work even if other mechanisms fail.

Robust safety protocols are necessary to ensure that all redundancies are leveraged to keep roadway workers safe. These redundancies include ongoing communication with dispatchers, shunts, blue flags, signage, and locked derails to indicate that tracks are occupied. Labor representatives must have input in identifying needed redundancies and protocols. There is no excuse for failing to use simple, tried and tested methods such as flags, signage, and derails, even as we adopt new technologies.

What types of interactions typically lead to transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

Historically, our ability to examine aggregate data about trends in assaults has been limited to information collected in the National Transit Database. Unfortunately, data collected into the NTD has long failed to accurately represent national trends in workplace violence. That is because the only data that is collected in the NTD are injuries which result in an arrest, serious injury, or death. Shockingly, based on the definition of serious injury in statute, it is our understanding that a transit operator could have their nose broken, be hospitalized for 24 hours, and suffer first-degree burns without triggering any reporting requirements.

Furthermore, the limited information that is collected is exceedingly difficult to view and examine. A request for recent assault data from the NTD made by the Transportation Trades Department in 2018 was rejected, and we were told that we should instead submit a FOIA request.

We are therefore left to rely primarily on news stories or information reported by union locals representing workers at transit agencies to better understand both the circumstances that lead to assault as well as the nature of the assaults themselves. To that end, we are hesitant to speculate on “typical” interactions that lead to worker assaults. The enforcement of mask and other COVD safety mandates and farebox collection are undoubtedly a significant factor in many of these interactions. However, the seemingly arbitrary nature of many incidents reviewed by TTD and our affiliated unions necessitates the collection and analysis of accurate data.

Importantly, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act redefines assault for the purpose of data collection in the NTD. Per Division C, Section 30001 of the IIJA, assault on a transit worker is now defined as:

“Assault on a transit worker — The term ‘assault on a transit worker’ means a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

While this is a critical step in better understanding the national trends in workplace safety for transit workers, it is equally critical that this data be transparent and easily accessible not just to the safety committees created under the IIJA but to researchers, labor unions, and other individuals who may use that information in the pursuit of improving safety for working people.

What actions could address and limit these types of interactions?

First, TTD strongly supports the creation of joint labor-management safety committees as required under the IIJA to solve this problem and encourages expeditious implementation of this portion of the IIJA by the FTA. This approach is not a one-size-fits all solution but instead recognizes that local problems require local solutions.

What approaches could prevent transit worker assaults?

Again, we support the process for arriving at solutions as laid forth in the IIJA. Transit workers should work directly with management to examine data, under the new reporting requirements of the IIJA, and determine local solutions best suited to meet their needs. That may include a full redesign of the operator workstation, driver shields, de-escalation training, changes to routes or route intervals, the presence of law enforcement, along with other interventions or combinations of certain interventions.

What differences, if any, are there in approaches to preventing transit worker assaults across different types of transit systems or modes?

Currently, the response is piecemeal. Some transit agencies have responded to safety threats by including shields for drivers. However, there is no consistency across agencies in the implementation or design of shields. Passengers have still been able to reach around and throw objects at workers or make contact with them. While we reiterate our support eschewing a one-size-fits all solution, we strongly urge the FTA to provide transit agencies with best practices when implementing solutions. Minimum standards for shield designs or workstation redesign, for example, may help to avoid solutions that are well intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

If FTA pursues requirements to address transit worker assaults, what minimum requirements should be included?

It is critical to note that this RFI was issued on 9/24/21, prior to the passage of the IIJA. TTD firmly supports the implementation of transit worker safety improvement required under that act. Moreover, we believe that NTD data on transit assaults must be available and transparent, and that the FTA should partner with transit agencies to ensure consistency in the implementation of interventions across the nation.

Further, TTD strongly supports additional actions, like the Competitive Research Funding Opportunity: Redesign of Transit Bus Operator Compartment to Improve Safety, Operational Efficiency, and Passenger Accessibility NOFO issued by the FTA on 02/11/2020. Ultimately, retrofits like shields are helpful but are often imperfect. A wholesale reimagining of the operator’s workstation including the inclusion of worker safety standards for procurements are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of operators, both from assaults and ergonomically, as well as for the reduction of blind spots and the safety of those sharing the road with transit vehicles.

We would also like to note that the FTA does not have a choice in implementing strategies to prevent worker assaults, as this question implies. The FAST Act mandated such action from the agency, and we are glad to see the agency stepping up to meet its statutory obligations.

How should the requirements apply to different transit system types or modes?

This question recognizes a unique challenge. Rail station managers, rail workers, bus operators, maintenance yard workers, and all other transit employees face unique circumstances and safety challenges that require solutions tailored to their environment.

We believe this challenge is largely addressed by the IIJA, through the creation of safety committees made up of workers and management, who, together can identify their unique challenges and the solutions necessary to solve them.

The FTA must be an active partner in this process, and these committees must not be a box-checking exercise for transit agencies, however. Providing true oversite, making newly collected data in the NTD transparent and accessible to researchers and representatives of labor, and holding listening sessions at a national level to provide oversight of this program as its implemented will all be critical in the coming three years.

What other types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support transit worker assault prevention?

In its role as the federal authority on transit and transit safety, FTA should be continually engaged to identify actions that would benefit the safety of everyone who uses our nation’s transit systems. If transit workers are unsafe, they are not able to do their jobs and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for riders. Because of the complexity of transit systems, increased coordination will be needed to ensure that transit worker assaults do not continue to skyrocket. Data-sharing, transparency, and collaboration with frontline workers and labor groups should be prioritized as new ideas are considered.

What information is collected on transit worker assaults that is not reportable to the NTD?

Prior to the passage of the IIJA, the NTD only collected data on assaults leading to “serious injury” as then defined in 49 CFR 830.2, “(1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.” Obviously, this definition leaves out many possible injuries that need to be captured to have an accurate understanding of transit worker assaults. We believe that the passage of the IIJA will be a major improvement to this issue; however, the FTA must also renew its commitment to transparency and ensure that such data is made available for review.

What internal threshold do RTAs use for tracking transit worker assaults other than those reportable to the NTD?

It is impossible to know what threshold every RTA uses across the country, and we believe that this demonstrates a piecemeal and haphazard approach to transit worker safety. With the passage of the IIJA, we hope that reporting of assaults will be brought into harmony across jurisdictions and allow for more robust leadership from FTA to ensure that our nation’s transit workers are adequately protected. The definition of assault and the data that is collected regarding it should not vary across RTAs. Further, this kind of tracking should not be limited to only those RTAs that have Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans, as this can exclude rural transit agencies.

On average, how many additional transit worker assaults occur per year that do not meet a current NTD reporting requirement?

While the answer to this question would undoubtedly be useful in addressing the scourge of transit worker assaults, the lack of an adequate answer is part of the problem. Transit agencies are not often forthcoming with information, which not only means that responsibility is neglected and left to representatives of the frontline workers to try their best to collect that data, but also that transit agencies have no way of responding to national trends because of a significant lack of awareness.

What are or would be the costs associated with tracking these additional assaults?

TTD believes that any additional costs associated with collecting and reporting this data are trivial relative to the incurred costs of workers compensation, lost hours from workers, and the high turnover at transit agencies as a result of deteriorating workplace conditions. Whatever trivial costs may exist should not be a criterion in determining how or whether or not they should live up to their statutory requirements under the IIJA to do so. Moreover, we believe they should go beyond the basic requirements of the IIJA and report this information annually, with analysis, and tools for transit agencies to implement interventions that may alleviate the impacts of national trends in assault.

What technology is available to address transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

TTD supports the research and implementation of technologies that improve worker safety. In the case of worker assaults, however, there are a number of solutions that could be implemented easily and without the need for additional research and testing time that would be needed for new technologies. Simple workstation redesigns that provide secure barriers between workers and the public would deter many assaults. De-escalation training, route planning, and procedural and schedule planning can mitigate many assaults. We do not believe that FTA should wait for possible technologies to be developed to implement these known solutions.

How can FTA better support the development and implementation of these technologies?

For the reason noted above, FTA needs to be actively involved in the implementation of new technologies and strategies to increase transit worker safety. As part of these efforts, the agency should consult directly with frontline workers and representatives of frontline workers, including safety experts and law enforcement professionals, to share lessons learned in the field, and specific thoughts on how to correctly implement the statutory requirements of the IIJA.

In closing, TTD urges FTA to act expeditiously in the implementation of new transit safety requirements in the IIJA, and reminds the agency of its statutory obligations to protect transit workers from assault. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and look forward to working with the agency moving forward.

PSR’s role in supply-chain problems ignored in Examiner piece

The takeaway from a Washington Examiner article published Nov. 16 regarding recent supply-chain snarls is that rail labor’s desire to maintain the current standard level of personnel — a certified conductor and a certified engineer — aboard the monster freight trains brought by the rail industry’s Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) scheme will make things worse and that President Joe Biden is making a mistake by advocating for two-person crews.

The article sadly attempts to use an operational supply-chain disaster caused, in part, by voluntary decisions made by the rail bosses who implemented PSR as an opportunity to continue to attack the people who work for the seven Class I railroads in the U.S. and those who support them in the political arena. The labor of these workers resulted in the regular achievement by the nation’s biggest railroads of combined net earnings in the billions each quarter, even as the operational challenges implemented by profiteering rail executives in the form of PSR and a global pandemic mounted.

Not coincidentally, rail labor leaders are engaged in negotiations on a revised national railroad contract. During this process, we happen to be doing what unions do — protecting people, such as the public and the workers who do the job of keeping the nation and its freight moving, from the worst tendencies of corporate behavior.

The Examiner article is another example of a carrier-friendly perspective being trotted out by people who know no better about what has been going on in the railroad industry since the advent of PSR. Using archaic terms such as “featherbedding”, the piece portrayed unionized workers seeking to maintain the safe operating procedures in the industry as blockades to progress and profitability.

But this current profitable period for executives, hedge funds and shareholders has come at a cost, as we’re learning. Now that the U.S. supply chain is experiencing degradation in the system that has drawn headlines and the attention of Washington policymakers, PSR’s cost to the worker should be examined as many railroaders’ careers have become casualties of the greed-fueled quest for higher returns.

Since the late E. Hunter Harrison brought PSR to CSX in 2017, Surface Transportation Board (STB) rail employment data indicate that overall Class I employment was slashed by nearly 34,000 jobs from 149,323 in March 2017 until the spring of 2021. Train and engine personnel employment has gone down by about 12,000 jobs from 59,191 in March 2017. That’s 12,000 fewer people to keep the trains running because the rail bosses figured that they could just make the trains longer with their PSR scheme, mothball equipment and furlough workers — do more with less.

Operating ratio (a key metric used by shareholders) went down, causing share prices to go up and Wall Street hedge funds to profit. But the workload for workers has increased exponentially.

Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) data cited by AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan in his testimony Nov. 17 before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee show that approximately 7,200 employees voluntarily quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic even after RRB had adjusted for retirements. Regan also noted that rail workers were moving the same amount of freight earlier this year that was moved in 2019, even though there are fewer people to do the work. Something had to break with carriers’ draconian attendance policies and punitive conduct toward workers. It did for some former railroaders, who instead chose to walk away from pensions and their health coverage and take their lives in a different direction.

Now, with the current backlog of containers at ports, railroads are scrambling to fill the positions and saying that there is a shortage of workers. But it takes time to train new people to work on the railroad. Much institutional knowledge was lost, and railroads consistently are ranked among the worst places to work, making recruitment in a competitive job market even more difficult.

The reality is the “precision” on the part of carriers in implementing PSR is the equivalent of a meat cleaver slamming into a slab of meat on a deli counter. Rail yards and shops closed, locomotives sold and idled and workforce reductions made to the detriment of service. It’s why the STB got involved months after Harrison began converting CSX to PSR and why the board, even during the Trump administration, required the Class I U.S. rail carriers who chose to follow Harrison’s plunge into PSR to report to the board. Railroads have made themselves less capable of adapting to an influx of business and now the supply chain has snarled.

And, to note, the life of someone who works on the railroad labor remains far from “scheduled,” visions of 1800s station agents with big watches on a long chain aside. There are no set shifts — only time periods after a 12-hour-shift where a train crew cannot be called in to work.

And “railroading”? Well, railroads are doing everything in their power to keep those share prices trending upwards for their big investors — running two-, three-, four-mile-long trains that, when a mechanical breakdown happens, bisect communities and don’t fit current infrastructure.

These decisions are not being made by the people who show up day and night to keep America’s trains running. Carrier spokespersons will mention nothing about how PSR has had a role in contributing to the supply-chain crisis. They, like the rail bosses, see workers as tally marks, disposable impediments to profitability — costs to be controlled. They’ll also try to deflect the pursuit of safety into a political attack as in the piece published before the House hearing.

The fact is, cost control, as enticing as it may be from a purely economic perspective, is not the sole driver of productivity. Productivity is not the sole determinant of profitability. The Examiner article’s argument that rail labor and President Biden’s pledge to support the current standard of rail personnel might contribute to the supply-chain problems PSR has fueled is farcical.

At some point, from an industry perspective, rather than cutting through bone to increase billions in quarterly profits, carriers could look at the way they approach service, safety and technology, maintain the extraordinary value they receive through the current dedicated workforce and collaborate with the people who got them through a pandemic on matters of safety. Then together, we can achieve a more precise, on-time vision of rail transport that is safer, more sustainable and more profitable than before.

SMART Applauds U.S. House Passage of Build Back Better Act

Washington, DC—Today the House passed the Build Back Better Act. In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“We commend the House for passing the Build Back Better Act. This legislation is a monumental investment in American families, will revitalize our economy and create good union jobs. Our union members stand ready to rebuild and construct our nation’s infrastructure and will be the boots on the ground to make the Build Back Better agenda a reality.

“This legislation will support our members by applying labor standards to clean energy tax credits, expanding registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, investing in high-speed rail projects, addressing indoor air quality in schools, commercial and residential buildings and supports workers’ right to organize by making consequential reforms to the National Labor Relations Act.

“We can’t delay on delivering for the American people. The time to act is now. We call on the Senate to immediately pass this bill and send it to the President for his signature.”

TTD president testifies on behalf of labor before House committee at supply chain hearing

Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, testified on behalf of labor before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the Nov. 17 hearing regarding “Industry and Labor Perspectives: A Further Look at North American Supply Chain Challenges.” A release from the TTD regarding his testimony is reproduced below.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the supply chain crisis continues to pose serious challenges to all Americans, the Nov. 17 hearing, “Industry and Labor Perspectives: A Further Look at North American Supply Chain Challenges,” held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, cast an important light on the systemic factors that got us here and on the ill-advised business decisions of several key supply chain actors:

Regan

In his testimony before the committee, Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), rejected the notion that hard-working Americans or the policies of President Biden played a role in the supply chain crisis. “What we have today in our economy is the failure of employers to respond to market conditions and provide the incentives – wages, benefits, working conditions, that will attract the workforce needed.” he said.

“It is also appalling that some in this industry are so anxious to deflect attention away from their own culpability, that they are taking aim at workers’ bargaining rights and defending their low-road employment practices like misclassification abuses,” Regan added.

Instead, President Regan highlighted the real culprits – a historic surge in consumer demand coupled with disastrous industry practices that cut service, safety, and jobs while placing ever-increasing strain on workers.

“In the 5 years prior to the pandemic, Class I railroads cut 20% of their workforce, and they cut even deeper over the last 18 months,” Regan said. “Now they want to blame a workforce shortage. The tens of thousands of railroad employees who had their jobs eliminated disagree. By eliminating jobs and mothballing equipment, Class I railroads all but ensured that their operations would not be able to rapidly respond to economic shocks. The drastic spike in demand was unpredictable, but the results were inevitable.”

Regan also cautioned that the finger-pointing by industry and politicians, along with solutions that only focus on the short-term problem will leave us vulnerable to the same bottlenecks in the future unless real steps are taken to correct the practices of industry and improve our freight network. “Even when we are able to unload every ship anchored off our shores, and move every container out of the storage yards, we will not have truly solved this problem unless we have reckoned with the underlying practices that left the system so vulnerable to collapse in the first place,” said Regan.

In his comments before the committee, President Regan acknowledged the serious steps President Biden is taking to help solve this crisis and to avoid similar pitfalls in the future – fighting for, and passing the largest investment in infrastructure in American history, including billions of infrastructure spending that will make a real difference across our supply chain.

Read Regan’s testimony here.

Pro-carrier “exclusive” attacks the Rule of 2

In anticipation of today’s House hearing on the U.S. supply chain, an “exclusive” pro-carrier piece in the Washington Examiner on freight crew size says that keeping two people on freight crews is making the problem worse, neglecting to mention the massive cuts in rail labor and workforce retention issues the carriers have created through Precision Scheduled Railroading that have contributed to the supply chain problem.

Read the article.

NLRB counsel issues memo on OSHA-issued COVID-19 ETS

In response to an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect workers from coronavirus that was issued earlier this month by OSHA, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memo to all field offices concerning COVID vaccine mandates and collectively bargained worker protections. As General Counsel, Abruzzo is responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act’s provisions.

In the memo, General Counsel Abruzzo indicated that while situations on work properties vary on a case-by-case basis, “employers covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) have decisional bargaining obligations regarding aspects of the ETS that affect terms and conditions of employment-to the extent the ETS provides employers with choices regarding implementation.”

OSHA’s ETS, implemented Nov. 5, ordered employers of 100 or more employees to “develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”

A U.S Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has since issued a temporary stay on the ETS, asking for further briefing by the parties. The General Counsel’s memo indicates that she favors a nuanced and bargained approach between labor and employers in implementing COVID policies rather than a unilateral approach on the part of employers.

“The employer also has an obligation to bargain over the effects of this policy,” Abruzzo said in the memo.

The memo’s guidance would mainly affect TD members on bus and some transit properties.

Below is a press release from the NLRB General Counsel and a link to the memo that was released.

November 12, 2021

In a memo issued on November 10th, Acting Associate General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board Joan Sullivan provided information to all field offices on the recent Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Workers from Coronavirus (ETS).

The memo explains that although General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo does not offer advisory opinions and each case stands on its own facts, the General Counsel’s position is that employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act have decisional bargaining obligations regarding aspects of the ETS that affect terms and conditions of employment—to the extent the ETS provides employers with choices regarding implementation.

Although an employer is not obligated to bargain where a specific change in terms and conditions of employment is statutorily mandated, the employer may not act unilaterally when it has some discretion in implementing those requirements. To the extent elements of the ETS do not give covered employers discretion, leaving aside decisional bargaining obligations, the employer is nonetheless obligated to bargain about the effects of the decision.

“The ETS clearly affects terms and conditions of employment—including the potential to affect the continued employment of workers who become subject to it—and gives covered employers discretion in implementing certain of its requirements. In those circumstances, a decisional bargaining obligation is required. The employer also has an obligation to bargain over the effects of this policy,” said General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “While our country recovers from COVID-19, workers should know they have the right to a safe workplace and to have their voices heard.”

SMART Statement on Signing of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Today, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. SMART General President Joseph Sellers and rank-and-file union members joined him at the signing ceremony.  SMART issued the following statement after the ceremony:

WASHINGTON, DC — “Our union was proud to stand with President Biden today to sign this historic bill into law. It will create good, union jobs and put SMART members to work improving indoor air quality in our schools and in commercial and residential buildings. It also makes long-overdue railroad safety improvements and will help school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero emission buses that will drive demand for the products and services provided by SMART sheet metal workers.

This legislation is a significant achievement and was made possible by SMART members who called, emailed and attended events, urging members of Congress to pass this bill. We express our gratitude to President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and all of the members of Congress who worked diligently on this legislation.

While this legislation is remarkable, the job isn’t done. Congress now must deliver on its promise and also pass the Build Back Better Act right away. We urge Congress to act and send that bill to President Biden’s desk immediately.”