Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

Book spells out federal laws pertaining to bus operators

Larry Mann, rail safety coordinator to SMART TD’s Designated Legal Counsel.
“What Every Bus Driver Should Know,” written by Lawrence Mann, safety coordinator to SMART Transportation Division’s Designated Legal Counsel (DLC), is an extensive and comprehensive survey of federal law as it pertains to bus workers and is essential reading for TD members concerned about how the law protects them.

Mann, who has served as rail safety coordinator for the DLC since the position was created in 2008, has extensive legal experience in the transportation industry and has given SMART Transportation Division permission to distribute his book via PDF on the TD website.

SMART TD Regional Meeting: President Previsich says FRA action will not go unchallenged

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In closing remarks to the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting July 3, TD President John Previsich said that recent actions of government agencies under the umbrella of the federal Department of Transportation will not go unchallenged.

Actions by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding safety issues have shown that those agencies have stepped away from their duties of overseeing the safety of communities and of the nation’s transportation workers, he said.

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich addresses the closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel on July 3.

The FRA’s withdrawal of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in May plus a similar action within days by the FMCSA that withdrew a notice regarding bus operator safety is a starting point to what will be a challenging period for our union, Previsich said.

All options, including litigation, are being explored to challenge what Previsich had described in testimony before a U.S. House Subcommittee as FRA’s abdication of its safety oversight responsibilities by withdrawing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding minimum crew size. Attorneys general from every state that have implemented legislation requiring two-person freight crews are being invited to join with labor to protect the state laws.

The effort will address FRA’s abuse of authority by withdrawing the NPR, ignoring the comments that were overwhelmingly in favor of a two-person crew rule and the agency’s attempt to pre-empt state laws. It will be a “concerted” effort with other labor organizations.

Previsich said that the union is planning on a multi-faceted approach to take on FRA while also challenging Congress to pursue legislation to correct FRA’s refusal to oversee safety on the nation’s railroads.

Attendees at the July 3 closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting listen to TD President John Previsich’s remarks at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel.

State legislative action surrounding two-person rail crews also will be ongoing, he said, and more details of our efforts as well as additional actions for members to take will be communicated in the near future.

“There is going to be a big push coming,” Previsich said. “We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance. I think your members will be proud of their union and where we’re going with this.”

To do something immediately, members should take the time to watch the video of the House subcommittee hearing. There they will see who supports our efforts, and what opponents are saying.

All brothers and sisters should then contact their legislators directly to explain our issues to their U.S. House and Senate representatives, and why the current bills regarding transportation safety are important. An in-person visit, an option advocated by National Legislative Director John Risch during the Regional Meeting’s opening session, helps to personalize and drive these issues home no matter what political party the public official identifies with.

The TD Legislative Action Center is a one-stop repository that has information on federal bills advocating bus and transit operator safety, freight rail crew size and yardmaster safety.

Our brothers and sisters also should donate to the SMART TD PAC.

“There’s nothing more important in this environment today — in this political climate that we’re in — that we get access, and we get access through PAC,” Previsich said.

On the second day of the meeting, SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. addressed the new leaders in attendance and encouraged them to take advantage of all resources available to them in both the Washington, D.C., and in the Cleveland offices.

The TD Regional Meeting theme — “Your Union Leading the Way” — was particularly appropriate this year — members “need to understand that ‘Your union’ is our union … 200,000 members are part of our union,” Sellers said. “And ‘leading the way’ means you leading the way, meaning us leading the way meaning leaders and members leading the way.”

In a time of upheaval in the industries that SMART members are employed in, efforts to grow the organization will continue to be a priority, and officers will take an important role in those efforts.

“We must continue to grow. We must organize, organize, organize — internal organizing, external organizing, making sure every worker is a SMART member,” Sellers said.

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr., delivers opening remarks on Tuesday, July 2, the second day of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

From all levels of the union, it is up to everyone to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and build and maintain a strong foundation and maintain a powerful and nimble network that can take collective action to protect ourselves and the legacy our union represents, Sellers said.

“I want to make sure that we continue to build that foundation, that we continue to form this union so that future generations will have the same opportunity, enjoy that same representation, enjoy the same benefits of a collective bargaining agreement and enjoy a retirement particularly at a time when many people won’t have a retirement or work pension.”

Support from the SMART Army has brought results — members’ efforts beat back Right to Work For Less legislation in Washington one day after a call for mobilization at the state’s Capitol, and helped to get two-person crew legislation passed in Colorado and Nevada this year. They’ve also mobilized to defend proposed pension changes in Congress.

“As we build that, we will do better,” he said.

To join, text SMART Army to 21333.

In closing the meeting, Previsich announced that the 2020 TD Regional Meeting will be held in its home base of Cleveland, Ohio, at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from Aug. 24 to 26.

The three-day San Diego meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel featured more than 30 educational workshops intended to assist officers and strengthen our union at every level.

New head of National Mediation Board named

The National Mediation Board (NMB) announced Monday that Linda A. Puchala has been named chair of the board, effective July 1. Gerald Fauth III and Kyle Fortson remain as board members.

Puchala was confirmed as an NMB member by the United States Senate on May 21, 2009. She has been chair of the NMB for the following prior periods: May 2009 through June 30, 2009; July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012; July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014; and July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Her most recent Senate confirmation came on November 2, 2017.

Prior to becoming a member, Puchala served 10 years as an NMB mediator, senior mediator (ADR) and as associate director of alternative dispute resolution services.

Her prior labor-relations experience includes work as international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO and staff director, Michigan State Employees Association, AFSCME, AFL-CIO.

She resides in Glen Burnie, Md., and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Cleary University in Howell, Mich.

Safe Freight Act two-person crew bill introduced in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2019) — U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today introduced the Safe Freight Act, (S.1979) legislation that would promote rail safety by mandating at least two-person crews on all freight trains in the United States.

The bill is designed to correct the Federal Railroad Administration’s rollback in May of a proposed rule that would have established these necessary safety standards. The Safe Freight Act will specifically require that all freight trains have at least one certified conductor and one certified engineer on board, who can then work together to protect the safety of both the train and people living near the tracks. In 2013, there was a tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, where an unattended freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people, destroying much of the town and causing millions of dollars in environmental damage.

“The FRA abdicated its responsibility as our nation’s rail safety agency when it withdrew the proposed two-person crew rule,” said Sen. Markey. “A series of tragic accidents have resulted in recent years from unattended and understaffed trains, making clear that we need enough crew on board to protect both property and the public. I am proud to lead the introduction of the Safe Freight Act with Senator Wyden to address this critical safety concern.”

“The decision by the FRA to abandon its planned two-person crew rule makes no sense, especially in light of recent rail accidents,” said Sen. Wyden. “This is a matter of safety and security for rail crew and the public and experts agree. It’s now up to Congress to step in and require freight trains have the staffing required to keep folks safe.”

A copy of the Safe Freight Act can be found here.

Other senators co-sponsoring the Safe Freight Act are Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry,” said SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich. “There is no doubt that the safest rail operation is a two-person crew operation. After several major train derailments, we must send a clear message to our lawmakers and the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Senator Markey for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and the general public.”

“The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has led the fight for railroad safety for over 156 years,” said BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Two-person crews make for safer, more efficient train operations, and two-person crews play a key role in safeguarding our Nation’s communities when a serious accident occurs. I congratulate Senator Markey for stepping up to lead the fight for a safer railroad industry and a safer America.”

U.S. House acts to block LNG transport by rail

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, June 24, passed an amendment that would block President Donald Trump’s Executive Order in April to the Department of Transportation to fast-track the allowance of liquid natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail.

“In its never-ending quest to put profit ahead of people, the Trump administration is now trying to bypass long-standing requirements for transportation of LNG by putting it into 100-car trains that roll through densely-populated areas at upwards of 50 miles per hour,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D – Ore.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who introduced the amendment. “This plan is beyond absurd. Should even one tank car get punctured, the results could be devastating. My amendment blocks this brazen attempt by the administration. I urge the Senate to follow suit and stop a massive catastrophe before it’s too late.”

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) moved ahead earlier this month with a plan to authorize six trains, of 100 or more rail tank cars, to move LNG for export through densely populated areas. DeFazio’s amendment would block this special permit as well, which currently is open for comment until July 8.

Read more on this story at Freightwaves.com.

Read an earlier story about the executive order.

President Previsich testifies before House subcommittee

    SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich testifies Thursday afternoon before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich appeared before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials to testify on the state of the railroad workforce.

Rather than use his prepared written testimony, he delivered a statement in response to the testimony given earlier in the hearing by Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ron Batory. In his statement, President Previsich told the representatives about issues crucial to the rail labor workforce, including what he described as FRA’s “abdication” of its safety oversight duties in the wake of its withdrawal last month of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a minimum train crew size.

He also addressed questions posed by subcommittee members on subjects including Congress’s role in helping to ensure a safe working environment for rail workers, the national Safe Freight Act two-person crew legislation and the role of technology, including automation, and its effects on the rail labor workforce.

A video of President Previsich’s testimony and responses is embedded below.

Video of the full hearing containing President Previsich’s testimony as well as that of other railroad labor leadership in attendance is available here on YouTube.

Legislative update: Where national bills of importance stand

Here’s a quick update on where legislation important to SMART Transportation Division members stands on a national level:

The Safe Freight Act in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748), national two-person crew legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young in March, has 60 co-sponsors consisting of 56 Democrats and 4 Republicans. It has been referred to the House’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act has versions in both the U.S. House (H.R. 1139) and in the U.S. Senate (S. 436). It is intended to protect bus and transit operators from assault through various strategies and requires that both rail and bus transit agencies (those not covered by the FRA) create risk-reduction plans to protect operators and that the agencies submit those plans to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval. The Senate version has 13 co-sponsors since its introduction in February, while the House version has 145 co-sponsors since its February introduction. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, while the House version has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

The Railroad Yardmaster Protection Act of 2019 (H.R. 2449), which covers yardmaster hours of service, was introduced in early May and has two co-sponsors. It has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Remember that your elected officials need to hear from you about these issues that matter to your safety in the workplace. An easy way to do this is by emailing your legislators through the SMART TD Legislative Action Center, but phone calls and face-to-face meetings help drive the point home even more.

Amtrak CEO’s letter: Long-distance service stays through fiscal year

A U.S. senator from Kansas received an assurance in a letter from Amtrak’s president and CEO that the national passenger carrier will maintain long-distance service at its current status quo through the 2019 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and possibly on through the enactment period of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which runs through the 2020 fiscal year.

However, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s delay on the consideration by the U.S. Senate of three presidential nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors, which he started in early May, appears that it will continue.

Kansas News Service (ksnewsservice.org) reported that a spokesperson for the senator said a May 22 in-person meeting between Moran and Anderson was a “step in the right direction.” However, the holds Moran placed on President Donald Trump’s nominations to the Amtrak Board of Directors will remain while he awaits more answers to questions that arose from that meeting, the report said.

Moran is particularly concerned about the long-term future of the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief route. Last year, U.S. senators had to pressure the carrier to continue the route, which serves many rural areas, through the 2019 fiscal year.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson

Amtrak’s top boss, Richard Anderson, wrote in a letter to Moran that congressional action has secured the short-term future of the long-distance routes.

“We believe that Congress generally endorsed continued operation of our current route network for the five-year period from FY15-FY20 through the enactment of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act,” Anderson wrote. “Thus, although Amtrak is not technically required to operate any given route under the FAST Act, we plan on operating all of our long-distance trains for the remainder of this period while seeking to drive improved performance consistent with our goal to grow ridership while reducing Federal subsidies.”

However, Anderson also indicated that alterations to the long-distance interstate service again will be considered as the carrier seeks to build upon its recent performance, with increased ridership and record-setting fiscal performance with higher revenue and reduced operating losses.

“… We must position ourselves to attract a new generation of customers. Just as other modes of transportation and businesses are compelled to evolve, so must we if our mode is to grow as a relevant and efficient means of mass transportation,” Anderson wrote. “We owe this to our customers and your constituents, along with our nearly 20,000 hard-working and dedicated employees. That is why we have a plan to break even on operating results by 2020.”

Anderson went into detail about the financial performance and cost of the carrier’s long-distance routes and said more than half of the federal appropriations that Amtrak received went toward funding those routes.

“Long-distance trains require large federal subsidies because their revenues are lower and operating costs are higher than Amtrak’s state-supported and NEC (Northeast Corridor) services. The federal government is virtually the only funding source for the capital investments they require,” Anderson wrote. “These costs are set to increase significantly in the future as we face host railroad-related poor on-time performance across the network and much of our equipment used in long­ distance service reaches the end of its useful life and requires replacement.”

Discussion of an upcoming funding reauthorization in Congress will give a clearer indication of the future of the long-distance routes, Anderson said.

“Looking forward, we aim to have a conversation with Congress and our other stakeholders about the future of the long-distance services,” Anderson wrote. “While we strongly believe that there is a permanent place for high­ quality long-distance trains in our network, the time to closely examine the size and nature of that role is upon us for numerous reasons.”

The replacement of long-distance routes with new corridor service is certainly on the table for Amtrak, Anderson said. Among potential corridors warranting further study are Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans; Fort Worth, Texas to Newton, Kansas; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota to Chicago and Duluth, and the Front Range Corridor.

An initial analysis of these potential corridor routes is expected to be performed this summer, he wrote.

“Demand for shorter rail trips in corridors between major cities is increasing, particularly in the fast­-growing South, Southwest and Mountain states,” Anderson wrote. “However, the minimal service Amtrak currently provides in these regions, with long-distance trains that are often many hours late and serve major cities in the middle of the night, does not meet the needs of their rapidly increasing populations.”

Follow this link to read Anderson’s full letter to the senator.

The three nominees whose nominations have been placed on hold by Moran are Rick Dearborn, Joseph Gruters and former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland. SMART TD opposes Westmoreland’s nomination.

FRA just reduced the prospects of a safer railroad industry

By John Previsich, SMART TD President, and Dennis Pierce, BLET National President

On Thursday, May 23, 2019, we were informed that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had released a notice, withdrawing a 2016 notice of proposed rulemaking establishing a minimum train crew size for most rail freight operations in the United States. This news was not surprising.

What is shocking, however, is the degree to which FRA has chosen to subordinate the safety of BLET and SMART TD members, other railroad workers, and the American public to the interests of the nation’s major railroads.

FRA’s reference to current crew sizes, which have existed for decades, as mere “crew redundancy” displays an astonishing ignorance of the findings of the agency’s own research studies, which establish — in detail and beyond dispute — the unique and specific duties of each crewmember.

FRA also disappointingly engages in self-serving fact selection in its attempts to negate the importance of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic tragedy and the Casselton, North Dakota, oil train derailment — and subsequent explosion and fire — to the crew size debate. And it simply ignores several subsequent accidents where a two-person crew saved the public from an even more horrific outcome.

In its rush to diminish the safety impact of common-sense crew size regulations, FRA also points to various regulations requiring risk analyses and the adoption of risk reduction plans by railroads. While our Organizations fully support such plans, we note that Congress mandated regulations governing these subjects more than a decade ago, but they have yet to be promulgated because of industry recalcitrance and obstructionism.

Also, the argument that two-person crews have not been proven safer — because of FRA’s failure to collect crew size data — while the data support a conclusion that single-person crews are not demonstrably less safe is mystifying in its logic, to be charitable.

Moreover, the federal rail safety regulator hints that there is no “specific requirement that would prohibit autonomous technology from operating a locomotive or train” in the absence of any human crewmember whatsoever as a means of “reducing accidents caused by human error.” If the ongoing grounding of the Boeing MAX aircraft has taught nothing else, FRA and the Department of Transportation should be mindful of the danger of transferring the risk of a human factors accident from operator to programmer when autonomous technology is implemented. For this reason, FRA’s declared “support [for] the integration and implementation of new automation technologies” on the nation’s locomotives should give everyone pause.

Lastly, the Agency’s invocation of the negative preemption doctrine is incredible. Both the industry and the Agency reject prescriptive safety regulations as a philosophical matter, because they supposedly require a “one size fits all” approach; indeed, this was part of the industry’s argument against the proposed rule.

In stark contrast to this philosophy, FRA’s invocation of negative preemption seeks to promulgate a prescriptive prohibition, regardless of the implications of its action on federalism. In so doing, the valid safety concerns expressed by supporters of the proposed rule such as National League of Cities — representing more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns — and the Western Organization of Resource Councils are dismissed out of hand.

We frankly did not expect this Administration to complete this rulemaking, but we did afford the new Federal Railroad Administrator a fair opportunity to demonstrate that safety was his primary objective. Given the scope of this withdrawal, the Administrator has clearly failed the test, because he has placed corporate profits above public safety. Railroad safety has taken a giant step backward today, but our Organizations do not intend to let this development go unchallenged.

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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 crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents over 57,500 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

John Risch: FRA, Trump administration halt all crew safety efforts

Dear SMART TD,

Today the Trump administration did everything it could to stop all railroad crew safety issues.

In a Federal Register posting published at 4 p.m. today, the FRA formally withdrew the pending proposed rulemaking dating from 2016 that would have set a mandatory crew size on freight and passenger trains.

Withdrawal of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Train Crew Staffing | Federal Railroad Administration

But the notice went much further than that. It announced that not only will FRA turn a blind eye to the unsafe practices of single-person or no-person trains, the agency claims that its notice also nullifies all state laws and regulations that establish minimum crew standards.

President Donald Trump, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and FRA Administrator Ron Batory have taken sides, and it’s with the railroads that want to eliminate operating crew members to the detriment of rail safety and to the detriment of the communities through which our members operate trains. We are considering legal action and other avenues to protect our members and the American public from the prospects of driverless trains.

The action today flies in the face of so-called conservative values and state’s rights. The federal government is refusing to protect the public and at the same time is prohibiting states from doing so by posting this federal notice.

This action undermines my faith in the FRA in being a fair and impartial overseer of safety in the railroad industry. Clearly, the railroad CEOs have their folks in power with President Trump and his administration. This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers.

It is now more important than ever that we pass a federal law requiring that every train in America have a minimum of two crew members. Those two crew members must be a federally certified conductor and a federally certified locomotive engineer.

It’s time to not only send an email message to your member of Congress, but it is time for every operating railroad worker to contact their member of Congress personally. Call their offices and ask to meet with them today.

We will not be stopped by today’s terrible decision. It makes us more committed than ever to pass a federal two-person crew law.

In solidarity,

John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division

Two-person crew bill passes Nevada Senate

The Nevada State Legislative Board reports that A.B. 337, legislation requiring two people in the cab of freight trains in the state, passed in the state Senate on Tuesday by a 13-8 party-line vote.

The bill is in the process of enrollment — receiving signatures from both the Senate and General Assembly leadership — and is expected to be on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s (D) desk for his signature in the coming weeks, Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering said.

If the bill is signed by Sisolak, Nevada would become the second state this year to successfully enact two-person crew legislation. A bill in Colorado was signed into law on March 21.

A bill in Maryland (H.B. 66) has successfully passed both houses of its Legislature and is awaiting action by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Two-person crew legislation also is progressing in Minnesota (part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill) and in Illinois (S.B. 24). The support of members in both states is important for both pieces of legislation to be passed.

Minnesota residents can contact these legislators to show support for the Minnesota bill.

If you are a resident of Illinois, follow this link to find your state legislators and help to keep up the momentum for S.B. 24.

The national two-person crew bill, the Safe Freight Act (H.R.1748), introduced in March has 38 co-sponsors.

Follow this link to send an email to your representative in support of the national Safe Freight Act.

Kansas senator delays Amtrak board nominations, wants SW Chief commitment

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas is putting a delay on the consideration by the U.S. Senate of three nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors and wants a solid commitment from the carrier that the long-distance Southwest Chief route will be preserved.

Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson has arranged a meeting later in May with Moran and other senators who represent states that host the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles route to discuss the Southwest Chief’s future, according to a report published by the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The three Amtrak board nominees are Rick Dearborn, Joseph Gruters and former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland. SMART TD opposes Westmoreland’s nomination.

The future of the Southwest Chief has been uncertain with Amtrak leadership first targeting it because of Positive Train Control concerns and a proposed “bus bridge” being looked at as an option to avoid placing the technology on some trackage. Last year, U.S. senators had to pressure the carrier to continue the route, which serves many rural areas, through the 2019 fiscal year.

Read the full story on the Topeka Capital-Journal website.