Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

Amtrak furloughs could be avoided with proper action in Congress

Amtrak, despite having been given $1 billion in funding under the CARES Act to prevent furloughs as a result of COVID-19, has announced that more than 500 – 509 to be exact – SMART members are targeted to be furloughed, effective Oct. 1.

Carrier leadership announced Sept. 1 that approximately 1,950 unionized jobs are being targeted by Amtrak’s latest cost-cutting measures, which come on the heels of voluntary buyouts from earlier this year and a reduction in service on a number of long-distance routes.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has rocked the global economy. However, some countries have it under control and can focus on virus containment and economic recovery while others, such as the United States, are seeing cases continue to rise (more than 6 million nationwide) along with deaths attributed to the virus (approaching 200,000).

“It is our hope to recall furloughed employees as soon as business conditions or funding permits,” Amtrak wrote in its notification of the furloughs.

But will additional funding for Amtrak materialize? There’s a transportation bill – The Moving Forward Act (or HR 2, which contains the INVEST Act) — sitting before the Senate that provides funding for Amtrak that could have averted these furloughs. However, Republican leaders and White House staff declared the bill dead on arrival after it was passed by the House.

“This week, another 2,000 workers learned that they will be losing their jobs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This time it is largely Amtrak employees who operate trains, provide onboard services, and support passengers who will bear the brunt of this administration’s failure to lead the country during this pandemic. The jobs at the center of today’s announcement are good paying, union jobs that sustain middle class families and will be difficult to replace, especially in a time of sky-high unemployment,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “In July, I led the House in passing the Moving Forward Act, which tripled funding for Amtrak to nearly $29 billion. Later that month, the House also approved transportation appropriations legislation that provided $10 billion for Amtrak, including emergency appropriations that contained protections to prevent the furloughing of workers. In fact, our Committee will soon be hearing from workers who are impacted by these furloughs. It’s time for Republicans in the Senate to stop sitting on these important bills and do their job to protect Amtrak employees and so many others currently in need.”
Next week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials will be holding a hearing on Amtrak’s response to the COIVD-19 pandemic. On the docket to be discussed are these furloughs and the carrier’s reduction in service, among others.

Our union is working hand-in-hand with the subcommittee and with receptive members in Congress to see that these cuts are reversed.

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure that this nation’s decision makers are fully aware of the ongoing events at Amtrak and the devastating effects they’re poised to have on our membership,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “One branch of Congress has already greenlit the money. It’s time for the Senate and the White House to do the same.”

Court vacates FRA approval of KCSM engineer certification

WASHINGTON, D.C., (August 28, 2020) — A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has vacated Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approval of the Kansas City Southern Railway (KCSR) certification program under which locomotive engineers employed by a contractor of Kansas City Southern de México (“KCSM”) have been permitted to operate over Texas Mexican Railway (Tex-Mex) tracks in the United States since July 10, 2018. Under the decision, the matter has been remanded to FRA “either to ‘offer a fuller explanation of the agency’s reasoning at the time of the agency action,’ or to ‘deal with the problem afresh by taking new agency action.’”

This ruling followed a challenge by the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (“SMART–TD”) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to the agency’s actions in approving the certification program.

The court agreed with the unions’ position, holding that FRA “fail[ed] to provide a reasoned explanation for its approval of the materially altered engineer certification program administered by one of the railroads.” The court further held that KCSM was under a statutory and regulatory obligation to have its own engineer certification program, which requirements FRA failed to enforce, finding that:

“By virtue of the Railroad Administration’s passive approval system and the complete absence of any accompanying explanation for the agency’s approval of [KCSR’s] modified engineer certification program, the administrative record is devoid of any explanation or reasoning for the administrative steps taken and legal determinations made by the agency in approving the engineer certification program. Likewise, in searching the administrative record for the rationale by which the agency allowed [KCSR] to certify the engineers of another railroad, despite the former’s apparent lack of control over [KCSM’s] crew members, we come up empty-handed. And in a hunt for the reason that service under a foreign regulatory system was credited to allow an abbreviated certification program, we hear only crickets.

* * *

“… what we confront in this case is a total explanatory void. There is no reason — not one word — in the administrative record for the Railroad Administration’s material and consequential decisionmaking on important matters of railroad safety. Not even [KCSR’s] certification program itself, as submitted to the agency, provides an explanation for the relevant determinations that the Agency presumably reached.”

However, the Court declined to rule on several other objections made by the unions that related to conductor certification, transfer of the air brake testing waiver in place for northbound trains, and inadequacy of hours-of-service recordkeeping, finding that there had been no final agency action so the Court lacked jurisdiction to address these objections. In doing so, the Court acknowledged FRA’s “shadowy and unwritten processes make it difficult for aggrieved parties to navigate the … jurisdictional constraints.”

SMART–TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce applauded the decision.

“We congratulate the court for exposing just how much FRA has become captive to the railroad industry,” the presidents said. “This is a significant victory for Tex-Mex crewmembers, but is just one skirmish in the war to preserve well-paying American jobs. We also thank all the counsel who worked so hard on this case, especially Special Counsel Kathy Krieger for an outstanding job.”

###

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 nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Video in DNC’s first night highlights relationship between Biden, SMART retiree

Gregg B. Weaver, a retired member of SMART-TD Local 898 who rode with former Vice President Joe Biden many times during the longtime senator’s commute from Delaware to Washington D.C., was featured in a video presented Monday, Aug. 17, during the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

In the video, the former vice president’s respect and empathy toward the SMART members who served him as he traveled on Amtrak were highlighted.

“I think he’s most comfortable around everyday, working-class people,” Weaver said. “He makes you feel like you belong.”

SMART-TD member Gregg Weaver, right, introduces Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the Wilmington, Del., Amtrak station in January 2009.

Weaver has had a long relationship with the former senator and vice president, even introducing Biden and former President Barack Obama as they took a train ride to their first inauguration in January 2008 as featured in the February 2009 issue of the SMART-TD News.

Another instance of Biden’s concern came after he heard that Weaver had had a heart attack, Weaver recalled in the video.

“I was in a barber shop in New York City and the phone rings,” Weaver said. “And sure enough, it’s Vice President Biden asking how I’m doing — wanted to know the whole story. Kind of funny that you’re talking to the Vice President of the United States, but if I would have told the people in the barber shop, I don’t think they would have believed me.

“I’m not saying like it was me and I’m anything special. Everyone was special to him. We have heroes all over this country … the average guy is important to him.”

United Rail Unions sue to block carriers from modifying Healthcare benefits without bargaining

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 7, 2020) — On August 5, 2020, 12 rail unions whose members and their families are covered by the NRC/UTU Plan and the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan filed suit against the nation’s Class I railroad carriers in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The suit asks the court to force the carriers to bargain in good faith with the unions over mandatory subjects of bargaining. The involved issues have been the subject of collective bargaining for decades and are in fact part of the carriers’ bargaining notices served on November 1, 2019, pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). At issue are carrier attempts to restrict access to certain medications and to forcibly reconfigure health care networks.

The unions are: the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Mechanical Division; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the National Conference of Fireman & Oilers District, Local 32BJ, SEIU; the Transportation Communications Union/IAM; and the Transport Workers Union.

The rail carriers are: BNSF Railway Company; Kansas City Southern Railway Company; CSX Transportation; Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company; Norfolk Southern Railway Company; Soo Line Railway Company; and Union Pacific Railway Company. Also named in the suit is the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), whose National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) is the designated bargaining agent of the railroads.

The unions have asked the court to:

  • issue a declaratory judgment that the carriers are obligated to bargain in good faith with the unions on proposed health and welfare changes in accordance with the collective bargaining procedures outlined under the RLA;
  • issue a declaratory judgment that health and welfare plan design changes are a mandatory subject of collective bargaining pursuant to the RLA;
  • issue a declaratory judgment that the NRLC may not force plan design changes upon its employees without the agreement of the unions, to be achieved through the mandatory dispute resolution process of the RLA;
  • issue an order enjoining the NRLC from trying to force these health and welfare changes via arbitration rather than addressing them in collective bargaining; and
  • issue an order requiring the NRLC to engage in good faith negotiations with the unions over their proposed health and welfare changes through the RLA’s major dispute resolution procedures.

The chief executives of the 12 unions issued the following statement concerning the lawsuit:

The railroads’ attempt to evade their legal obligation to bargain on these issues of great importance to our members has left us with no choice but to enforce these legal rights in court. If implemented without successfully negotiated application, the carriers’ proposals could be extremely harmful to our members and their families. Even more outrageous, the process they are attempting to impose would allow rail carriers to reduce employees’ access to medicines and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. When they should be rewarding the contributions of their essential employees with hazard pay, the rail carriers instead attempt to reduce medical benefits when they are needed most. Events like these are why railroad managers were labeled as “Robber Barons” over a century ago; their actions today are proof positive that the label still applies. Unfortunately for working class Americans, this is the way of many corporations across the country in Donald Trump’s America; essential employees are treated as expendable employees. We will not stand idly by while management attacks the core legal rights our members enjoy.

Updates will be provided as developments warrant.

Read this release in PDF form.
Read the case filing. (PDF)

Update from RRB Labor member on NRRIT investments

Railroad Retirement Board Labor Member John Bragg released the following message on Aug. 4:

Brothers and Sisters:

RRB Labor Member John Bragg

In my last update on July 9, 2020, I informed you of correspondence that the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) received from the White House alleging that the National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust (NRRIT) was investing in companies which posed national security threats and raised humanitarian concerns. We were assured by NRRIT that it was not investing in these companies and that it has screening processes in place that identify those companies so that it does not and will not invest in them. Given the seriousness of the allegations, the RRB Board members assured the White House that a follow up with NRRIT would occur. The RRB Board Members sent a letter to NRRIT, again sharing some concerns, and followed up with a conference call on July 29th. NRRIT formally responded to the concerns raised in a letter dated July 30, 2020. That letter is attached for your viewing.

I want to reiterate that our trust fund is stable and NRRIT’s investments are producing the returns needed to ensure the stability of the fund well into the future. Every railroader has the right to retire with financial security and a sense of dignity. The RRB, with the help of NRRIT and its investments, helps ensure that right.

John Bragg,
Labor Member, Railroad Retirement Board

 

SMART-TD, unions, transit agencies call on congressional leaders to provide emergency aid to public transportation

The SMART Transportation Division was among the 36 signatories in a letter sent Aug. 4 calling on leaders in Congress to provide $36 billion in emergency aid to public transportation agencies as the economy continues to be staggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter delivered a stark warning to lawmakers: without at least $32 billion in emergency funding, transit systems in both urban and rural areas face irreversible harm. In the letter, the organizations explained that physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on demand for public transportation services. This, in turn, has placed a major strain on funding sources public transportation agencies traditionally rely on, including farebox revenue and sales tax receipts.

The text of the letter appears below:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:

On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation every day, the 435,000 frontline workers who operate and maintain those systems, and the public transportation agencies that serve communities across America, we urge you to include at least $32 billion in funding for public transportation in the next COVID-19 emergency response bill.

As you know, physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on overall demand for public transportation services. This has placed a major strain on the revenue sources public transportation agencies count on for continued operations, including farebox revenue and sales taxes. Nonetheless, throughout this crisis, millions of Americans have continued to depend on reliable and safe public transportation to get to and from work and for other essential services.

Without robust public transit systems in our urban and rural communities alike, the national economy will not be able to recover. As recently reported in The New York Times, some public transit systems are in danger of heading into a “transit death spiral” where evaporating revenues lead to cuts in services, which in turn cause riders to find alternative means of transportation if they can, further incapacitating transit systems to the point where they become insolvent and inoperable. Communities and transit agencies of all sizes are hurting, and critical emergency funding must be made available immediately to avoid a worsening crisis.

Millions of essential workers bravely fighting on the front lines of this pandemic have no other means of transportation. Healthcare, grocery, and other workers will be put at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. And families who rely on transit for transportation to pick up food, get to work, and meet their health care needs will be left stranded. Likewise, Americans who depend on paratransit service and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for critical care services will lose their only transportation lifeline. Seniors, communities of color, and other groups who disproportionately rely on transit will be particularly hard-hit, further weakening our country at the worst possible time.

Unfortunately, if Congress does not provide the necessary funding for public transportation in the immediate future, the traveling public will suffer. Allowing vital transportation services to lapse in the middle of a global pandemic will guarantee more harm to our communities and place the economic well-being of the American public in jeopardy.

Our communities across the country are depending on you to act swiftly and decisively to save public transit. This will require an immediate investment of at least $32 billion in our transit systems. We urge you to include this funding in the next aid package.

Sincerely,

Amalgamated Transit Union
Active Transit Alliance (Chicago, IL)
American Public Transportation Association
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Better Bus Coalition (Cincinnati, OH)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
Central Ohio Transit Authority (Columbus, OH)
Center for Disability Rights (Rochester, NY / Washington, DC)
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago, IL)
Circulate San Diego
Coalition for Smarter Growth (Washington, DC)
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Investing in Place (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (Los Angeles, CA)
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston, Texas)
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York, NY)
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Riders Alliance (New York, NY)
San Francisco Transit Riders
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
Sound Transit (Seattle, WA)
The Street Trust (Portland, OR)
Transit Forward Philadelphia
Transit Matters (Boston, MA)
Transportation for America
Transportation Communications Union/IAM
Transport Workers Union
Tri-State Transportation Campaign (NY, NJ, CT)
Transportation Choices Coalition (Seattle, WA)
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Washington, D.C.)

A PDF version of the letter also is available.

SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA urge Supreme Court to protect FELA

The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys (ARLA) have filed a joint motion and brief urging the United States Supreme Court to prevent railroads from seeking property damages from their employees who are involved in railroad accidents.

The joint amicus curiae brief was filed in the case of Melvin Ammons and Darrin Riley v. Wisconsin Central, Ltd. Following a 2014 derailment, Conductor Ammons and engineer Riley filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), claiming the carrier had failed to provide a safe place to work resulting in injuries to them. In its counter claim, Wisconsin Central blamed Ammons and Riley for causing the accident. The carrier further argued that the crew acted in a negligent manner and sought damages from the employees in excess of $1 million for damage to railroad property.

In their brief, SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA argue that to allow a railroad to recover property damages from employees following an accident is an unlawful device that permits the railroad to evade its own legal liability, and will create a potential catastrophe in the railroad industry because the safety-reinforcing purpose of FELA will be destroyed.

“No tactic by the railroads has more potential for destroying employees’ rights — the exclusive remedial recourse available to railroad employees — under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (‘FELA’ or the ‘Act’) than allowing a railroad to seek property damages from an employee arising out of an accident,” the group wrote in its amicus brief.

Congress created the FELA in 1908 with the “twin objectives of providing effective relief to railroad workers injured or killed because of their employer’s negligence and giving railroads an economic incentive to improve the safety of this nation’s railroads.” This remedial purpose was underscored by amendments to the Act in 1908 and numerous times thereafter.

The FELA prohibits a railroad from utilizing “any device whatsoever” to exempt itself from liability. SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA contend that seeking property damage from employees in the event of accidents is such a device, and one that would basically exempt railroads from liability.

It was explained to the Supreme Court that “[i]t was not the intention of Congress in enacting FELA, with the inclusion of ‘any device whatsoever,’ that by the device of a claim for property damages, a railroad may avoid financial liability for its negligence, collect damages from an employee or drive an employee to bankruptcy, and whether it be the collection of damages or employee bankruptcy, dissuade other employees from filing FELA claims.”

SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA also argue that allowing employees to be sued for property damages would jeopardize safety in the railroad industry and discourage future safety improvements. In its brief, the group wrote: “Congress’ purpose in enacting FELA was to shift the cost of the ‘human overhead’ of railroading from the injured employees to their railroad employers. Allowing railroads to offset their FELA liability by shifting these losses back to the employees through property damage claims frustrates that Congressional design and jeopardizes the safety of the nation’s rail system.”

A copy of the amicus brief can be found here (PDF).

AFL-CIO TTD’s letter petitions U.S. DOT for passenger face mask mandate

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.

Dear Secretary Chao:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry[1], I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.[2]

Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.

While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.

These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.[3] [4] The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.

As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage.[5] DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines [6] and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations.[7] Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.

Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them.[8] In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. [9]

Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive.[10] While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.

This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.

However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.

We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.”[11] In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.

Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”. [12] The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.

While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.

In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:

“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.

We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.

While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.

Sincerely,

Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department

PDF Version

[1] Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.

[2] To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/20/more-than-half-of-us-states-have-statewide-mask-mandates.html

[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/18/892677119/world-sets-daily-record-in-new-coronavirus-cases

[5] TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.

[6] For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01

[7] For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators

[8] Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.

[9] Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.

[10] Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.

[11] 71 FR 8042

In letter, RRB responds to White House foreign investment allegations

A letter issued from the Labor Member of the Railroad Retirement Board, John Bragg, addressed criticism by White House staff leveled toward RRB regarding investments in Chinese enterprises. Bragg’s response is reproduced below and links to supporting documentation are also available in the text below.

July 9, 2020

Brothers and Sisters:

As many of you may know, our retirement trust fund is one of the healthiest in the country. The National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust (NRRIT), manages and makes the investment decisions of the railroad retirement funds and to date has helped produce returns that secure our trust fund well into the future. NRRIT is an independent non-federal entity governed by a seven-member Board, with three selected by rail management, three selected by rail labor, and one independent trustee selected by the six rail trustees. The best interest of the trust fund and the security that it provides to the rail community is always at the forefront of their duties.

However, just this week, the Chairman of the RRB received a letter from Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council, along with National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien expressing concerns over NRRIT’s investment in Chinese companies. The letter alleged that NRRIT was investing in two Chinese companies specifically that pose an economic risk to the trust funds of railroad employees. NRRIT had already assured us last month that it did not hold any interest in the companies named in the letter.

Chairman Chorlé responded to the inquiry from Mr. Kudlow and Mr. O’Brien yesterday with the concurrence of Management Member Jayne and myself. I assure you that we, along with NRRIT, are taking the inquiry very seriously. A copy of the letter and our response is attached for your viewing.

John Bragg,

RRB Labor Member

H.R. 2 passes U.S. House and moves to Senate

H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that contains provisions important to members of all crafts in the SMART Transportation Division and to sheet metal workers, passed through the U.S. House of Representatives by a 233-188 vote on July 1.

A major component of this bill is the INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in late June.

H.R. 2 contains:

  • a two-person freight crew requirement
  • bus and transit operator safety measures
  • blocked-rail-crossing enforcement
  • a cross-border solution
  • yardmaster hours of service
  • additional funding for Amtrak
  • requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines and to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to transportation workers

“This is an unprecedented step ahead for many of our union’s major issues through the legislative process,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Our concerns were heard and addressed by the writers of this bill — safety for workers and communities alike in the bus and transit operator safety measures and in the crew-size provision, funding for Amtrak, and a number of other provisions intended to rebuild and transform the nation’s roads and rails.

“Federal agencies and big-pocketed lobbyists have tried to obstruct the essential protections that this bill provides to our members and to the people who work on, live near and use our nation’s transportation network. These representatives all had the foresight and initiative to move them forward.”

Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), earlier in the week had an op-ed published that was highly critical of the legislation, targeting the two-person crew portion and one that dealt with study of potential rail transport of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) specifically, saying the bill “woefully missed the mark.”

In the column, Jefferies also argued that legislators were “putting their collective thumbs on the scale” regarding railroad safety in regulating the crew-size safety issue.

The INVEST in America component of the Moving Forward Act was shepherded by House T&I Chairperson Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, through the committee June 18. He commented on July 1 after the bill’s passage:

“Passage of this bold, forward-thinking infrastructure bill is proof that finally, there is a majority of us in Congress who won’t accept the status quo and instead are willing to fight for a new vision that invests in our communities, addresses the climate crisis, and creates better opportunities for all. And we get there by putting millions of people to work in jobs that cannot be exported, while harnessing American-made materials, ingenuity, and innovation,” he said. “With the Moving Forward Act, we make it clear that our infrastructure does not have to be a product of the past, with crumbling roads and bridges, unreliable transit and rail networks, inequitable outcomes, and little regard to our changing climate and our changing economy. I challenge my Senate colleagues to join the House in thinking big and being bold on long-overdue investments not only in our infrastructure, but also in the communities and the people we all represent.”

Leaders in the SMART-TD National Legislative Department thanked DeFazio and the bipartisan group of Democrats and a trio of Republicans who supported H.R. 2.

“As if we need any additional evidence that elections matter, this result shows that the 2018 change of party control in the House made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We appreciate those legislators who supported this legislation in its journey through the House. There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation, and our membership is more than willing to put in the time to make legislators understand why the bill provisions are necessary.”

The Moving Forward Act now moves to the United States Senate, where, according to Politico.com, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, called the bill “nonsense,” “absurd,” “pure fantasy” and vowed that it will die before getting to the White House, where the president has threatened to veto the bill.

TD General Chairperson Crawford’s op-ed in Tennessean supports Biden

General Chairperson Adren Crawford of GO-433 (Canadian National — Illinois Central) had the following op-ed column published in the Tennessean on June 26.

To anyone who thinks America’s labor unions aren’t relevant, think again.

In what has become both a sad and challenging time in our history, unions are more important than ever — and with Joe Biden as president, they’ll be stronger.

Crawford

Across the U.S., working men and women — union members — are responding to the COVID pandemic with the same courage and work ethic that built the middle class and made our country the most productive nation in the world.

For example, the United Auto Workers are now part of the healthcare system, with members building life-saving ventilators at Ford and General Motors.

United Food and Commercial Workers are keeping the shelves stocked, ensuring that we can put food on our tables and enjoy meals with our families.

Members of the Service Employees International Union are standing on the front lines in hospitals and clinics.

Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART) union members have worked tirelessly running freight trains to maintain the flow of goods — such as delivering chlorine-based disinfectants for water, enabling e-commerce, transporting food, and other essential products.

The list goes on.

Let’s take stock of this historic moment — and, as we march toward the other side of the COVID crisis, let’s recommit to organized labor.

Simply put: Union workers are our heroes right now.

The fact that they’re well-organized at this critical time allows them to push for the necessary personal protective equipment, safe working conditions, and overtime wages that they need in order to support all of us.

Union workers’ courage stands in stark contrast to the behavior of corporations and anti-labor politicians who have spent decades waging war on organizing and collective bargaining.

The predictable results: Stagnant wages, loss of pensions, and exploitation of workers.

As president, Joe Biden intends to correct these inequities.

He will:

• Check the abuse of corporate power and hold executives accountable.

This means penalizing employers who pretend to bargain with employee unions while sidestepping meaningful agreements with their workers and also ensuring that federal dollars don’t flow to employers who engage in union-busting activities.

• Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining.

This means extending the right to organize to independent contractors in a fast-growing segment of the economy, enforcing workplace rights for federal employees, and making sure that the National Labor Relations Board does its job in supporting workers.

• Ensure that employees receive the pay, benefits, and protections they deserve.

This means making the minimum wage an actual living wage, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to expand its enforcement of workplace-safety laws, and protecting undocumented immigrants who report labor violations.

Most importantly, Joe Biden knows that labor rights are civil rights and that the strength of unions is their diversity.

In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, we owe it to all of our brothers and sisters of color to listen, reflect on our own actions, and recommit ourselves to the fight for economic and social justice.

When we emerge stronger after the multiple crises facing our nation, let’s remember the critical role that the American labor movement played in both our economy and our society.

Finally, let’s support Joe Biden for president and renew our commitment to labor — and let us never forget the individual workers who pulled us through this crisis and led the fight for economic and social justice.

Adren Crawford is a general chairperson and proud member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers.

SMART endorses Joe Biden for president

Statement from SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. July 1, 2020

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) is pleased to endorse Vice President Joe Biden for President of the United States, following a unanimous vote of its General Executive Council.

Biden

The endorsement was informed by discussions with and feedback from SMART members and leaders from across the United States who met to discuss SMART issues and which candidate best supports them. Over the past four years, SMART leadership has also met with all the major presidential candidates from both parties, including the incumbent president, and had meaningful dialogue with them regarding issues impacting SMART members.

SMART has engaged with and listened to our members from coast to coast about their views and opinions regarding our union, their jobs and current events that affect their future. This effort was launched to ensure members have a say in shaping the course of our union as it proceeds to advance the needs and viewpoints of the membership.

Biden has a long history of engaging with SMART members and working families in both the sheet metal and transportation industries. The endorsement decision was based on Biden’s strong support of the concerns most important to our members, including the need for two-person railroad crews, retirement and pension security, protection of prevailing wages, and a prioritization of workplace safety. He also is dedicated to acting on a plan for real infrastructure work to enhance employment opportunities for current and future members in the industries SMART represents. SMART members have made it clear they can no longer wait after four years of empty promises for new infrastructure initiatives from the current administration.

From his early years working with local sheet metal workers as a County Commissioner in Delaware, to his frequent meetings with SMART Amtrak conductors during his commute back and forth to Washington, D.C., Joe Biden has been acutely aware of and engaged with the issues on the minds of our members.

After a series of discussions with Biden’s campaign staff, where members’ feedback and concerns were shared with the candidate, Vice President Biden took the time to respond with a video outlining his positions on the issues. His impassioned message in this video proves that Biden is the clear choice for our union and the membership.

SMART is highly engaged in the political process to ensure our issues are advanced and our members’ livelihoods are protected. We also strive to ensure union leadership is transparent and clear with our members when it comes to decisions in the electoral arena. We work to advance our members’ issues by advocating and educating on their behalf while supporting candidates, regardless of party, who stand with SMART members and for issues important to all working families.