Posts Tagged ‘2020 election’

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.

VP Biden Addresses SMART Members In New Video Message

SMART leadership has always been highly engaged in the political process. The focus has been to advocate on behalf of issues and candidates that actively support members and working family issues.

Since the 2016 election cycle, General President Joe Sellers has focused the Union’s efforts to listen to and address feedback from members on local, state and federal issues that affect them at work.  This means being transparent and clear with members when asked to support the candidates who most closely align with our issues.

During the past four years, SMART leadership has met with nearly all the presidential candidates and had meaningful dialog regarding our issues. Many of them, we have found, support the issues of importance to the membership of this Union.

One of these candidates is Vice President Joe Biden. SMART met with Vice President Biden’s team several times, all of them being very productive conversations. Vice President Biden, with a long history of interaction with members in both the sheet metal and transportation industries, is acutely aware and engaged in our issues. His team took what they learned from our conversations and created this video to allow the VP to speak directly to you about the issues you have raised concerns about and his position on them.

Rail workers of all unions urged to end RRB unemployment sequestration

U.S. rail unions have united in an effort to overturn the sequestration of Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits that was enacted by a GOP-held Congress during the Obama administration and continues to reduce the unemployment and sickness benefits of railroaders nearly a decade later.

A large bloc of the unions are represented by AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member.

A letter to U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent by the union coalition requested that they jointly co-sponsor language consistent with the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) to eliminate RUIA benefits from sequestration by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include RUIA among the other various programs that are not subject to sequestration. Portman, a Republican out of Cincinnati, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that will make a decision on sequestration.

“Unlike the average U.S. worker, railroad employees do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered unemployment insurance programs. Instead, unemployed railroaders receive these benefits through the RUIA program, which is administered by the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB),” TTD President Larry Willis said. “As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, RUIA (benefits) are subject to sequestration. No state unemployment insurance benefits in the country are subject to this unfair treatment.”

RUIA unemployment and sickness benefits are sequestered at 5.9%, and have been subject to reduction for nine years. These rates are adjusted when the federal sequestration is recalculated yearly.

Railroaders are urged to call Portman at (202) 224-3353 to tell him to exclude RRB sickness and unemployment benefits from those reductions.

Read the unions’ joint letter to the senators.

Facts about the INVEST in America Act’s 2PC provision

To help combat the spread of misinformation concerning the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity has provided the following facts regarding the two-person crew provision in the bill.

The INVEST Act delivers on Two-Person crews

The INVEST Act, as written, requires a certified locomotive engineer and certified conductor on most freight trains. According to the bill, there are instances that a train may be operated with a reduced crew. Exceptions are listed below:

A freight train may be operated with a reduced crew, if:

  • The train operations are within a rail yard, terminal area, or on auxiliary or industry track
  • It does not exceed a maximum speed of 25 mph on territory with an average track grade of less than 2% for any segment of track that is at least two continuous miles
  • The locomotives are performing assistance to a train that has incurred mechanical failure or lacks the power to traverse difficult terrain, including to or from the location where assistance is provided
  • The locomotives are not attached to any equipment (except a caboose) and do not travel further than 30 miles from a rail yard
  • A location where one-person operations were being utilized one year prior to the date of enactment of this bill, only if the DOT Secretary determines that the operation achieves an equivalent level of safety (Note: The Secretary of the DOT is appointed by the President of the United States)

SHORT LINE EXCEPTION

In addition to the above, a train may be operated with a reduced crew, if:

  • The carrier has fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and an annual revenue of less than $20,000,000

A TRAIN MUST BE OPERATED BY A TWO-PERSON CREW (NO EXCEPTION), IF:

  • It is transporting one or more loaded cares carrying material toxic by inhalation
  • It is carrying 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block
  • It has 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid throughout its consist
  • It is 7,500 feet in length or longer

The INVEST Act is poised to be the most significant piece of rail-related legislation this generation of railroaders has seen since the passage of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970.

INVEST in America Act officially introduced by DeFazio

Washington, D.C. – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) last week officially introduced the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act during a pro forma session in the House. The INVEST in America Act, a 5-year, nearly $500 billion investment in our nation’s infrastructure, is a key component of the Moving Forward Framework that House Democrats released earlier this year. After Committee leaders unveiled the bill text Wednesday, June 3rd, support started pouring in from a diverse array of transportation, environmental, worker, and safety advocates.

DeFazio

What advocates from around the country are saying about the INVEST in America Act:

“We applaud Chairman Peter DeFazio for listening to the needs of workers represented by SMART Transportation Division, and responding accordingly. By providing robust funding for infrastructure, passenger rail, and transit, as well as the inclusion of smart transportation policy, the Invest in America Act represents a bold step forward for our members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD.

“Title V of the INVEST in America Act is the most significant piece of railroad legislation since the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) National President Dennis R. Pierce said.

“Past reauthorizations have been an exercise in spending more money and magically wishing for better outcomes with outdated policy, which was always foolish,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America. “With this new proposal from Chairman DeFazio, the INVEST in America Act, the House is charting a welcome course toward updating our country’s 1950’s approach to transportation.”

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), on behalf of the entire public transportation industry, would like to thank House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Dan Lipinski (D-IL) for their extraordinary leadership in crafting the INVEST in America Act. We strongly support the bill and its critical investments for surface transportation infrastructure, including $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak, and other high-performance rail.”

“For too long, the needs of professional drivers and others who work in the transportation sector have been ignored by lawmakers,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said. “This legislation will set the nation on the right path by making badly needed infrastructure improvements while also ensuring that workers are protected on the job.”

“On behalf of ATA members helping move 71 percent of our nation’s freight, we applaud Chairman DeFazio for fulfilling his commitment to produce a comprehensive infrastructure bill, and we look forward to working with House Ways & Means Chairman Neal to fund it—with real money,” American Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Spear.

“The National League of Cities thanks Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, for proposing legislation that eases the impacts of COVID-19 on critical transportation projects in our cities, towns, and villages. The INVEST Act would provide increased federal support for next year’s transportation projects, grow strategic transit and rail investments over the next five years and improve intergovernmental collaboration.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) applauds House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio for today’s introduction of the INVEST in America Act. Chairman DeFazio is a traffic safety champion and has made saving lives a priority in this legislation.”

Stephanie Gidigbi, director of policy and partnerships for NRDC’s (Natural Resources Defense Council) Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program: “For too many years, funding from Washington has built roads and highways that divided low-income communities and communities of color without offering the transportation alternatives all of us can use. The INVEST Act offers a different path, one that leads to a more just, equitable, and climate-resilient future. Crucially, this bill ensures all communities have access to pedestrian, biking and transit options. It also will help us slash carbon pollution by investing in electric-vehicle charging stations, while ensuring that roads, bridges and transit lines are able to withstand the stronger storms and floods we must prepare for because of climate change.”

“The National Safety Council applauds House lawmakers for the INVEST in America Act, the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. For too long, the United States has consistently avoided the hard choices needed to save lives on the roadways. This proposal is an opportunity for us to start making the right choices so we can save lives, because we know that all traffic deaths are preventable.”

“The Coalition for America’s Gateways & Trade Corridors (CAGTC) applauds the INVEST in America Act’s continuation of dedicated investment in our nation’s freight assets, first through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Program (INFRA) in Fiscal Year 2021, then through the Projects of National and Regional Significance Program (PNRS) through the remaining years of the proposal. Competitive grant programs are essential to funding large-scale goods movement infrastructure projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional distribution methods such as formula programs.”

“Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cure for COVID-19. But, we do have proven and available safety solutions to address the preventable fatalities and injuries occurring on our Nation’s roadways year after year,” said Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). “We commend Chairman DeFazio, Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) for sponsoring the INVEST in America Act and advancing important safety countermeasures.”  Advocates looks forward to working with the Committee as our review of this legislation continues.

ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt: “As the association that promotes technology to reduce fatalities, congestion and emissions, ITS America is gratified to see so many positive aspects in the bill that will lead to more research in and deployment of technology, including increasing access to mobility services by making Mobility on Demand an eligible activity under transit programs.”

 “We commend Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) for leading the effort to address our nation’s transportation needs, including the costly backlog of transportation projects in our parks,” said Emily Douce of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Together we want to ensure park visitors can continue to experience and enjoy these places now, and for years to come.”

“The INVEST Act reflects more than a year of advocacy by the League, our partners, and our members to push for a future where our transportation system works better for all people, especially people biking and walking,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists.

“We know that the INVEST Act can make a difference in transportation equity across the country and the Safe Routes Partnership looks forward to supporting its passage and implementation for Safe Routes to Schools, to parks, to healthy food, and so many other essential parts of our lives,” said Cassandra Isidro, executive director of Safe Routes Partnership.

Railway Supply Institute (RSI) President Mike O’Malley: “This legislation will provide over $60 billion in much-needed funding to support substantive improvements to rail infrastructure across the country, including $29 billion for Amtrak and $19 billion for passenger rail improvement, modernization, and expansion projects. We also commend inclusion of strong funding levels for federal transit and grade crossing safety programs.  These investments will enhance safety for millions of passengers, preserve thousands of jobs, and support our domestic supply chain at this critical time.”

“On behalf of The Bus Coalition (TBC) and its members, I applaud the historic level of bus transit funding included in Chairman DeFazio’s reauthorization proposal. Buses are the backbone of transit service across America providing more than one-half of all trips on public transportation. Our customers rely on buses daily to access jobs, health care, education, and other critical destinations. The level of investment included in the bill will go a long way toward upgrading and replacing our aging and shrinking bus fleets, boost economic growth and help enhance bus service in all communities across the country,” said The Bus Coalition President Bill Carpenter.

CTAA [Community Transportation Association of America] members provide critical trips and support their vulnerable populations by acting as a lifeline. The record level of investment proposed in this bill would not only allow our rural, tribal, specialized and small-urban transit providers to continue meeting demand, but explore new and innovative ways to better serve their communities, said Scott Bogren, Executive Director of CTAA. “We applaud this bill’s important emphasis on improved bus operations and capital investment, the incorporation of meaningful improvements to procurement and vehicle disposition, and the focus on transit services for low-income and persistent poverty communities.”

“Through the INVEST in America Act, the House T&I Committee tackles many of the most critical issues facing America’s transportation system—including safety, climate and maintenance,” said Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s vice president of policy. “The bill recognizes and advances policies to address the tragic and growing number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities that occur on our roads and it creates incentives to cut carbon emissions.  It makes active transportation eligible for many programs and increases dedicated investment in trails, walking and biking programs to more than $1.5 billion a year—allocating resources to the nation’s fundamental active transportation funding programs like Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, while ensuring that Transportation Alternatives funding remains dedicated to its intended purpose in all states. Especially exciting is a new investment to connect walking and biking facilities within our communities and between regions.”

For a running list of supporters and more information about the INVEST in America Act, click here.

A message from President Ferguson on the INVEST in America Act

March 20, 2020

All Members — SMART Transportation Division

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today, House Democrats released the text of a $500 billion five-year funding authorization bill that defines their vision for the future of transportation in America, as well as outlines their plans to refresh and renew the infrastructure of the nation’s surface transportation network.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act is the result of countless hours of work by this Union on the Hill and in the halls of Congress. The INVEST in America Act reauthorizes funding set to expire Sept. 30, but more so, sets standards for safety, training, and transportation reform that have long been sought by the members of SMART Transportation Division including:

  • Two-Person Crews;
  • Operator Assault;
  • Yardmaster Hours of Service
  • a “Cross Border” fix.

Additionally, Amtrak would see its funding triple to $29 billion over the five-year period of the bill, allowing for expansion of national, state and regional routes and facility modernization. Funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program also would be increased to $7 billion to fund passenger and freight rail projects. Provisions for/or against the transportation of liquid natural gas (LNG) via rail tank cars, blocked railroad crossings, and excessive freight train length, among others, also have been included.

Our National Legislative Office has been hard at work in Washington, D.C., to convey our issues to both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House and Senate, and the provisions within this bill are the fruits of that labor.

Undoubtedly, House Democrats have heard our cries and have answered the call. By including our issues within the context of this bill, they have let America know that the only safe operation of a Class I freight train is with a two-person crew; that our bus drivers and operators have the right to a safe work environment; and that the public should be shielded from the risks that rail carriers will take in the name of greed.

But make no mistake, this bill still has a long road to travel and a lot of heavy-handed opposition standing before it in the Republican-controlled Senate. We will need all hands on deck to protect the provisions we have all fought so hard for to survive that journey.

I am asking you to please watch this bill as it moves through the legislative process and see who and what hurdles it faces. I’m asking you to please pay attention to the party affiliations of the individuals as the yeas and nays are registered when the bill is voted upon. And I am asking you to listen to the rhetoric and testimony that will affect its final appearance. Once the dust has settled, I will call on you to please support those who support you and your family’s well-being, and I firmly believe that picture will be crystal clear.

There are only two parties at the table. The Democrats wrote it into the bill, only the Republicans will take it out.

Fraternally yours,

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

ABOUT THE INVEST IN AMERICA ACT

FRA extension of safety waivers to railroads puts U.S. through another two months of risk

CLEVELAND, Ohio (May 27, 2020) — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extended safety waivers granted to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic recently, again favoring the material concerns of the carriers over the safety of America’s rail workers and of the general public.

The extension runs until the earlier of when the emergency declaration is lifted, or 60 days from letters dated May 21 to the AAR and ASLRRA by the agency governing safety on America’s railroads. The broad waivers concerning numerous safety regulations and training requirements were initially set to expire beginning May 24, 29 and June 9.

The leaders of two of America’s largest rail unions, the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), objected to the lengthening of these waivers that they had described as “alarming” when first initiated.

“The agency continues a pattern of FRA appeasement to the carriers,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “Essential safety tasks once again are being deferred with regulators’ blessings while the agency could not be bothered to enact an emergency order to hold carriers accountable to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention minimum health and safety standards for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The waiver extension, granted nine days after the AAR’s petition to renew, cover regulations governing:

  • Periodic track inspections
  • Training
  • Quick tie-ups
  • Locomotive and conductor certification
  • Territorial qualifications

Conversely, SMART-TD and the BLET jointly petitioned FRA to respond to the pandemic multiple times in March seeking emergency orders to improve working conditions and to better protect workers from potential infection by requiring carriers to adhere to basic CDC protocols. The agency, however, declined to put its full regulatory power on the side of protecting essential transportation workers.

“The continued pattern of rubber-stamping requests by carriers while unabashedly coming up short for the essential workers who have continued to show up and work through the pandemic shows where FRA’s priorities are,” the union presidents said.

###

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.

Three House leaders reject removal of acting DOT inspector general

U.S. Reps Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Peter A. DeFazio, chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Gerald E. Connolly, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao opposing President Donald Trump’s removal of former Acting Inspector General Mitch Behm and demanding he be reinstated immediately.

“We oppose President Trump’s removal of long-time public servant Mitch Behm from his position as Acting Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and urge that he be immediately reinstated,” the Chairs wrote to Chao. “Mr. Behm’s removal is the latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General by President Trump. This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Eliott

On May 15, 2020, President Trump designated Howard R. Elliott, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), to replace Mr. Behm while Mr. Elliott keeps his political post at PHMSA at the same time. Mr. Elliott appears to have no investigatory or law enforcement experience. He is a former executive for CSX Transportation. In contrast, Mr. Behm has served in the office since 2003 and has received numerous awards for his contributions to audits and reviews.

Maloney, DeFazio, and Connolly also sent a letter to Mr. Elliott raising concerns about the conflicts of interest created by his simultaneous roles as PHMSA administrator and acting inspector general.

“This inherent conflict of interest would prohibit you from having the independence necessary to conduct fair and rigorous oversight of the Department and the Secretary,” the chairs wrote to Elliott. “Your dual appointment could severely chill whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Inspector General because whistleblowers might fear that their identities could become known to an official still serving in the Department. It also may chill communication within the Office of Inspector General if auditors or investigators are concerned that you will share information with Secretary Chao before it is appropriate.”

In their letters, the chairs requested information regarding ongoing audits, inspections, investigations, evaluations, reviews, or other engagements, as well as any communications regarding the removal of Mr. Behm and Mr. Elliott’s qualifications for Inspector General by June 1, 2020.

TD leaders meet with DeFazio about carriers’ and agencies’ lax COVID-19 response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson and National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes met with U.S. Rep. and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) earlier this week, alerting him to carriers’ inadequate efforts to protect essential transportation workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

DeFazio

President Ferguson told the chairman about field reports from SMART-TD members that some bus, transit carriers and freight railroads are failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as CDC-approved cleaning supplies and cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Federal agencies also have not taken substantial regulatory action to protect our members who are deemed essential workers through this national emergency, they told DeFazio.

Ferguson made particular note to the chairman about the freight rail industry, where the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) activated an emergency docket pushed by Class I carriers and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) that cuts corners on inspections and safety measures in reaction to the pandemic.

Ferguson informed DeFazio that these measures are intended to be enacted in the event there is a workforce shortage caused directly by COVID-19. However, worker furloughs are “at the highest level ever,” and none of those emergency provisions should take effect until all furloughed workers are activated, our leadership said.

Chairman DeFazio was “attentive to our requests and is acutely aware of transportation workers’ needs” through the pandemic, NLD Hynes said.

“He’s fully aware of the shortcomings of the carriers’ and federal agencies’, especially FRA’s and FTA’s failed response to our COVID-19 requests for action through our Emergency Order petition,” Hynes said.

Lives at risk as FRA continues to limit its response on coronavirus safety

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 15) — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on April 10 denied requests submitted by labor Organizations which, if approved, would have provided critical protections for railroad employees during the ongoing national COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, according to the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

“Although FRA believes that many safety precautions included in the Petitions could constitute best practices that should be applied in the railroad industry…” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory in his response to the Organizations, “…FRA does not believe that an emergency order is justified.” Meanwhile, FRA is standing behind its decision to approve sweeping emergency relief requests submitted by rail carriers.

Previously, in an April 2 letter to SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce, FRA Administrator Batory defended his agency’s approval of a wide-ranging 60-day waiver that suspends or delays scores of critical safety regulations. Yet, nowhere in his letter did Administrator Batory even acknowledge receipt of the unions’ separate requests for Emergency Orders for freight rail service and for passenger/commuter rail service — which were filed jointly by the two unions before the railroads filed their waiver petitions. A copy of his letter is available here (PDF).

In late March, the FRA granted a sweeping petition for a 60-day waiver of scores of critical safety regulations. On March 31, the unions called the waiver “alarming” and demanded clarification from the FRA.

“In their Emergency Relief requests, the carriers placed a strong emphasis on claims that manpower shortages either exist, or may exist, regardless of the fact that thousands of rail employees remain in furlough status,” SMART-TD President Ferguson said. “The FRA’s decision to issue waivers based on these bogus claims is disturbing, especially when the waivers apply to territorial qualifications, hours of service, and scope rules for certain crafts. It’s time to begin recalling furloughed employees and preparing for a worst-case scenario, rather than jeopardizing the safety of our crews, their households, and our communities.”

“It appears that the FRA has done nothing more than rubber-stamp a wish list from the rail carriers, absolving them from enforcing critical safety rules,” BLET President Pierce said. “Regardless of how Administrator Batory now describes FRA’s waiver, it has given a carte blanche invitation to the industry to ignore rules, and it will have a substantial chilling effect on safety if fully applied.”

The FRA has yet to mandate safety protocols to protect the health of railroad workers amid the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. In letters dated March 6 and March 20, SMART-TD and the BLET urged the FRA to issue an Emergency Order implementing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to help mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers. In his April 10 response, FRA Administrator Batory acknowledges that his administration is authorized to issue Emergency Orders when an “unsafe condition or practice, or combination of unsafe conditions and practices, causes an emergency situation involving a hazard of death, personal injury, or significant harm to the environment.” Nonetheless, Batory goes on to advise “…[COVID-19] challenges are not unique to the railroad industry, and thus not the type of rail safety issue where FRA would typically exercise its emergency order authority….” Rather than grant the Organizations’ requests for an Emergency Order, FRA published a Safety Advisory recommending that the railroads develop and implement practices consistent with Federal recommendations and CDC and OSHA guidelines.

“Over the centuries, our nation’s railroads have proven to us time and time again that they are incapable of responsible self-regulation,” President Ferguson said. “The FRA’s Safety Advisory is merely a recommendation to the railroads to provide our members the safe and sanitary working environment that they and their families deserve. This does not inspire confidence that the railroads will actually comply with these guidelines as written, and it will apparently now be up to us as labor to hold them accountable to those standards.”

“This Administration’s refusal to regulate worker safety stands in stark contrast to its actions to appease the railroad industry,” President Pierce said. “On a daily basis, railroad crews are being subjected to conditions that violate the CDC’s best practices for social distancing, sanitation, and cleanliness, and they are not provided the necessary tools to keep themselves safe, such as sanitizers, disinfectants and personal protective equipment. Our members put their lives on the line every day when they go to work, and the FRA must do more to protect their lives and their livelihoods.”

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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 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.