On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division bus and transportation members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed thousands of Americans.
“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that public and private entities continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection.”
This relief bill:
provides $16 billion in emergency assistance to transit agencies to cover operating costs and direct expenses (e.g., cleaning supplies) at a 100 percent federal share, while preventing the Federal Transit Administration from waiving important labor protections.
provides the Los Angeles Urbanized Area with $1,178,517,939 divided up among all the transit systems in the region (Los Angeles, Long Beach and parts of Orange County).
waives the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance.
provides an enhanced unemployment benefit of an additional $600 per two-week pay period.
ensures private insurance plans must cover testing for COVID-19 and any future vaccine without cost sharing.
prohibits foreclosures on federally backed mortgage loans for 60 days, and up to 180 days of forbearance for borrowers of a federally backed mortgage loan who has experienced a financial hardship related to COVID-19.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said at CES, an annual technology show in Las Vegas, that she plans to take steps toward creating policy guiding the development of self-driving transportation for trucks, buses, transit systems and trains. One of the steps that Chao plans to take toward creating this new policy is to deregulate these industries.
“I also want to take this opportunity to announce that the Department (DOT) will be seeking public input from across the transportation industry to identify existing barriers to innovation. This includes not only barriers that impact vehicles, but also impediments to innovations that can impact our highways, railroads, trains and motor carriers,” Chao said.
In response to Chao’s announcement, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch wrote in an email, “This rush to autonomous vehicles of all kinds should worry all transportation workers.
“We have been working with Congress to limit legislation on self-driving vehicles to automobiles and to not include buses and trucks. So far our efforts on that front have been successful,” Risch said. “We will continue to work on this issue, but the times they are a-changing.”
As part of Chao’s efforts to deregulate the transportation industry, notices for public comment have appeared in the Federal Register on behalf of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Click here to read the Request for Information on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System as published by the Federal Register – to be published 01/18
Click here to read the Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program as published in the Federal Register
Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation
Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles from the Federal Register
In November, the federal Department of Transportation finalized a rule that added four semi-synthetic opioids – hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone – to its testing regimen, despite opposition from a number of unions. Brand names of some of those opioids include OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, Dilaudid and Exalgo.
Employees who are tested for these drugs and cannot offer a legitimate medical explanation such as a prescription will be recorded as testing positive.
Employees who have a valid prescription and test positive will have their results downgraded to a negative.
Medical review officers (MROs) cannot deny the legitimacy of a prescription for the purpose of establishing a legitimate medical explanation for the positive test. However, the MRO retains the right to flag safety concerns.
Clarification of what a “valid prescription” is, especially regarding medication given to take “as needed” as opposed to one prescribed to be taken in a strict time frame is needed and could be affected by the discretion of the MRO.
The rule establishes three new “fatal flaws” to a test: 1. Absence of a Chain of Custody Form (CCF); 2. A specimen is not submitted along with the CCF; and 3. Two separate collections are performed using a single CCF.
Comments from the TTD opposed the cutoff levels established for a positive test, requested additional training for MROs, sought clearer guidelines to define what constituted a valid prescription and implementation of a process to challenge the findings of an MRO. These suggestions were disregarded. In addition, the DOT also ended its blind specimen testing program over the TTD’s objection.
Members should contact the SMART Transportation Department Legal Department if any issues or difficulties arise from this expansion to the DOT’s drug-testing protocols.
Seymour Kramer, 70, retired alternate vice president, bus – west, died January 20, 2017. Kramer began his career as a bus operator for Laidlaw Transit in San Francisco in 1970. As a member of Local 1741, he served as president, vice general chairperson, general chairperson and delegate.
In 1991, he was elected to the UTU’s executive board and in 1994, Kramer was appointed to the position of alternate vice president, bus – west by the UTU board of directors. He was elected to that position at the 1995 UTU convention. During his time as general chairperson and alt. vice president, Kramer assisted with many contract negotiations and assisted in organizing properties that are still part of the bus department today.
In 1996, Kramer left his post as alt. vice president and later served as a mediator for the California State Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Kramer is survived by his wife, Laurie Goldsmith; daughters Hannah and Sasha Kramer; sister Karen Florman and many friends.
The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, highlights the stark difference in how Clinton and Trump stand on transportation issues, underscoring how the outcome of this election may profoundly impact the health and future of transportation unions and all working families in America. Read the entire article here.
The Hill.com reported that just days after a backpack filled with explosives was found near a New Jersey train station, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), its ranking member, submitted a bill that would mandate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allocate funds to secure and protect rail and transit transportation hubs. Read the complete article here.
By John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m honored to serve as your elected National Legislative Director. I came from the ranks, starting in the track department on the Burlington Northern and went into train service, spending more than 30 years in freight and passenger service in North Dakota.
My father was a truck driver and my mother was a stay-at-home parent who raised three children and a cousin of mine. We grew up poor, which gave me a real appreciation for the pay and benefits that a good union job provided. My 30-plus years working on the railroad has given me a real perspective of the issues we face, and drives me to protect what we already have and work to make our jobs better.
The outcome of the Presidential Election will determine whether we make progress on improving our jobs or whether we lose ground.
The next president of the United States will set the tone, and will make important appointments to positions that directly affect you.
The head of the Federal Railroad Administration will decide:
Whether the two-person crew regulation is finalized or discarded
Whether we enact regulations requiring uniform speed signs on railroads
Whether there will be limitations on the use of inward facing cameras
What to do about fatigue in the freight rail industry
Appointees to the National Mediation Boardwill intervene in our contract negotiations and influence things like wages and work rules. They will also appoint arbitrators who decide if an unjustly fired member returns to work with or without back pay.
The head of the Motor Carrier Administration will decide how, or if, we will deal with the terrible problem of driver assault.
The next Chairman of the Railroad Retirement Board will determine not only how our pension is administered, but how our unemployment, sickness and disability benefits are administered as well.
I’m very concerned about Donald Trump, should he be elected as our next President. He has repeatedly said he will discard regulations and get rid of government bureaucracy. These are good sound bites and none of us want more government rules than are necessary, but when you look at the pending regulations affecting us, like two-person crews, fatigue and locomotive cameras, this rhetoric takes on a different meaning.
I have a note on my desk that says: “My most important job is to make sure that bad things don’t happen to our members.” I’m charged with the responsibility of protecting and improving the jobs of our members – an assignment I don’t take lightly. That job may be nearly impossible under a Trump administration.
Here is a book review of a recent book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston. The book explains many of Donald Trump’s human failings. I know the hardcore Trump supporters in our ranks have by and large ignored these failings, but I cannot. I care about our hardworking members and our country, and quite simply put, Donald Trump is unqualified to serve as President of the United States.
If he is elected I’m afraid that he will appoint people to government that are equally unqualified, causing significant damage to the progress we have already made.
While I pledge to do the best I can to improve things for our members, I can’t do it on my own. I need your help at the ballot box. We’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, she will support our union, our issues and the progress that unions have made. This is serious stuff and we all need to do our part in making our jobs better not just for us, but for those who follow. And that work starts with this election.
Anyone who wants to call and talk about this can call me at 202-543-7714. I work for you: What every one of you has to say matters to me.
In a written response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Request for Comments entitled “Motor Carriers of Passengers That Serve Primarily Urban Areas With High Passenger Loads,” dated April 11, 2016, the Transportation Trades Division, (TTD) AFL-CIO, representing 32 affiliated transportation unions including SMART TD, submitted comments in favor of “better oversight of curbside operators. While many carriers run legitimate operations, some take advantage of their unique characteristics and business models to circumvent safety rules and other standards putting drivers and passengers at risk.” Please read the complete letter here.
Acting Federal Transit Administrator Therese McMillan has determined that the random drug-testing rate will remain at 25 percent for 2015 and the random alcohol-testing rate for 2015 will remain at 10 percent for transit employees performing safety-sensitive functions, according to the Federal Register.
The determination was made due to a “positive rate” lower than one percent for random drug test data for the past two years. The random alcohol violation rate was lower than 0.5 percent for the last two years.
The random drug rates for the two preceding years are 0.74 percent for 2013 and 0.87 percent for 2014. The random alcohol rates for the two preceding years are 0.12 percent for 2013 and 0.14 percent for 2014.
On Jan. 1, 1995, FTA required large transit employers to begin drug and alcohol testing employees performing safety-sensitive functions and submit annual reports by March 15 of each year beginning in 1996. The annual report includes the number of employees who had a verified positive for the use of prohibited drugs, and the number of employees who tested positive for the misuse of alcohol during the reported year.
The original rules required employers to conduct random drug tests at a rate equivalent to at least 50 percent of their total number of safety-sensitive employees for prohibited drug use and at least 25 percent for the misuse of alcohol.
However, the rules provided the drug random testing rate may be lowered to 25 percent if the ‘‘positive rate’’ for the entire transit industry is less than one percent for two preceding consecutive years. The alcohol provisions provided the random rate may be lowered to 10 percent if the ‘‘violation rate’’ for the entire transit industry was less than 0.5 percent for two consecutive years.
SMART Transportation Division members represented by General Committee of Adjustment GO 875 have approved a new agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority that attains all of the goals sought by the committee’s negotiating team.
The general committee represents bus and light and heavy rail operators throughout the county’s transportation system, as well as schedule makers and schedule checkers for the agency.
“The major issues given to the committee’s negotiators by the membership were discipline policies and work rules, an elimination of a two-tier wage scale and the security of the health and welfare trust. This contract accomplishes all of those goals,” said SMART International Representative Vic Baffoni. “The committee sought to address these issues, first and foremost, and our members approved of their accomplishments.
“Preservation of our work rules was paramount, and we totally renegotiated the discipline policy to provide our members with job security and fair treatment.”
The general committee represents approximately 5,000 LACMTA employees and is the largest bus and transit property represented by SMART.
The negotiation team was led by GO 875 General Chairperson James Williams and general committee members Local 1607 Chairperson Lisa Arredondo, Local 1563 Chairperson Robert Gonzalez, Local 1564 Chairperson Ulysses “Butch” Johnson, Local 1565 Chairperson Eddie Lopez and Local 1608 Chairperson John M. Ellis.
In preparation for the negotiations, Williams held meetings with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti. Preliminary negotiations with the agency commenced in February, following discussions with members at local meetings to pinpoint their objectives for a new contract. Negotiations with LACMTA officials began in earnest in March.
“This General Committee is extremely proud of the work that was put into crafting the new work rules for our members. Other transportation unions have gone on strike to get a fraction of what our committee was able to accomplish. There is not a doubt in my mind that these rules will serve as a model for other bargaining units in the future,” Williams said.
Under the new contract, an unfair and divisive two-tier wage system was eliminated for good and was replaced by a seniority-based rate schedule. Under previous agreements, operators hired after July 1, 1997, were paid significantly less than operators hired on or before that date.
Employees will now see wage increases after five, six, 10, 11 and 17 years of full-time service.
“If you put in the time and do the job, any operator can now reach the top of the pay scale,” Williams said.
During the life of the contract, all operators will see at least one significant pay increase, with the top-rate employees receiving a 4.5 percent pay increase immediately. Trainees, schedule checkers and schedule makers, and some part-time operators, will receive rate increases as well.
GO 875 represents members of Transportation Division Locals 1563, 1564, 1565, 1607, 1608. LACMTA Metro operates 2,228 vehicles over 1,433 square miles. The authority reports its total calendar monthly system-wide boardings for July 2014 at 38,327,115 riders.
MONTEBELLO, Calif. – SMART Transportation Division Local 1701 bus members here July 9 picketed outside Montebello City Hall prior to and during a meeting of city council to bring attention to their dispute with city over wages, rest periods, meal periods and payment of pension contributions.
Approximately 30 members attended the picket that was organized by Local President Rachel Burciaga and Local Chairperson Cecilia Lopez.
The members of Local 1701 come under the jurisdiction of General Committee of Adjustment BNSF Railway GO 020 and General Chairperson Tom Pate serves as the local’s chief negotiator. The employees voted for SMART representation in 2012 and the local’s charter was issued on Jan. 1, 2013.
“The city of Montebello doesn’t want change to improve the quality of life for either its full-time or part-time transit employees,” Pate said. “Local 1701 is still a young organization within SMART, but I can feel the momentum building among its membership.”
“We’ve been in negotiations for the last two years. Everything we have brought to the table, they say no to,” Lopez said. “We ask for a pay increase, they say no. But there’s money for special projects to repave the streets of Montebello, get new buses and hire new supervisors.”
She said the transit employees last received a pay raise in 2008.
Member Javier Olvera also expressed his exasperation outside the council meeting.
“We haven’t got a raise for six years and the cost of living is increasing. Now, instead of giving us a raise, they want to take away eight percent. That’s less food on the table for my kids and my family,” said Olvera, a bus operator for the past 11 years.
Olvera was referring to the dispute over who should pay for the employees’ share of pension costs. During the last year, the city has paid its nontransit employees’ share of their pension costs, but not for bus drivers, mechanics and service operators.
For more information about Local 1701’s labor dispute, see this article in the Whittier Daily News.
SMART Local 1701 members picket Montebello, Calif., City Council meeting July 9.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced a proposed rule to establish a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for all national commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders. The clearinghouse would help improve roadway safety by making it easier to determine whether a truck or bus driver is prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle for failing to comply with federal drug and alcohol regulations, including mandatory testing.
“Safety is our highest priority, and we will continue to embrace new tools and opportunities that protect the travelers on our nation’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today’s proposal will help ensure dangerous drivers stay off the road, while encouraging the employment of the many safe drivers who follow our drug and alcohol requirements.”
Current federal regulations require employers to conduct mandatory pre-employment screening of a CDL driver’s qualifications based upon his or her driving record. However, there has not been a single federal repository recording positive drug and alcohol tests by CDL holders that employers would be able to search to ensure that the driver is able to perform safety-sensitive duties.
The proposed rule announced today would create such a repository and require employers to conduct pre-employment searches for all new CDL drivers and annual searches on current drivers.
“We are leveraging technology to create a one-stop verification point to help companies hire drug and alcohol-free drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “This proposal moves us further down the road toward improving safety for truck and bus companies, commercial drivers and the motoring public everywhere.”
Under the proposed rule announced today, FMCSA-regulated truck and bus companies, Medical Review Officers, Substance Abuse Professionals, and private, third party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories would be required to record information about a driver who:
Fails a drug and/or alcohol test;
Refuses to submit to a drug and/or alcohol test; and
Successfully completes a substance abuse program and is legally qualified to return to duty.
Private, third-party USDOT drug and alcohol testing laboratories also would be required to report summary information annually. This information would be used to help identify companies that do not have a testing program.
To ensure the privacy of drivers involved, each CDL holder would need to provide his or her consent, before an employer could access the clearinghouse.
Drivers who refuse to provide this information could still be employed by the truck or bus company; however, they could not occupy safety-sensitive positions, such as operating a commercial motor vehicle.
It is a violation of federal regulations to drive a truck or bus under the influence of controlled substances or alcohol. Federal safety regulations require that truck and bus companies that employ CDL drivers conduct random drug and alcohol testing programs. Carriers must randomly test 10 percent of their CDL drivers for alcohol and 50 percent of their CDL drivers for drugs each year.
For each of the past three years, federal and state safety inspectors have conducted approximately 3.5 million random roadside inspections of commercial vehicles and of their drivers.
In 2013, on 2,095 occasions, or in 0.23 percent of the unannounced inspections, a CDL holder was immediately placed out-of-service and cited for violating federal regulations governing alcohol consumption. In 2012, FMCSA records show that there were 2,494 violations of this regulation.
In 2013, on 1,240 occasions, or in 0.13 percent of the unannounced inspections, a CDL holder was placed immediately out-of-service and cited for violating federal regulations governing controlled substances. In 2012, FMCSA records show that there were 1,139 violations of this regulation.
In addition to random testing, truck and bus companies are further required to perform drug and alcohol testing on new hires, drivers involved in significant crashes, and whenever a supervisor suspects a driver of using drugs or alcohol while at work.
The proposed rule announced today was directed by Congress in the most recent transportation bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.
For a copy of the Federal Register announcement, click here.