An executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, April 10, tasks the Federal Department of Transportation with creating a new rule in a little more than three months’ time that permits super-cooled liquid natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail.
“The Secretary of Transportation shall propose for notice and comment a rule, no later than 100 days after the date of this order, that would treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail tank cars,” the order states. “The Secretary shall finalize such rulemaking no later than 13 months after the date of this order.”
Natural gas trade and rail carrier groups have lobbied for years for the ability to supply LNG to the northeastern U.S. via rail. Current Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety rules do not allow the transport of LNG in rail tanker cars.
It is transported by truck and pipelines with one exception — Alaska Railroad was given a special authorization in 2015 to transport LNG by rail in portable containers transported on flatcars, Bloomberg News reports.
By John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division
John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division
It is said that two things to never discuss at a family gathering are religion and politics and for the most part that is very good advice. But I’m going to break that rule here–I view my brothers and sisters in the labor movement as family, but I cannot stay silent while the consequences of the upcoming national elections may have such a severe impact on the working men and women of this country.
Let’s look first at our industry – those of us who work in the transportation field are very much affected by decisions made in Washington, D.C. by a number of Federal agencies. Without exception, the people who lead these agencies and have final say over such decisions are appointed by the President of the United States.
For example, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are entities that have a direct impact on all of us, every day that we go to work. These agencies make the rules that govern our licenses and certifications. They enact the rules and regulations that govern our safety and well-being while working on the job.
Our members in the air and rail industry negotiate their collective bargaining agreements and enforce their contractual rights under the auspices of the National Mediation Board (NMB), while such activities for our bus members are governed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has jurisdiction over rail mergers and abandonments. This is the board that decides not only when mergers can happen, but also which line consolidations and which abandonments will occur–and whether labor protection will be imposed as a requirement of the transaction. And 13c labor protective conditions are a requirement of Federal law when Federal funds are used to enhance bus or rail operations.
Retirement, occupational disability, unemployment compensation and sickness benefits for rail workers are governed by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). If you’re a railroad worker and you get sick, you receive Railroad Retirement sickness benefits. If you get furloughed, you receive Railroad Retirement furlough benefits. When you are old enough to retire and enjoy the hard-fought and hard-earned retirement that you’re due, that’s through the RRB.
If you are a rail worker injured while working, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act governs the recovery of lost wages and pain and suffering for you and your family.
If you are a rail worker with 20 years of service and are disabled from working in your regular occupation, the RRB will grant you an occupational disability with full retirement benefits. This occupational disability benefit is something unique to the railroad industry. It exists nowhere else and there are people in Congress today, each and every session, that try to take those benefits away from us – including the Republican candidate for Vice President, Mike Pence.
It’s a fact – Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and former Congressman (R-Ind.), voted against labor’s interests 95 percent of the time while in congress. He voted in 2001 against the railroad retirement revisions that gave us full retirement at age 60 with 30 years of service. During his tenure from 2001 to 2013, there was not a single person in congress with a worse labor record than Pence. The Republican nominee for President has stated that he wants to freeze and roll back regulations, including ones that may affect our safety. Mike Pence has a well-documented history of trying to do just that.
It’s a fact – The Republican nominee for President is Donald Trump, a man without any experience in elective office. Some believe that may not be a bad thing, but it forces us to look at the actual record of Trump’s statements and accomplishments to ascertain his fitness for the highest office in the land.
First, let’s look at Trump’s position on coal, an issue that’s very important to our members. Anyone who watched the Republican convention may have noticed the signs in the audience, “Trump digs coal.” But a review of the facts shows that Trump has no credible plan to return the coal business to profitability, a requirement for increased production. The downturn in coal comes from a number of factors connected to global economics and cheaper alternative fuels such as natural gas. While Trump makes empty promises, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton is actually meeting with workers and labor leaders in the coal industry to develop strategies to support and assist the impacted workers.
It’s a fact – Now, what about Mr. Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing back to America? Another simple statement without any credible plan for actually accomplishing that objective, so once again we are compelled to look at the record. Here we find that Mr. Trump says that he will bring the jobs back but in the next breath he declared that the reason we’re not competitive in the global market is because America’s wages are too high. And the record also shows that every product with Trump’s name on it is currently manufactured in a low wage foreign country.
It’s a fact – Trump supports a national right-to-work rule. We all know what that means. Workers can freeload. They can have a union represent them, and they don’t have to contribute a nickel. They don’t have to support the union, they don’t have to support the effort, they don’t have to support the cause. They can even work against the union and their fellow workers and still get the benefit of your leadership and your activities in the day-to-day ensuring of agreement compliance and a safe workplace.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Trump said he favors states with right-to-work laws because, “it is better for the people to not have to pay union dues if they don’t want to…It gives great flexibility to the companies.”
It’s national right-to-work for less, and nothing more than a Republican-led tactic to take away worker’s rights and bust the unions, because that is exactly what will happen. Unions will weaken, and fade away—the exact intent and design behind right-to-work laws that, if implemented, will result in reduced wages for all workers.
It’s a fact – Trump’s companies have been investigated numerous times by the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices. His companies have been sued by government agencies and his own employees after refusing to pay overtime and benefits rightfully due the employees. He has bankrupted companies to avoid paying contractors who in turn could not afford to pay their employees. He takes pride in not living up to the contracts he signs and has even suggested that is a good tactic for use when he is elected President.
It’s a fact – Presidential appointments impact union workers.
Earlier in this column we discussed the importance of federal agencies to workers in the transportation industry. One need only review the recent history of this labor union and Presidential Emergency Boards to see an example of how Presidential appointees directly impact our members.
On both Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit, management came into the most recent rounds of negotiations firm in their positions that there would be zero percent wage increase over many years while imposing draconian changes to health benefits that would force our members to pay more and receive less. Your union refused to entertain such offers and after negotiation and mediation the carriers still refused to budge from their opening positions. The National Mediation Board released the parties, and President Obama appointed a Presidential Emergency Board for each railroad. Those two Boards ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the employees. Both railroads requested a second PEB, with new members appointed by the President. The two new Boards again ruled in favor of the employees and as a result our members are currently enjoying new contracts with industry-standard wage increases and health care benefits.
We are currently in negotiations on a national rail contract with the freight carriers and a system-wide contract with Amtrak, where the carriers have taken a similar position–insignificant wage increases coupled with draconian cuts to our health care benefits. Who would you rather see appoint the next Presidential Emergency Board to decide these contracts–a Democratic President who supports labor or a Republican President who has stated for the record that he believes American workers are overpaid, supports right to work for less and refuses to pay his own employees the compensation to which they are entitled?
This election: A critical moment in history
This Presidential election is a watershed moment in the labor movement and in the history of our country. Make no mistake – the anti-labor Republican agenda is intended to reduce workers’ pay and benefits while improving the “flexibility” of the companies for whom we work. The so-called “flexibility” that Trump admires is just a euphemism for the reduction if not outright elimination of worker’s rights. While “Make America Great Again” means different things to different people, it is clear that Trump’s version is not good for our members.
The facts matter – and we’re going to do everything we can to educate our members, and we want your help. We want you to communicate these facts to your union brothers and sisters, your friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances. Let them know that this is a big deal. Let them know that Trump and Pence will work to take away from our families the hard-fought benefits, protections and securities that our predecessors worked so hard to secure.
Let’s work together to protect our jobs and our families.
By John Lesniewski, Vice President, SMART Transportation Division
In the July/August edition of the SMART Transportation Division News, both SMART General President Joseph Sellers and SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich wrote extensively about the importance of this election cycle. General President Sellers detailed why Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was the obvious choice for any working man or woman, while illustrating why Republican candidate Donald Trump is not our friend, as his legacy is one of divisiveness, reneging on contractual commitments, bankruptcies that leave workers holding the bag, and producing his own brand-name products overseas.
President Previsich’s column elaborated on the importance of a Democratic president, pointing out that the numerous federal agency appointments made by the president directly affects your employment and working conditions on a daily basis. His article also illustrated numerous facts regarding the candidates and their agendas, leaving no doubt that we desperately need to elect a United States president who is labor-friendly. That candidate is Hillary Clinton.
While I certainly concur and echo the sentiments raised by both President Sellers and President Previsich from an employment standpoint, my concerns with the 2016 presidential election are much more elemental. I, too, am convinced that former Senator and Secretary of State Clinton is by far the most experienced and qualified candidate, a fact which seems to have been lost in the Trump smokescreen of outrageous comments and allegations, but the most compelling reason I support Secretary Clinton is my fear of Donald Trump’s narcissism, thin skin and toxic personality.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been a Democrat my entire life, although I have voted otherwise when circumstances truly warranted it. I am praying now that my Republican friends, Independents and disenfranchised Democrats recognize the current presidential election as just one of those unique circumstances. My trepidation over Donald Trump goes far beyond his narcissism or his penchant to insult every group, race and religion that doesn’t look like him or share his beliefs. It goes to the ease with which he can be manipulated through compliments and to his irresistible impulse to retaliate with full force against anyone who disagrees with him, threatens his authority or disparages him in any manner. While I have not shared common political views with past Republican presidential candidates and presidents, I have never feared their impulsive temperament and lack of sound judgment would put my country, my loved ones and my friends in harm’s way. I have that fear now.
You see, I was a living witness to the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember the terror that gripped the nation during that time and I never want to see that again. Although I was a child, and my parents did their best to shield me from the looming possibility of a nuclear holocaust, they couldn’t fully conceal the distressed look on their faces or the anxiety that permeated the air during those horrible 13 days in October of 1962. They couldn’t hide the 13 days we were glued to our black and white televisions watching for updates; or the ID bracelets parents placed on their children so they or their bodies could be identified if the worst occurred; or the emergency drills we practiced in school. They also could not conceal their relief when President Kennedy defused that crisis.
What does this have to do with the 2016 presidential race? Only that the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with President Kennedy’s assassination just 13 months later, prompted me to become a student of presidential history. Among the books I read on the subject was Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House,” where I was awestruck by the realm of knowledge a president must possess about every conceivable issue and contingency, and just as important, understanding the personalities and temperaments of leaders from nations around the world, both small and large. Every decision made by our president affects each nation’s leader in a different way, and their potential reaction must be considered before any and all foreign policy decisions are rendered. No decision can be made on impulse or out of emotional distress.
I thank God that during those precarious days in October 1962 President Kennedy took full measure of the consequences of his actions before ordering a full scale invasion, despite the fact he was being encouraged by many in the military to engage immediately. Had the president overreacted, and he was given ample cause to do so, the results would have been catastrophic. Post-crises revelations verified that the Russians in Cuba already had tactical nuclear warheads for their artillery rockets and bombers, and Castro was prepared to recommend their use if the U.S. invaded, regardless of the devastation it may have caused his own country.
Donald Trump has demonstrated time and time again throughout this campaign that he would not have exercised the same self-control as President Kennedy did in 1962. He lashes out immediately in response to every threat, real or perceived, and tries to justify his reaction later through subordinates. Recently he threatened, “I’ll blow them out of the water” if Iranian boats circled our destroyers and made inappropriate gestures. Really? Does the U.S. really want to trigger a war costing thousands of U.S. lives over inappropriate gestures? Apparently a President Trump would. It’s sincerely scary.
Also, forget about your guns. There have been several Democratic presidents and not one has taken away your hunting rifles. Forget about abortion, Roe vs. Wade has been here since 1973 and is not likely to change during this president’s term, nor is the president likely to change anyone’s feelings on the subject. When you strip away all of the peripheral political pundit buzz, the bottom line is Donald Trump is unstable, dangerous, and clearly governed by his own ego. If there’s even a slight chance that his irrational and impulsive decisions can trigger an unnecessary war or, God forbid, a nuclear conflict, are you willing to take that chance? Are you willing to bet your life on it? Or the life of your loved ones? You need to be, because a vote for Trump is tantamount to placing just such a bet.
Let us not forsake the most qualified and experienced candidate for president in our lifetime, in favor of the least qualified candidate who has never held so much as a city council seat. Even if you bought into the recent Republican rhetoric about emails or audiences granted to donors from the Clinton Foundation, I would much rather have a president who had been careless with emails in the past, but has our back, than a president who is so unstable he could put our country and its citizens in harms way.
Also, don’t forget that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote, and equivalent to a one-half vote for Trump. There can be no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the only logical choice for president.
SMART Transportation Division
By Bob Yarger, Retired Brakeman, Local 256 in Watervliet, N.Y.
Trump is no friend to working people, despite spouting a few ideas stolen from Bernie Sanders. Trump has said American workers make too much money. All the products with the Trump name on them come from overseas sweatshops.
The Trump cartel recently paid a “union avoidance” firm a half-million dollars to keep a union out of their Las Vegas casino hotel. When the workers voted the union in anyway, the company refused to recognize the vote. Trump, like all Republicans, supports a national right-to-work law, which would severely weaken union strength, like it already has in states that have such laws. This would likely affect railroad workers also, now presently exempt from such state legislation under the Railway Labor Act. Railroad employees are among the last industrial workers in the USA that still receive a living wage — because they’re still unionized.
The present hoopla over Trump is much like the Reagan Revolution of 1980. Reagan told working people he was their friend, then proceeded to steamroll over worker’s rights, encouraging companies to juggle their books into bankruptcy to void union contracts. He twice tried to eliminate Railroad Retirement. Only a Democratic Congress prevented him from doing so. By the end of his second term in 1988, union power had been eviscerated.
And since Trump wants to start World War III, how come he dodged the draft? Many of us had deferments, like he did, but when ours expired we were on a bus to an Army induction center, including many of us who were married. Some of the loudest “patriots,” like Trump, John Wayne, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre or any of the hosts on Fox News have had one thing in common — they avoided military service.
A Trump Presidency, with a Republican Congress, would see the greatest onslaught on workers’ wages and rights in over 100 years. While Bernie Sanders would have been the greatest champion for working people, Hillary will at least not try to destroy the rights that workers have taken so many decades to achieve. Union workers should give her their support.
By Larry I. Willis, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer
Unfortunately, the anti-growth, anti-government movement is alive and well. Heck, we have extremists in the GOP who think House Speaker Paul Ryan is too moderate.I had the honor last week of speaking to IBEW members at their Railroad Department and Government Employees Conference. I had a chance to talk about what is at stake in this election and the challenges we face as a country.
We need a president and a Congress who embrace what we know: that a strong, safe, vibrant transportation system will be the backbone of any economic expansion and the fuel to rebuild our shrinking middle-class.
Turning directly to who is now the presumptive Republican nominee, I pulled no punches:
“Donald Trump has tapped into an electorate that is frustrated, scared and sick and tired of Washington politics. His ability to register and connect with voters, even if limited to parts of the Republican base, shouldn’t be ignored. I can assure you we won’t ignore it. We know there are millions of voters who have been harmed by policies and economic conditions that are responsible for plant closures, reckless outsourcing and declining wages, and who might pull the lever for a candidate who promises to make our country “great again.” Our job is to explain that supporting working people is about more than making empty speeches. Supporting working families is about actually advancing a vision and prescribing solutions.
“At many levels, it really isn’t hard to understand the initial, visceral appeal Trump may have with people struggling in this economy. He talks a good game on trade but manages to sidestep the fact that his billionaire class is responsible for dotting the globe with sweatshops whose employees replaced workers here in America. He promises to build a wall on the southern border, a podium line that speaks to the feelings, maybe buried in the subconscious of some people, that it will prevent someone else, not from here, from taking their jobs and lowering wages. It is the classic blame game and Trump is all in with this strategy.
“Once you get past the bluster, Donald Trump is absolutely no friend of working families. While pretending to embrace an economic populist message, the billionaire told a national debate audience that wages in this country are “too high.”
“He claims that he has worked with unions, but he embraces completely the right-to-work agenda that we know would gut the labor movement and hollow out our ability to represent our members and secure good contracts. But I guess if you think wages are too high, it makes sense to destroy the only institution that can actually raise wages and bring collective strength to the bargaining table.
“He tells voters that when he is elected president, he will force Apple and Ford and Nabisco, among others, to bring their production back to the U.S. At the same time his own line of suits and ties are made in China and Mexico. I wonder if he’ll force the Trump Empire to produce those suits and ties in America.
“When workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas wanted a union voice, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged that the hotel fired or threatened union supporters, suspended employees and maintained illegal rules that prohibited workers from talking to each other. So much for democracy.
“His anti-worker plank is bad enough, but it is his reliance on hatred, racism, chauvinism and xenophobia to support his agenda and to guide his vision for this country that should scare the hell out of us.
“We must reject bigotry and divisiveness from any candidate for any office, but especially from those auditioning to lead our nation. Making America great should be about rebuilding the country – its infrastructure, transportation system and public institutions – giving millions the chance at the middle class through strong unions, and embracing the diversity of this nation, not exploiting it to advance a dangerous agenda that would turn the clock back on decades of progress.
“Simply put, Donald Trump is not only unfit to be president, he represents a danger to our democracy that we cannot allow to stand.”
I also noted that it might be easy – given recent polling – to underestimate Donald Trump in a general election. Sixteen defeated Republican candidates made that mistake. The stakes are too high and the voters are too angry to take any election outcome for granted. We must do everything we can to make sure union members know the facts come November.