Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

District court rules Batory’s declaration of preemption stops Illinois 2PC law

In yet another example that elections have consequences, the Trump-appointed FRA administrator’s actions have potentially minimized both public and employee safety on the railroad.

In September 2019, after the State of Illinois enacted a law requiring that trains operated in Illinois be operated with a certified conductor and certified engineer, the Indiana Rail Road, which often operates with one-person crews over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, sued the Illinois Commerce Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Backed by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the carrier challenged that newly signed state law.

In May 2019, just days after the Illinois Legislature had passed the law, Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, who was appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, withdrew a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on crew size and declared that any state law regarding crew size was preempted.

In the Indiana Rail Road lawsuit, the carrier and lobbying groups repeatedly referred to “the wisdom” of Batory’s declaration of federal preemption. The Trump appointee has followed up with other FRA choices such as safety waivers for railroads during the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to issue an emergency order on faulty air brake components.

“Ron Batory’s notice withdrawal absolutely paved the way for the district court to rule,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We must keep in mind, however, that this issue is not yet settled. A larger discussion in court remains ahead, as the judgment states.”

Indeed, the district court noted that the issue of validity of the FRA’s action, which was raised by SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was not properly before it and as such, the action stood for the time being.

The court went on to note that those issues are currently pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a challenge by the states of California, Washington and Nevada, along with SMART-TD and BLET, as to the FRA’s compliance with the required APA procedures and its ability to declare state law preempted.

Oral argument was heard in that case Monday, October 5, 2020. The court has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision hopefully in the near future.

“It is worth noting that if the Ninth Circuit later holds that the FRA Withdrawal Order is invalid, then the Illinois Commerce Commission may move to vacate the judgment,” the district court ruling stated regarding the Illinois case.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which would have enforced the law, was joined by SMART-TD and the BLET in defending the two-person crew law.

The court’s ruling effectively voids enforcement of the law, which took effect in January.

Read the ruling.

Court vacates FRA approval of KCSM engineer certification

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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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.

FRA grants unions’ request for another extension to file certification petitions

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 5) — Following a second joint petition by the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on June 3 granted another 60-day extension to time limits in which certain petitions for review must be filed with the Locomotive Engineer Review Board (LERB) and the Operating Crew Review Board (OCRB). Originally, the SMART-TD and BLET requested an extension on March 30, which the FRA granted on April 7.

In response to the unions’ second joint petition for extension, which was filed on May 27, the FRA wrote: “FRA considered the petitioners’ extension request and concluded that extending the previously granted relief would be in the public interest, necessary to address the COVID-19 public health emergency, and is not inconsistent with railroad safety. Accordingly, FRA grants an extension of temporary emergency relief from the 180- and 120-day deadlines in § 240.403(c) and (d), and § 242.503(c), so that the deadline for any petition that becomes due to be filed during the duration of this waiver is extended 60 days.”

Under FRA regulations governing certification of locomotive engineers, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification must be filed with the LERB no more than 180 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision, and a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to revoke certification must be filed with the LERB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. Similarly, under FRA regulations governing certification of conductors, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification, or to revoke certification, must be filed with the OCRB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. Under the terms of the June 3 waiver extension, FRA granted temporary emergency relief from the 180- and 120-day filing deadlines, so that the deadline for any petition for review that becomes due to be filed during the duration of the waiver is extended 60 days.

A copy of the FRA waiver extension is available here. (PDF)

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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.

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.

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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.

FRA grants unions’ request for extension to file certification petitions

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 15) — On April 7, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) granted a joint petition filed by the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to extend time limits in which certain petitions for review must be filed with the Locomotive Engineer Review Board (LERB) and the Operating Crew Review Board (OCRB).

Under FRA regulations governing certification of locomotive engineers, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification must be filed with the LERB no more than 180 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision, and a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to revoke certification must be filed with the LERB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. Similarly, under FRA regulations governing certification of conductors, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification, or to revoke certification, must be filed with the OCRB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision.

SMART-TD and BLET filed their joint petition on March 30. FRA had previously granted, on March 25, an identical extension for railroads to respond to petitions for review filed with the LERB and the OCRB.

Under the terms of the April 7 waiver, FRA granted temporary emergency relief from the 180- and 120-day filing deadlines, so that the deadline for any petition for review that becomes due to be filed during the duration of the waiver is extended 60 days.

A copy of the unions’ joint petition is available here (PDF).

A copy of the FRA waiver is available here (PDF).

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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.

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.

Representatives’ letter supports SMART-TD petition for COVID-19 safety measures

A bipartisan group of 14 members of Congress — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — pledged support to SMART Transportation Division’s petitions to the administrators of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) seeking protection for railroad and transit workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our transit and rail workers are essential to the health, safety, security and transport of people within and between our communities along with the transport of critical goods and freight across the country,” the legislators wrote. “It is important that steps are taken to mitigate against the spread of the virus within the workforce, minimize exposure while workers are performing their duties, and ensure sufficient staffing.”

U.S. Reps Greg Stanton, a Democrat from Arizona, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, were the lead signatories.

“As you work to identify additional measures to protect these essential transportation workers, we ask that you consider and give full and fair consideration to the recommendations SMART-TD outlined in its petitions for worker protections and sanitation standards to protect against the virus,” the representatives wrote.

The members of Congress who signed the letter also included U.S. Reps Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.); David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.); Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.); Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.); Sharice L. Davids (D-Kan.); Rodney Davis (R.-Ill.); Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.); Fred Upton (R-Mich.); John Garamendi (D-Calif.); Mike Bost (R-Ill.); Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.); and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

On March 20, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson called on FRA Administrator Ron Batory and FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams to make the carriers regulated by their agency implement sanitation and preventive measures in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

Neither agency has responded to the joint request by SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to FRA or SMART-TD’s request to FTA. FRA did grant safety waivers to Class I carriers on March 25.

“These members of Congress recognize that SMART-TD members and others in transportation labor continue to fill an essential role as the United States copes with the coronavirus pandemic,” SMART-TD National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “Their continued support is appreciated where others seem not to be interested in protecting these essential workers.”

Read the letter here. (PDF)

COVID-19: Form launched for reports of CDC protocols not being followed

CDC guidelines state that employers should do the following to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  1. reduce transmission among employees,
  2. maintain healthy business operations, and
  3. maintain a healthy work environment.

As transportation workers are considered to be essential workers, even in a time of national emergency, making them exempt from stay-at-home orders issued by local, state and federal officials, it is paramount that these guidelines be followed so that the health of workers, co-workers, their families and the general public is not jeopardized by employers’ failure to follow CDC protocols.

If CDC measures are not being followed, workers are encouraged to report what they consider to be violations of CDC protocols.

Your union needs reports of what is actually happening in the field. If you are aware of an employee who has tested positive with coronavirus, or if a carrier is refusing to provide a clean and sanitized workplace as well as supplies for sanitation, please let us know by using this form.

Submissions via this form will go to union leadership and be used as evidence to support emergency measures sought by the SMART Transportation Division in petitions to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Your identity will remain anonymous.

Union leaders demand clarification from FRA on waivers

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce sought clarification today from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) after the agency granted 60-day emergency waiver requests to railroads on March 25, ostensibly to maintain their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you are already aware, SMART Transportation Division, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and other rail labor Organizations take strong exception to certain aspects of FRA’s seemingly absolute and unconditional approval of such requests,” the presidents wrote in a letter to Administrator Ron Batory. “We find the sweeping nature of these approvals alarming, especially in view of the fact that the rules waived are written with the safety of our members, and the general public, in mind.

“Notwithstanding the unfounded nature of some of the carriers’ claims in their applications, our immediate concerns are founded in our firm belief that if the carriers understand and apply FRA’s waiver to be carte blanche invitation to ignore rules, it will have a substantial chilling effect on safety.”

The waivers, granted by Batory and signed by Karl Alexy, associate administrator for railroad safety for FRA, were held for a number of days by the agency, which limited the ability of labor organizations to comment and seek a public hearing.

Meanwhile, an emergency order request sought by SMART-TD and the BLET seeking sanitation of areas frequented by frontline rail workers through the course of performing their “essential” duties remains under consideration on the desks of FRA officials.

The waivers grant the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as well as other railroad entities the ability to temporarily circumvent established federally mandated requirements for:

  • Track inspection
  • Operational tests and inspections
  • Restrictions on utility employees
  • Locomotive and conductor certifications
  • Territorial qualifications

The reason cited by carriers in their petition was to cope with potential workforce shortages the railroads may experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Petitioners assert that a reduction in availability of employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic will affect railroads’ ability to keep freight trains carrying critical goods and materials necessary for the country’s welfare operating during this emergency, and that compliance with all Federal railroad safety regulations, with the expected workforce shortage, would significantly hinder railroads’ ability to operate,” the FRA said in its response granting the waivers.

But thanks in part to their adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices since 2017, the total employee headcount for Class I freight carriers – including administration/management, maintenance and transportation crew, as reported by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), has been axed by roughly 14,000 people in 2019 and by 33,000 since 2000.

STB says that in February 2020 that Class Is had 56,767 transportation crew employees, down from a three-year peak of 68,980 in November 2018.

“There is also a concern that the carriers would use the excuse of a ‘downturn in business’ to artificially create a shortage of manpower to exploit the use of the waivers,” Ferguson and Pierce wrote.

Numbers provided to the union show that approximately 15 percent of T&E personnel are furloughed at the time. SMART-TD leader also have knowledge that carriers recently contacted the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) in anticipation of offering voluntary furloughs to employees during the pandemic, which incidentally would make the employee ineligible for RRB unemployment benefits.

Among the most-dangerous aspects of this set of waivers is carriers being permitted to allow employees who are unqualified in the territory and uncertified to operate trains as long as Positive Train Control (PTC) technology is present and engaged.

The federally mandated deadline for full PTC implementation is Jan. 1, 2021, and full interoperability among railroads has not been achieved, yet these waivers make the assumption that PTC functionality is sufficient to allow for unqualified crew members to operate over America’s railroads.

The union has received numerous reports of the technology not working as intended and top FRA leadership has indicated in a conversation that PTC was in a “shakedown” phase.

Information provided by the railroads in December 2019 to FRA reported Class I PTC system interoperability at 48 percent.

The FRA waivers of regulations also allow for:

  • Verbal quick tie-ups
  • Shortened time intervals for required locomotive maintenance and inspections
  • The movement of defective equipment to the “nearest available” repair location
  • 95% operative brakes to be permissible for trains leaving their initial terminal
  • Trains can travel 1,200 miles without an intermediate Class IA brake inspection
  • Extended haul trains can travel 2,000 miles without an intermediate Class IA brake test
  • The four-hour off-air time is extended to 24 hours and 48 hours with FRA permission
  • Transfer test requirements are relaxed
  • The ability to combine two operating trains without additional inspections other than a Class III brake test
  • Relaxation of yard air source testing and calibration requirements and of requirements for single-care air brake tests
  • Relaxation of required testing and calibration of telemetry equipment

“These regulations were written with the public’s safety in mind,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “A number of these waivers are not in the interest of safety and could be creating a recipe for disaster to rail workers and for the public.”

If particular properties do not have a demonstrated reduction of personnel directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, illness or self-quarantine, and these waivers are being employed, members are asked to report it to union leadership immediately.

Read the unions’ letter to FRA.

Read FRA’s letter that grant the waivers to the railroads.

A message to all TD members and retirees from President Ferguson

March 20, 2020

All Members — SMART Transportation Division

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I would like to begin by recognizing those of you who, in the face of this global COVID-19 pandemic, are continuing to serve the millions of Americans who depend on us and the services we provide every day.

If not for our bus operators, passenger and transit workers, families without alternate means of transportation might not have access to basic necessities such as food, cleaning supplies and medical attention, while essential staff in urban areas might not be able to report to work. If not for our freight rail crews operating around the clock, many of the vital goods and supplies our communities and healthcare professionals so desperately need and depend on would arrive late, or perhaps not at all.

It is impossible to overstate the fact that your dedication, professionalism, and skills support the very backbone of our country during this moment of crisis. Not only do we feel a duty to provide for ourselves and our loved ones through this difficult and uncertain time, but we are bound by our moral obligation to provide essential goods and services that our nation must have to endure, and later recover, from this ordeal.

Unfortunately, we have already received confirmed reports that some of our members have tested positive for COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with those members, and their loved ones, who have either tested positive or are in quarantine. If you or someone you know is having difficulty dealing with the stress or anxiety brought on by this virus, we want you to know that Optum has established a no-cost, 24/7, emotional support help line at 1-866-342-6892. Please share this information accordingly.

It is unconscionable that in the wake of a national emergency, some of our carriers have refused to suspend draconian attendance policies that compel us to report for duty when we, or members of our household, are symptomatic. Many of those same carriers are neglecting to provide the proper cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and workplace sterilization that would undoubtedly save lives. Their actions, or lack thereof, are reminiscent of the railroad companies’ safety policies of more than a century ago, where they viewed such matters as the workers’ responsibility to fend for themselves, and they made the bare minimum effort by issuing stern, authoritarian warnings. We firmly believe history will not look kindly on these carriers. The good news is a few carriers are actually leading the way and setting the bar at “unbelievable levels,” as reported by Long Island Railroad General Chairperson Anthony Simon. We hope others will soon follow.

As a result of the above, and as you can see in links to correspondence provided below, we have turned to our lawmakers and regulatory agencies with authority to mandate the workplace protections we so desperately expect and deserve. In his letter dated March 11, 2020, Ronald Batory, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, claims that, “FRA has been monitoring this issue closely and confers regularly on its impacts with railroad service providers….” [emphasis added]. Further, Mr. Batory advised that… “[t]he Administration has taken a whole-of-government approach which has paved the way for a whole-of-America response….” If you find this response as abhorrent as we do, then perhaps you may join us in seeking further clarification from Mr. Batory by calling his office at (202) 493-6014.

On March 18, 2020, we made similar demands on behalf of our bus members in a letter addressed to Raymond P. Martinez, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. While we have yet to receive a response from Mr. Martinez, it may help if we call his office at (202) 366-4000 and voice our concerns.

Our National Legislative Department, in conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and other rail labor Organizations, have been on Capitol Hill relentlessly demanding many of these same protections. Through this conduit, we are doing everything we can to ensure that Congress will not overlook the rail industry and its employees when legislation is introduced to provide relief to those affected by COVID-19. Likewise, our General Committees of Adjustment and State Legislative Boards have been working tirelessly to apply similar pressure to individual carriers, state and local lawmakers, and regulatory agencies.

To assist our Legislative Department and General Committees in their efforts, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your representatives. It is more important than ever to draw their attention to the fact that our employers and policymakers are relinquishing their duties to act as responsible corporate citizens and government agencies. If you are not already aware, you may find your representatives’ contact information by simply entering your address and zip code in the “Find Your Elected Officials” field at the bottom of the following webpage:

https://www.congressweb.com/SMART_Transportation/takeaction/#

In addition to the above efforts, we have participated in numerous conference calls and meetings to directly address and escalate these matters with members of management, Congress, and regulatory authorities. As you might imagine, the discourse in some of these conversations would not be appropriate for sharing verbatim. Nonetheless, you should rest assured they know exactly where we stand, and what we expect.

Now more than ever, I am honored and humbled to serve as your President. I have an immense sense of pride and respect for all of you who continue to place yourselves in harm’s way, doing what many are not capable of doing. Please accept this letter as my personal commitment that your union will not cease or slow its efforts until we procure the workplace safety and security we deserve.

As things develop, we will be posting updates to our website and social media pages, and sending email communications directly to those of you who subscribe.

With optimism that our collective perseverance and courage will guide us through this trying time, and with my sincerest gratitude for your continued support, I remain

Fraternally yours,

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

COVID-19 RESOURCES

SMART-TD, BLET petition FRA for passenger rail emergency protocols regarding COVID-19

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 20, 2020) — On the heels of their joint petition to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting an Emergency Order (EO) to address employee safety conditions in response to the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are now asking for a similar EO for Amtrak and passenger/commuter lines.

“Therefore, it is necessary that Amtrak and all railroads providing passenger and commuter rail service to take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces and passengers, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and to maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members until the virus begins to subside,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce wrote in their petition.

The unions’ request for an EO basically calls for an action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers by using protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, the FRA has failed to enact such an action plan. Several components of the unions’ passenger rail EO request mirror those requested in their joint freight petition, which includes: locomotive sanitation, common room sanitation, employee temperature observation protocols, away-from-home terminal procedures, crew transportation sanitation, what to do if an employee develops symptoms, and furlough recall procedures. The unions’ petition for a passenger EO covers: coach/passenger car sanitation standards, sleeper car sanitation, and directives in case a passenger develops symptoms.

The unions suggest that 25% of furloughed rail personnel should immediately be recalled to service to deal with anticipated shortages and staffing needs, in accordance with President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.

“In order to standardize and define the best protocols across the industry for mitigation of the spread of the virus and the protection of both passengers and employees, there exists a number of safety precautions that need to be immediately ordered by FRA,” Presidents Ferguson and Pierce stated.

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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.

Read the emergency petition filed to FRA. (PDF)

SMART-TD, BLET petition FRA for emergency protocols regarding COVID-19

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 20) — The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) today filed a joint request urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to issue an Emergency Order (EO) to address employee safety conditions in response to the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

“The employees we represent are essential to the health, safety, and security of the nation. Therefore, it is necessary that the railroads take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and that Class I railroads maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members, as well as to seamlessly handle predicted increases in volume once the virus begins to subside,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce wrote in their petition.

Although emergency relief procedures were activated by FRA Administrator Ron Batory on March 13, many rail carriers have been slow to adopt, or in some cases have neglected to adopt, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. An action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers has not been issued by FRA and reports that Class I employees, both administrative and over-the-road personnel, have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 illnesses have been received.

The emergency request from the unions follows a letter their presidents sent on March 6 that requested, among other emergency remedial measures, thorough sanitation efforts in railroad facilities and on locomotives to prevent the infection of workers.

The unions’ request includes that railroads adhere to CDC guidelines in the following areas:

• Locomotive sanitation
• Sanitation of common areas used by employees
• Monitoring of employee temperatures
• Sanitation of crew transportation vehicles

The unions also seek that accommodations for meals, including long waits for food, be made in the documentation of hours of service reports for away-from-terminal personnel, including an additional 30 minutes to report in response to a call to work.

Procedures on how to handle employees who develop symptoms of the coronavirus requested by the unions reflect CDC guidelines, which include isolation, personal protective equipment, transport, and self-quarantine.

Finally, the presidents wrote, 25% of furloughed rail personnel should immediately be recalled to service to deal with anticipated shortages and staffing needs, in accordance with President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.

“To standardize and define the best protocols across the industry for the mitigation of the spread of the virus and the protection of employees, these safety precautions need to be immediately ordered by FRA,” Presidents Ferguson and Pierce stated.

Read the petition (PDF)

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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.