Posts Tagged ‘Federal Transit Administration’

AFL-CIO TTD responds to FTA’s NPRM on Transit Worker Safety

The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division division is a member, filed a response to the Federal Transit Administration’s request for information regarding transit worker assaults. Its filing is reproduced below.

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions, we thank you for taking this important step to begin examining the serious safety issues facing transit workers across this country every single day.

TTD’s affiliated unions collectively represent most transit workers in this country, including rail transit, bus, roadway, construction, and maintenance workers. Most of these workers interface directly with the public, and all are exposed to the risks of assault. We have long-called for both legislative and regulatory solutions to increase worker safety, including putting a stop to the scourge of assaults on transit workers.

Background

In 2015 TTD and our affiliated unions successfully fought for the inclusion of assault prevention language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This language required the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that established safety standards, practices, or protocols for protecting transit operators from the risk of assault. Unfortunately, despite our calls for the FTA to expedite the NPRM soon after passage of the FAST Act, the Obama administration did not act on this issue, leaving us in the hands of the Trump administration for four years.

Correctly anticipating that the Trump administration was unlikely to take action on transit assault, despite statutory requirements to do so, our executive committee called on Congress to take further steps to solve this crisis in 2018, including passage of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act. Critically, elements of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, in combination with the Public Transit Safety Improvement Act, both supported by transportation labor, were included first in the INVEST in America Act, and in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was ultimately signed into law on November 15, 2021.

While this is a historic step for transit worker safety, it comes more than seven years after the FAST Act mandated real action to solve this crisis. Tragically, during these intervening years thousands more transit workers have been needlessly attacked – particularly because of COVID safety enforcement – and many more have been killed while performing their duties.

The token action taken by the FTA under the Trump administration fell far short of both what was required in statute and what was needed to help protect these workers. Rather than issuing a rule protecting transit operators from the risk of assault, as required by the FAST Act, the FTA — more than four years after the passage of the law — instead issued a toothless suggestion that transit agencies merely examine the problem if they felt so inclined. Specifically, the notice required local transit agencies to study the problem, but stopped short of requiring any meaningful action. A problem as widespread and important as worker assaults should not be left to a piecemeal approach where workers’ safety is left up to local jurisdictions without resources or meaningful guidance from FTA. Despite TTD’s calls to offer real mitigation strategies that may have included the increased use of driver shields or de-escalation training, the FTA willfully ignored the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of frontline workers.

As mentioned above, the IIJA includes key priorities from the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act and the Public Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which together, will significantly improve safety for transit workers. It is important to note that these safety improvements will only be realized if the provisions required by the IIJA are implanted in such a way that transit agencies are held accountable in the transparent reporting of safety data as well as in their partnership with frontline workers to develop safety plans.

While the applicability of these provisions to this RFI are discussed in greater detail below, specifically they will:

1.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population over 200,000, the recipient must:

a.       Establish a safety committee that is made up of an equal number of frontline employee representatives and management representatives, which has responsibility for:

                        i.      identifying and recommending risk-based mitigations or strategies necessary to reduce the likelihood and severity of consequences identified through the agency’s safety risk assessment;

                     ii.      identifying mitigations or strategies that may be ineffective, inappropriate, or were not implemented as intended; and

                          iii.      identifying safety deficiencies for purposes of continuous improvement.

                iv.      Not less than 0.75 percent of a recipient’s funds must go to safety-related projects eligible under section 5307.

2.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population fewer than 200,000, the agency safety plan must be developed in cooperation with frontline employee representatives. The above-described performance targets and set aside do not apply to those recipients.

3.      Changes to National Transit Database (NTD) reporting: Transit agencies must now report all assaults on transit workers to the NTD, defined as: “a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

TTD cannot overemphasize the need to expeditiously implement these new requirements as, particularly given the increase in assaults faced by transit workers as a result of COVID safety enforcement and in light of the historical circumstances that necessitated seven years of further advocacy to protect our workers, even after Congress recognized the need for additional protections and mandated FTA to uphold its responsibilities to transit workers.

What types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support roadway worker safety?

Roadway workers can be particularly vulnerable to injury due to the nature of their jobs, and we strongly believe that FTA has a duty to provide regulation to ensure that these workers are protected. Too many tragic incidents have occurred leading to serious injuries and deaths that could have been avoided with adequate protections in place. We support the comments of NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy regarding the need to end the use of Train Approach Warning (TAW) and similar protocols. The safety of workers’ lives deserves many more redundancies than TAW can provide, as demonstrated by the many tragic incidents cited in NTSB’s letter.

One important redundancy that should be utilized is Positive Train Control systems (PTC), which provide crucial information to locomotives. We encourage the use and expansion of PTC and view it as an important safety tool. However, the PTC systems are only part of a solution that should include multiple redundancies and fail-safes. PTC systems can only notify operating engineers of messages sent by dispatchers or readings picked up on installed sensors. There are no sensors on locomotives or tracks that specifically check for the presence of workers. Additionally, dispatchers do not always have accurate reports of which tracks are occupied by roadway workers, and even small errors can have deadly consequences. Occasional human error is an unavoidable fact of life, and the only way to ensure safety is to have layered mechanisms designed to work even if other mechanisms fail.

Robust safety protocols are necessary to ensure that all redundancies are leveraged to keep roadway workers safe. These redundancies include ongoing communication with dispatchers, shunts, blue flags, signage, and locked derails to indicate that tracks are occupied. Labor representatives must have input in identifying needed redundancies and protocols. There is no excuse for failing to use simple, tried and tested methods such as flags, signage, and derails, even as we adopt new technologies.

What types of interactions typically lead to transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

Historically, our ability to examine aggregate data about trends in assaults has been limited to information collected in the National Transit Database. Unfortunately, data collected into the NTD has long failed to accurately represent national trends in workplace violence. That is because the only data that is collected in the NTD are injuries which result in an arrest, serious injury, or death. Shockingly, based on the definition of serious injury in statute, it is our understanding that a transit operator could have their nose broken, be hospitalized for 24 hours, and suffer first-degree burns without triggering any reporting requirements.

Furthermore, the limited information that is collected is exceedingly difficult to view and examine. A request for recent assault data from the NTD made by the Transportation Trades Department in 2018 was rejected, and we were told that we should instead submit a FOIA request.

We are therefore left to rely primarily on news stories or information reported by union locals representing workers at transit agencies to better understand both the circumstances that lead to assault as well as the nature of the assaults themselves. To that end, we are hesitant to speculate on “typical” interactions that lead to worker assaults. The enforcement of mask and other COVD safety mandates and farebox collection are undoubtedly a significant factor in many of these interactions. However, the seemingly arbitrary nature of many incidents reviewed by TTD and our affiliated unions necessitates the collection and analysis of accurate data.

Importantly, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act redefines assault for the purpose of data collection in the NTD. Per Division C, Section 30001 of the IIJA, assault on a transit worker is now defined as:

“Assault on a transit worker — The term ‘assault on a transit worker’ means a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

While this is a critical step in better understanding the national trends in workplace safety for transit workers, it is equally critical that this data be transparent and easily accessible not just to the safety committees created under the IIJA but to researchers, labor unions, and other individuals who may use that information in the pursuit of improving safety for working people.

What actions could address and limit these types of interactions?

First, TTD strongly supports the creation of joint labor-management safety committees as required under the IIJA to solve this problem and encourages expeditious implementation of this portion of the IIJA by the FTA. This approach is not a one-size-fits all solution but instead recognizes that local problems require local solutions.

What approaches could prevent transit worker assaults?

Again, we support the process for arriving at solutions as laid forth in the IIJA. Transit workers should work directly with management to examine data, under the new reporting requirements of the IIJA, and determine local solutions best suited to meet their needs. That may include a full redesign of the operator workstation, driver shields, de-escalation training, changes to routes or route intervals, the presence of law enforcement, along with other interventions or combinations of certain interventions.

What differences, if any, are there in approaches to preventing transit worker assaults across different types of transit systems or modes?

Currently, the response is piecemeal. Some transit agencies have responded to safety threats by including shields for drivers. However, there is no consistency across agencies in the implementation or design of shields. Passengers have still been able to reach around and throw objects at workers or make contact with them. While we reiterate our support eschewing a one-size-fits all solution, we strongly urge the FTA to provide transit agencies with best practices when implementing solutions. Minimum standards for shield designs or workstation redesign, for example, may help to avoid solutions that are well intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

If FTA pursues requirements to address transit worker assaults, what minimum requirements should be included?

It is critical to note that this RFI was issued on 9/24/21, prior to the passage of the IIJA. TTD firmly supports the implementation of transit worker safety improvement required under that act. Moreover, we believe that NTD data on transit assaults must be available and transparent, and that the FTA should partner with transit agencies to ensure consistency in the implementation of interventions across the nation.

Further, TTD strongly supports additional actions, like the Competitive Research Funding Opportunity: Redesign of Transit Bus Operator Compartment to Improve Safety, Operational Efficiency, and Passenger Accessibility NOFO issued by the FTA on 02/11/2020. Ultimately, retrofits like shields are helpful but are often imperfect. A wholesale reimagining of the operator’s workstation including the inclusion of worker safety standards for procurements are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of operators, both from assaults and ergonomically, as well as for the reduction of blind spots and the safety of those sharing the road with transit vehicles.

We would also like to note that the FTA does not have a choice in implementing strategies to prevent worker assaults, as this question implies. The FAST Act mandated such action from the agency, and we are glad to see the agency stepping up to meet its statutory obligations.

How should the requirements apply to different transit system types or modes?

This question recognizes a unique challenge. Rail station managers, rail workers, bus operators, maintenance yard workers, and all other transit employees face unique circumstances and safety challenges that require solutions tailored to their environment.

We believe this challenge is largely addressed by the IIJA, through the creation of safety committees made up of workers and management, who, together can identify their unique challenges and the solutions necessary to solve them.

The FTA must be an active partner in this process, and these committees must not be a box-checking exercise for transit agencies, however. Providing true oversite, making newly collected data in the NTD transparent and accessible to researchers and representatives of labor, and holding listening sessions at a national level to provide oversight of this program as its implemented will all be critical in the coming three years.

What other types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support transit worker assault prevention?

In its role as the federal authority on transit and transit safety, FTA should be continually engaged to identify actions that would benefit the safety of everyone who uses our nation’s transit systems. If transit workers are unsafe, they are not able to do their jobs and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for riders. Because of the complexity of transit systems, increased coordination will be needed to ensure that transit worker assaults do not continue to skyrocket. Data-sharing, transparency, and collaboration with frontline workers and labor groups should be prioritized as new ideas are considered.

What information is collected on transit worker assaults that is not reportable to the NTD?

Prior to the passage of the IIJA, the NTD only collected data on assaults leading to “serious injury” as then defined in 49 CFR 830.2, “(1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.” Obviously, this definition leaves out many possible injuries that need to be captured to have an accurate understanding of transit worker assaults. We believe that the passage of the IIJA will be a major improvement to this issue; however, the FTA must also renew its commitment to transparency and ensure that such data is made available for review.

What internal threshold do RTAs use for tracking transit worker assaults other than those reportable to the NTD?

It is impossible to know what threshold every RTA uses across the country, and we believe that this demonstrates a piecemeal and haphazard approach to transit worker safety. With the passage of the IIJA, we hope that reporting of assaults will be brought into harmony across jurisdictions and allow for more robust leadership from FTA to ensure that our nation’s transit workers are adequately protected. The definition of assault and the data that is collected regarding it should not vary across RTAs. Further, this kind of tracking should not be limited to only those RTAs that have Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans, as this can exclude rural transit agencies.

On average, how many additional transit worker assaults occur per year that do not meet a current NTD reporting requirement?

While the answer to this question would undoubtedly be useful in addressing the scourge of transit worker assaults, the lack of an adequate answer is part of the problem. Transit agencies are not often forthcoming with information, which not only means that responsibility is neglected and left to representatives of the frontline workers to try their best to collect that data, but also that transit agencies have no way of responding to national trends because of a significant lack of awareness.

What are or would be the costs associated with tracking these additional assaults?

TTD believes that any additional costs associated with collecting and reporting this data are trivial relative to the incurred costs of workers compensation, lost hours from workers, and the high turnover at transit agencies as a result of deteriorating workplace conditions. Whatever trivial costs may exist should not be a criterion in determining how or whether or not they should live up to their statutory requirements under the IIJA to do so. Moreover, we believe they should go beyond the basic requirements of the IIJA and report this information annually, with analysis, and tools for transit agencies to implement interventions that may alleviate the impacts of national trends in assault.

What technology is available to address transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

TTD supports the research and implementation of technologies that improve worker safety. In the case of worker assaults, however, there are a number of solutions that could be implemented easily and without the need for additional research and testing time that would be needed for new technologies. Simple workstation redesigns that provide secure barriers between workers and the public would deter many assaults. De-escalation training, route planning, and procedural and schedule planning can mitigate many assaults. We do not believe that FTA should wait for possible technologies to be developed to implement these known solutions.

How can FTA better support the development and implementation of these technologies?

For the reason noted above, FTA needs to be actively involved in the implementation of new technologies and strategies to increase transit worker safety. As part of these efforts, the agency should consult directly with frontline workers and representatives of frontline workers, including safety experts and law enforcement professionals, to share lessons learned in the field, and specific thoughts on how to correctly implement the statutory requirements of the IIJA.

In closing, TTD urges FTA to act expeditiously in the implementation of new transit safety requirements in the IIJA, and reminds the agency of its statutory obligations to protect transit workers from assault. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and look forward to working with the agency moving forward.

FTA publishes bus and rail safety reports

Last last week, FTA published new bus and rail safety data reports to provide a snapshot of transit industry safety performance from 2007–2018 for rail and 2008–2018 for bus, and focus on patterns and trends in events, fatalities and injuries. Report summaries and full reports are accessible on the FTA website with a list of detailed links below.

FTA will host a webinar from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, to provide an overview of the new reports. Registration is available on the FTA website.

FTA launches Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative

Transit worker and rider safety is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Public transit is a safe form of transportation. Transit workers should expect a safe workplace and riders should expect a safe trip.

To help ensure the continued safety of our nation’s public transit systems, the Federal Transit Administration launched the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative to provide information and resources to help transit agencies address and prevent crime on their systems and protect transit workers and riders.

FTA resources can be used by transit agencies to prevent and address crime in their systems and protect transit workers and riders. These resources also can be used for overtime pay for enhanced security personnel presence, mental health and crisis intervention specialists.

FTA has partnered with the National Transit Institute (NTI) to provide training for transit and bus operators on assault awareness and prevention. The

Click here for a list of courses from the NTI.

Click here for more information about the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative.

Nuria Fernandez confirmed by Senate to lead FTA

By voice vote June 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nuria Fernandez as the 15th administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Fernandez

Fernandez joined the Biden administration as deputy administrator of the agency on Jan. 21 and had served as the senior FTA official until her confirmation.

Her prior experience includes as general manager/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), chief operating officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and senior VP of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She also served as Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation, overseeing O’Hare and Midway airports.

Fernandez served as acting FTA administrator for the Bill Clinton administration in 1997 and is a past chair of the American Public Transportation Association from 2019-20.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg recommends $2.5 billion for new and expanded transit services

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the recommendation of $2.5 billion to advance the construction or completion of 25 rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) and streetcar projects in 12 states, as well as other projects that may become ready for funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. These projects, competitively funded through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program, will create hundreds of construction- and operations-related jobs and help communities expand transportation options that improve access and mobility for residents.

“Across the country, communities are seeking to expand public transit as a way to create economic opportunity, improve safety, advance equity, reduce congestion and pollution, and lower the cost of living for their residents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “These capital projects will improve life in 25 communities and are the start of what we hope will be a once-in-a-generation investment to modernize and expand public transit across the country.”

FTA’s FY 2022 Annual Report on Funding Recommendations includes $1.56 billion for 17 CIG projects with existing grant agreements, and $461.1 million for eight new CIG projects estimated to be ready for grants in FY 2022. An additional $427.2 million is recommended for other CIG and Expedited Project Delivery (EPD) Pilot Program projects that may become ready for funding during FY 2022.

“FTA is proud to work with communities across the country to bring more environmentally friendly public transportation options to residents,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “These investments support President Biden’s commitment to combat climate change while also improving safety, racial equity and quality of life for thousands of Americans whose lives will be touched by these projects.”

This announcement is consistent with President Joe Biden’s FY 2022 budget, which includes first-time funding recommendations for eight transit projects in five states. These include:

  • In Phoenix, Arizona, the Northwest Extension Phase II project would extend Valley Metro’s light rail system 1.5 miles from the existing end-of-line station in northwest Phoenix to the Metrocenter Mall, improving access to the region’s light rail system for residents in various communities in north and west Phoenix, Glendale and Peoria, and support transit-oriented land-use planning in the corridor, including the planned redevelopment of the Metrocenter Mall site.
  • In Minnesota, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The METRO Gold Line BRT project in St. Paul would better connect transit riders traveling along a 10.3-mile corridor on I-94 between downtown St. Paul and the suburban cities of Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale and Woodbury and, more broadly, connect the eastern part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area to the regional transit network via Union Depot in downtown St. Paul; and 2) The Rochester Rapid Transit BRT project in Rochester would bring BRT service to a 2.6-mile corridor that includes Downtown Rochester, Mayo Clinic campuses, commuter lots and residential neighborhoods.
  • In Austin, Texas, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The Expo Center BRT project would bring BRT service to residents along a 12-mile corridor, connecting East Austin to the University of Texas, downtown Austin and other major employment areas; and 2) The Pleasant Valley BRT project would bring BRT service to a 14-mile corridor connecting residents of the Mueller neighborhood in northeast Austin to the Goodnight Ranch neighborhood in southeast Austin, and other major employment areas such as Dell Children’s Medical Center and Austin Community College (ACC) Eastview.
  • In Washington state, two BRT projects are recommended for funding: 1) The RapidRide I Line BRT project in South King County would bring BRT service to suburban communities along a 17-mile corridor between the cities of Renton, Kent and Auburn; and 2) The Pacific Avenue/State Route 7 BRT project in Pierce County would bring BRT service to communities along a 14.3-mile corridor between downtown Tacoma and Spanaway, connecting residents to key destinations such as the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts/Pantages Center, the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, and the University of Washington Tacoma Campus.
  • In MadisonWisconsin, the Madison East-West BRT project would provide fast, reliable bus service for residents in a key 15.5-mile corridor running along East Washington Avenue, around the State Capitol building, through downtown Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, and continuing west on University Avenue to the West Transfer Point or West Towne Mall.

The CIG Program is the federal government’s primary grant program for supporting transit capital projects that are locally planned, implemented and operated. It provides funding for investments such as new and expanded heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit and ferries, as well as corridor-based BRT investments that emulate the features of rail. The program includes funding for three categories of eligible projects, as defined by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act: New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity.

FTA’s Annual Report on Funding Recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2022 CIG Program, including links to individual project profiles, is available on FTA’s website.

FTA announces 2021 drug and alcohol testing rates

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) posted its 2021 drug and alcohol testing rates in the Federal Register Nov. 24. According to the notice, the minimum random drug testing rate will remain at 50%, while the random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for the year. The notice applies to employers subject to 49 CFR part 655. The rates are effective January 1, 2021.

Click here to read the posted notice in the Federal Register.

Union leaders call on FTA to set mandatory safety standards, ensure pay for frontline transit workers

April 8, 2020

The Honorable K. Jane Williams
Acting Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Acting Administrator Williams:

First, we want to thank you and your staff for your hard work ensuring that funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was apportioned to transit agencies in such an expeditious manner. The $25 billion in emergency funding provided by the CARES Act comes at a critical time for public transportation, the frontline workforce who operate and maintain it, and the millions of Americans—including health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—who still rely on it every day during this crisis.

As you know, these funds are provided for capital and operating expenses related to the coronavirus health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and paying the administrative leave of operations personnel due to reductions in service. While PPE and cleaning supplies are eligible for 100 percent federal reimbursement, we understand that there are significant challenges—largely related to demand and global supply chain disruptions—in securing adequate safety equipment for public transportation personnel.

While we stand by the critical importance of the work our members are providing during this crisis, we must also consider their health and the health of those around them. Stories of frontline public transportation workers contracting COVID-19 and tragically dying from the virus are already emerging around the country, and it will only get worse in the coming weeks and months. To ensure the best use of the emergency funding provided by the CARES Act and to protect the health and safety of the frontline workforce and traveling public, we request the following:

First, the Federal Transit Administration should issue immediate and specific interim guidance to public transportation agencies and local governments on the minimum level of PPE for essential frontline employees and cleaning procedures for public transportation services and facilities. At a minimum, this should include masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies for transit workers; and mandatory cleaning standards for trains, buses, subway cars, and public transit stations that are consistent with existing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Second, if a public transportation agency or local government is not able to meet these guidelines and is therefore not able to provide service, and in keeping with the intent of the CARES Act, the FTA must ensure that transit agencies provide continuity of pay to employees until such a time that the established requirements can be met.

Finally, the FTA should urge transit agencies to follow back-door loading policies on all buses, when possible, for all non-ADA passengers to minimize exposure to bus operators, and to set temporary maximum passenger loads that allow for social distancing of passengers.

Taking these steps now will ensure not only the health and safety of America’s frontline public transportation workforce, but also that this critical transportation service continues to operate regularly when we emerge from this crisis.

We thank you for your consideration and would be happy to have further discussion with you or your staff about proactive steps we can take to reduce harm and loss of life during this crisis.

Sincerely,

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.

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 petitions federal agencies for worker COVID-19 protections

CLEVELAND, Ohio. (March 20, 2020) — SMART Transportation Division filed a request to both the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) urging them to issue Emergency Orders (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, security, and transport of the nation’s citizens,” wrote SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson in his filing to the agencies. “Therefore, it is necessary that the carriers 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.”

Although President Donald Trump declared a national emergency regarding the COVID-19 viral outbreak on March 13, many transit agencies 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 the coronavirus.

SMART-TD’s emergency order request includes, among other provisions, that transit agencies under the purview of both FTA and FMCSA adhere to CDC guidelines in the following areas:

• Sanitation of operators’ stations

• Sanitation of vehicles

• Sanitation of employee common rooms

• Personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees monitoring fare boxes

• Monitoring of employee temperatures

• Sanitation at lodging facilities for away-from-home employees

Procedures requested by the SMART-TD on the handling of employees and passengers who are symptomatic of the coronavirus reflect CDC guidelines, which include isolation, PPE, transport, and self-quarantine.

Finally, President Ferguson wrote, 25% of furloughed transit 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 the FTA and FMCSA,” President Ferguson stated.

Read the petition to the FMCSA.
Read the petition to the FTA.

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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 different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

Trump budget proposal cuts Amtrak, FRA and shorts RRB

If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).

Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding.

“Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.”

The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted.

Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020.

The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions.

In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion.

Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say.

The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff.

However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE.

The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year.

“RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.”

It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations.

“The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said.

However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.