SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce, issued a joint statement, following their submission of their comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on train crew size.
“Operating freight trains with one-person train crews is unsafe and must be prohibited. That is the message we delivered yesterday in the comments filed with federal rail safety regulators,” Previsich and Pierce said.
“Our comments provide a clear rationale for the FRA to finalize a rule this year and to close loopholes included in the agency’s initial proposed rule that could permit the limited use of one-person crew freight operations.”
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce, issued a joint statement, following their submission of their comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on train crew size. “Operating freight trains with one-person train crews is unsafe and must be prohibited. That is the message we delivered yesterday in the comments filed with federal rail safety regulators,” Previsich and Pierce said. “Our comments provide a clear rationale for the FRA to finalize a rule this year
On Wednesday, June 15, SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) submitted their joint comments on the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) proposed two-person crew rule.
While both unions strongly support the proposed rule, they suggested in their comments that the rule be made stronger before being made final.
“We firmly believe that the only safe way to operate a train is with a crew of at least two people – a federally certified locomotive engineer and a federally certified conductor,” the unions emphasized.
Ed Wytkind, President of TTD, AFL-CIO, John Previsich, President of SMART Transportation Division and other union leaders have released a joint letter to Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), urging the DOT to issue a rule “to protect bus drivers and other transit operators from the physical assaults that are plaguing this industry.”
By John Previsich, president of SMART Transportation Division and Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (www.ttd.org).
Photo courtesy of Jim Allen (Local 1400)
Alabamians sure love their college football, but what we’ve just recently learned is that they also like their passenger trains — and they’re willing to pay for them. A recent state-wide poll by DFM Research shows that passenger trains don’t only thrive in the big cities on the corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston – they are quite popular in the Heart of Dixie, too.
More than half of those polled in Alabama say they want to see an increase in the service provided by Amtrak, our national passenger railroad. When asked about expanding Amtrak’s once-daily passenger service through Alabama, nearly 85 percent support the idea of adding an additional route from Birmingham or Mobile to New Orleans or Atlanta. This poll shouldn’t surprise anyone given that others in Gulf Coast states are pushing aggressively to restart Amtrak service lost after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
The people of Alabama aren’t alone in their views. All across the country, in red states and blue, in rural counties and major metropolitan cities, Americans are calling for more passenger rail service — and it’s easy to see why. With 31 million passengers last year alone, Amtrak’s popularity has soared, and over the last decade, Amtrak has broken its ridership record almost annually. Here’s the best part: during a time when pollsters are churning out the views of voters on a daily basis, our national passenger railroad actually polls better than anyone auditioning for president.
All jokes aside, this begs one very important question — if Amtrak is so highly valued by the American people, why do we still have politicians in Washington trying to kill it? Yes, there was actually an amendment on floor of the House late last year to eliminate Amtrak’s funding and quite a few who serve in Alabama’s congressional delegation voted for it. To be clear, such a plan would bankrupt the railroad, strand riders in Alabama and across the country, and put thousands of middle class employees out of work. And think about this: while other nations such as China are racing toward launching 400 mile-per-hour train service, America is still electing politicians who want to abandon passenger rail entirely.
If people in Alabama knew this, we’re sure they would be asking why their politicians are not listening. Most voters in the state think any attempt to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak is a terrible idea. When told that Amtrak receives over $1 billion per year in federal support, 75 percent say they reject attempts to eliminate it and want funding to continue at current levels.
It seems people in Alabama understand what some in Congress do not: that rail transportation is vitally important to our nation’s economy. Long-term economic growth cannot happen without a greatly enhanced transportation infrastructure, and that includes expanding passenger rail services.
Supporting a healthy economy also involves making sure rail transportation is safe, so it’s no surprise that people in this state emphatically favor policies that do just that.
Like a super-majority of Americans polled across a wide swatch of our country, the people of Alabama believe that running 19,000-ton freight trains — many containing hazardous materials — with only one crew member is a bad idea. That’s why nearly 90 percent of residents support legislation mandating a minimum of two crew members on all freight trains. Since Amtrak shares tracks with freight trains in most parts of the country, the crew sizes used in freight operations will also affect the safety of passenger trains.
America can’t compete in a global economy without fully-funded national passenger rail service and modernized infrastructure to boot. That takes long-term investment by the federal government, in partnership with states and the private sector. We also need to make sure that our freight rail system, which provides the track for much of Amtrak’s service, is safe and adequately staffed.
Alabamians agree with people from California to Florida and most stops in between: our country needs modern and reliable rail transportation with the resources to pay for it and the federal rules to ensure its safety.
In a letter dated, January 14, SMART TD President John Previsich wrote the Surface Transportation Board opposing a Canadian Pacific Railway proposal to acquire Norfolk Southern Railroad.
See the letter in its entirety below or click here to read the letter.
“Dear Chairman Elliott, Vice Chairman Miller and Member Begeman:
“I am writing to you on behalf of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART TD), regarding Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CP) proposal to acquire Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS).
“As the representative of more than 125,000 active and retired railroad workers, I am writing to convey that we are strongly opposed to this takeover proposal. This action has the real potential for a far-reaching, detrimental impact on America’s rail network, including lost jobs and an equally negative impact on those who ship by rail. We also strongly oppose CP’s scheme to circumvent the regulatory requirements through the establishment of a voting trust to assume control in advance of regulatory approval. Such a trust would violate existing statutory and regulatory prohibitions regarding unlawful control.
“CP’s relentless pursuit of short-term profit with little regard to the impact on the greater good—workers, communities and our nation’s rail shippers is well known. History shows what happens when railroads harvest revenue for immediate self-enrichment of officers and stockholders at the expense of investing in maintenance and capital projects to ensure a viable industry well into the future. If approved, this merger would mean fewer railroads and less competition in the industry. The certain results will be fewer rail jobs, higher freight rates and diminished rail service.
“E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of CP, has already boasted in the press that NS will be a “cash cow” because he will be able to sell off what he says are “excess” rail yards for real estate development. He has also stated that NS has a “gold plated” infrastructure that is overly maintained and he could greatly reduce capital investment on that road. Such a disinvestment in the nation’s rail network could only occur in a merged environment with diminished competition among carriers. The end result is higher costs and reduced service for the nation’s shippers.
“In addition, Harrison recently announced that he will reduce capital spending on CP in 2016 by $400 million and extend his moratorium on purchasing new locomotives until 2018 or longer on that railroad. His strategy is clear; use up the current railroad infrastructure and wear out the locomotives, leaving a railroad that will need dramatic investment once he leaves. The railroads’ officers, investment bankers, consultants and stockholders will walk away greatly enriched at the expense of the future health of our nation’s rail service. In fact, a January 12, 2016 white paper issued by CP in Calgary reveals that CP’s scheme for NS is to improve service by reducing investment, a plan that they note in their closing remarks may not produce the desired results: “CP’s forward-looking information involves numerous assumptions, inherent risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from the forward-looking information” and that “forward-looking information is not a guarantee of future performance.”
“In summary, if Harrison is allowed to take his CP model to the NS, through either a voting trust or with regulatory approval, the end result will produce an irrecoverable disinvestment in NS’s infrastructure, substantially diminished freight service, and a marked loss of jobs.
“We urge members of the STB to safeguard our jobs and protect our nation’s freight rail infrastructure and those who ship by rail by advocating for the public interest, not enabling short term profits for the benefit of a few at the expense of the future viability of our nation’s rail system. We ask that the STB reject the proposed acquisition and also take legal action as required to prevent the circumvention of your regulatory authority through the establishment of a voting trust.”
As we remember 2015, we recall the moments that have defined the past year and look forward to forging a stronger path in the new year.
In these uncertain times, let us remember our Brothers and Sisters who came before us: all of those who stood united in the face of danger and against all odds—all of those who stood unified for the greater good. Their sacrifice, solidarity and resolve brought justice to the workplace, security for working families, and is the foundation of our country.
In these first few days of 2016, we stand united, and we stand with the spirit of those who walked the path before us. We carry the commitment to fight the good fight, and together, we welcome the brand new year with a sense of renewed hope, strength, gratitude and solidarity.
I wish all Members and their families a happy and healthy new year.
It was working men and women who made the 20th century the American century. It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label—President Barack Obama
On December 3, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST ACT) by overwhelming bipartisan votes of 83 to 16 and 359 to 65 in the Senate and House respectively. The legislation is the first long-term surface transportation reauthorization in a decade and provides funding and policy changes for our nation’s highways, mass transit and rail systems. This landmark legislation includes a number of SMART TD policy priorities, many of which are outlined below.
“I’m very pleased with the legislation overall compared to some of the original proposals. The legislation was modified in both houses and in the conference committee to correct many of the harmful issues facing our membership,” SMART TD President John Previsich said.
“Our National Legislative Director John Risch and his team, working with other unions and allies did a stellar job on a very complex 1300-page piece of legislation that was passed through a very complicated legislative process.
“In difficult economic and political times, an effective legislative department makes all the difference and we have one of the best in the business.”
“Considering the makeup of the Congress, overall we are pleased with the policy provisions in this legislation, and that the law covers five years of authorization,” said Risch. “However, we are disappointed that much of the funding came from non-user fees. Freight railroads alone fund their own track and infrastructure. Using general funding for highways puts railroads at a competitive disadvantage because trucks are not paying their fair share of costs for highway construction and maintenance.”
Provisions to protect transit members from assault
Section 3022. Improved Public Transportation Safety Measures
This much-needed section will better protect our transit members by requiring the Federal Transit Administration to promulgate regulations to protect public transportation operators from assault.
The rulemaking will be required to consider the safety needs of drivers in different modes, including bus and light rail.
This provision was a direct result of a joint lobbying effort by SMART TD, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
ECP brake mandate is maintained
The legislation largely protects the May 2015 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rule that requires the use of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on certain high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), which SMART TD strongly supports.
While the legislation does require another study on ECP brakes, it also includes language supported by SMART TD that will ensure testing is done independently and objectively, and not by the railroads or other entities affected by the rule.
Additionally, the legislation neither prohibits DOT from moving forward with the May 2015 rule while the study is in progress, nor does it require DOT to issue a new rule dependent on the study’s findings.
The original Senate Commerce Committee language would have repealed the ECP rule and replaced it with a railroad-dominated study.
Inward-facing cameras cannot be used to retaliate against employees.
Working with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), SMART TD secured a provision stating that any in-cab audio or image recording obtained by a railroad carrier under this section may not be used to retaliate against an employee. Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R – Calif.) reinforced this provision by specifically mentioning it in a House floor speech.
We are pleased the final bill removed a requirement for efficiency testing.
Removed harmful privatization language for transit projects
Working with TTD and other transit unions (TWU and ATU), SMART TD helped strip a harmful privatization provision from the legislation. The provision would have been an unprecedented giveaway to the private sector by allowing certain public-private partnerships to move to the front of the line for grant awards simply because the project included private money, with no minimum threshold.
This provision – if not changed – could have resulted in lost jobs, lower wages and diminished passenger rail and transit service.
Biased hair testing methods rejected
SMART TD has strongly opposed the unfair and biased use of hair testing for drug tests.
SMART TD strongly opposed previous versions of this legislation that would have allowed companies to immediately begin testing an employee’s hair for drugs.
The final legislation would only allow companies to do so after experts at the Department of Health and Human Services have set guidelines for such testing.
Tank car safety standards
The legislation makes substantial improvements in tank car standards by requiring that all new tank cars are equipped with one-half inch thermal blankets.
All existing DOT-111 tank cars transporting flammable liquids are required to be upgraded to retrofit standards regardless of product shipped.
The legislation requires DOT to promulgate a rule requiring working alerters in the controlling locomotive of each commuter and intercity passenger train.
The legislation requires DOT to initiate a rulemaking for redundant signal protection for Maintenance of Way (MOW) workers.
The legislation provides $199 million to finance a competitive grant program for PTC implementation on commuter railroads.
Funding: Amtrak and Transit
Transit programs will receive a 9 percent funding increase in Fiscal year 2016 over FY 2015 levels and 2 percent increases each year through 2020.
Amtrak is funded through the appropriations process; however, this legislation increases authorized FY 2016 funding levels for Amtrak by $60 million.
California has more museums dedicated to railroads than any other state in our country – and it’s easy to see why. From the transcontinental railroad to the developing high-speed rail system, rail transportation has played a significant role in shaping this state’s history.
The people of California believe passenger rail is key to the state’s future, too. At a public hearing in Modesto last summer, plans to improve and expand passenger rail service received overwhelming support from area residents, Republicans and Democrats alike. And a new poll prepared by Dean Mitchell of DFM Research found those same sentiments are shared by the people of California’s 10th Congressional District.
Those living in the district enjoy six daily Amtrak train routes in the San Joaquin Valley, running from Bakersfield to Sacramento and the Bay Area. More than 8 of 10 polled say they want to see Amtrak service increased or at least remain the same, and more than 80 percent want commuter rail services increased or maintained at current levels.
Modesto-area residents aren’t alone. As Amtrak continues to grow in popularity – ridership hit an all-time high in 2014 with 31 million passengers – an overwhelming majority of Americans support increasing passenger rail service in all parts of the country, both in traditionally blue and red states from the south to the Midwest and Northeast.
Sadly, not everyone is hearing this call.
Some in Congress continue to fight the old anti-Amtrak wars by proposing the elimination of all federal funding to support the service, which would bankrupt the railroad and strand riders in California and across America. While those efforts have failed, the persistence of anti-passenger rail forces has brought headwinds to efforts to advance a robust passenger rail expansion and modernization plan.
Like the vast majority of Americans, most residents of Stanislaus County and the surrounding areas have shown they don’t agree with such proposals. In fact, when told that Amtrak gets over $1 billion per year in federal support, more than 80 percent say they reject attempts to eliminate it and want to continue the current funding level.
In addition to expanded passenger rail service, Californians also say emphatically that they favor policies making rail transportation safer.
Not unlike the views of most Americans, the idea of running 19,000-ton freight trains – many containing hazardous materials – with only one crew member doesn’t sit well with the people of the 10th Congressional District. With up to 50 freight trains running through the region each day, a stunning 95 percent of residents support a state law requiring a minimum of two crew members on all freight trains running through California – such as the one signed into law in September by Gov. Jerry Brown.
More than 90 percent of those surveyed want national legislation mandating the same thing. This issue impacts passenger rail safety as well, because in most parts of the country Amtrak shares the tracks with freight trains.
Californians understand that having a safe, efficient rail system is vital to a strong economy. We need actions that can bring relief to a clogged transportation system that is choking productivity, stunting job creation and undermining efforts to grow our economy. California voters couldn’t be more clear: they like passenger rail service, they want more of it and they expect their elected officials to make it as safe as possible.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich recently conversed with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) about Sanders’ democratic candidacy for President of the United States and the positive impact that the voice of unionized labor can have on the outcome of the race. Sanders is well known for his record of voting for policies that help working families and against those policies that hurt the poor. On the issues such as wealth inequality, Sanders is outspoken about evening out the gap between the middle class and the wealthy.
If elected, Sanders has promised:
To rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
To reverse climate changes.
To create worker co-ops.
To grow the trade union movement.
To raise the minimum wage.
Pay equity for women workers.
To establish trade policies that benefit American workers.
To make college affordable for all.
To take on Wall Street and break up the big banks.
To make Health care a right for all.
To protect the most vulnerable Americans.
To reform the tax structure.
Senator Sanders is the longest-serving Independent in U.S. congressional history, having served 16 years in the House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. He is currently serving his second term as a senator.
By John Previsich, SMART Transportation Division President
We are all aware of the recent incident that occurred on Amtrak Train 188 in Philadelphia. Three of our conductor Brothers and Sisters from Local 1370 in New York City and the engineer operating the locomotive have had their lives forever changed by a tragedy that could have been prevented. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Akida Henry, Thomas O’Brien, Emilio Fonseca and everyone who lost their lives or were injured in the May 12 derailment.
The accident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Members of the SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team were dispatched to the site of the catastrophic derailment to assist in the investigation. Significant progress has been made in understanding how and why the accident occurred and that investigation is continuing. It is our policy to not comment on the outcome of an ongoing investigation and we will leave that discussion for a later date.
We are, however, compelled to comment on a number of issues raised in the national discussion after the accident. The installation of Positive Train Control and its value in accident prevention has been placed front and center in the dialogue. While our Organization strongly supports the installation of PTC as a safety enhancement, we must comment that PTC is a safety overlay to the other measures that are necessary for a safe rail operation. PTC can be a valuable tool in helping to ensure safe operation of a train according to what is supposed to happen, but it is of little or no value in addressing issues that aren’t supposed to happen; i.e., pedestrian or vehicular intrusions into the right-of-way, broken or faulty rail or railhead, sudden incapacitation of the employee operating the train and other anomalies that will continue to occur with or without PTC. Some in the rail industry even claim that PTC will permit locomotives traveling at high speeds, routinely hauling hazardous materials, to be safely operated by a single crew member. This claim is fiction. One need only look at the Chatsworth incident, Metro North and the tragic 2013 train wreck in Lac-Mégantic, where a train leveled an entire town in Quebec, to see the risks associated with operating trains with single-person crews.
The ongoing dialogue includes discussion of inward-facing cameras in locomotive cabs. While inward-facing cameras may be of interest after an accident occurs, they will do nothing to prevent tragedies like the one we saw in Philadelphia. It is only natural to want to know every detail that occurs during an accident. However, locomotives already incorporate sophisticated event recorders that record the actions of train crews. The recorder measures speed, throttle, amperage, whistle and bell, application of the brakes, location, operation of head lights, ditch lights, etc. The data collected are routinely used by the NTSB and FRA to pinpoint the cause of accidents, and have already provided important information about this terrible incident. Inward-facing cameras add little additional information to that already available and in fact may be counter-productive due to the intrusive and unnecessary distraction caused by their use.
Many who promote the increased use of video surveillance in locomotives have good intentions, but rail transportation safety will continue to be impaired until Congress adopts a serious reform agenda that addresses crew staffing, work schedules and chronic fatigue. Focusing on implementation of technology that might make it easier to investigate accidents or monitor employee behavior merely diverts the conversation from meaningful safety reform. No one should believe that inward-facing cameras are the answer to the multiple safety challenges faced by the industry. There is no technology that can ever safely replace a second crewmember in the cab. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains operate along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. All such employees must be given a predictable work schedule with adequate time away from work to properly mitigate the chronic fatigue inherent in the industry.
Allowing discussion of inward-facing cameras and PTC to divert policy makers from addressing other much more meaningful rail safety reforms would be a mistake. Employees know the real culprits that undermine rail safety include chronic fatigue, chaotic and unpredictable work schedules, trains being operated with a single crewmember in the locomotive cab – a situation that if not present would have prevented the Philadelphia accident – and delays in implementing life-saving measures such as predictable work schedules. No amount of PTC or surveillance cameras can make up for the lack of well-rested, properly-staffed operating crews.
It is time for Congress to get serious and advance legislation that will have a meaningful impact on the true safety issues in our industry. It is only through such action that we will reduce the occurrence of preventable rail accidents and save lives.
CLEVELAND, Dec. 17 — Top leaders of 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) announced today that their organizations will be participating with four other rail unions in coordinated bargaining in the upcoming round of national negotiations.
On Dec. 8, 2014, BLET general chairmen and SMART–TD general chairpersons each served bargaining notices on their respective railroads, including identical notices related to health and welfare and related benefits.
“Today we build on the successes of joint bargaining during the past two national rounds,” said BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Now more than ever before it is imperative that the unions representing railroad operating crafts sit side-by-side at the national table, and I am pleased that we have been able to accomplish that.”
“This is a landmark occasion for BLET members and SMART–TD members alike,” said SMART–TD President John Previsich. “Today’s announcement builds on several years of cooperation between our organizations on a variety of common issues, and is the logical next step for our great unions. Working together will allow rail labor to make the strongest possible effort to obtain for our members the wages and working conditions that they deserve.”
Also participating in the coordinated bargaining effort are the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers (IBB), and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU (NCFO).
Jointly, the participating unions represent more than 85,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise over 58% of the workforce who will be impacted by the negotiations.