Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signs A.B. 337, a law that sets a minimum two-person crew and establishes hefty fines for freight carriers who violate the law.
The advocacy and hard work of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees, the Nevada State Legislative Board and a coalition that included Sheet Metal brothers and sisters, other rail unions and safety-conscious members of the public has paid off.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed A.B. 337 on May 15. Two-person crews are now required on Class I and II freight trains being operated in the state or the carriers will face steep fines.
The bill’s signing caps a massive effort by SMART TD members that spanned years in the face of carrier opposition.
“This law didn’t pass by accident. It was the hard work of Jason Doering, our Nevada state legislative director, and others that made it happen,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “We all owe Jason and others who worked on this our thanks for keeping train operations safe in Nevada, for not just those who operate trains but for the public as well.”
Doering and his board assembled a group of dedicated advocates who helped to spread the important message about how crew size is, first and foremost, about keeping communities safe.
“Many people helped to get the word out about the public safety ramifications of this legislation,” Doering said. “Those concerted efforts paid off, and now we’ve ensured that the state’s railways stay safe with two crew members in each freight train’s cab.”
The legislation was sponsored in the State Assembly by Susie Martinez, a Teamster who, Doering said, “treated him like family” and whose staffer, Carlos Hernandez, assisted in the early stages of getting the bill passed.
Additional backers included Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, also a primary sponsor of the legislation, as well as Assemblywoman Shea Backus, who testified before the state Senate and expressed strong support during an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee hearing, and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, another co-sponsor whose father was a United Transportation Union member.
“Really — all of the Nevada Assembly and Senate Democrats, as well as the governor, receive my thanks for their understanding of the important protection to public safety that this law provides,” Doering said. “There is too much risk involved in transporting hazardous materials and goods across our country and through our communities to have a single crewmember on trains that are a mile long or even longer.”
The law establishes fines of $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense within three years and $25,000 for a third and all other offenses for Class I and II carriers that operate freight locomotives without at least two people in the cab. Hostling and helper services are not covered by the law.
Doering and his board were stung by the 2017 veto by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, of S.B. 427, a prior try at two-person crew legislation that had passed both houses of the Nevada state Legislature.
But a change in leadership brought a new opportunity with Sisolak’s election last year.
“No doubt we were disappointed in 2017, but this is a prime example of how elections matter,” Doering said. “We cracked open the door with our previous effort and laid the groundwork. With that change in leadership in the state Capitol, it was opened even wider.”
The Nevada State Legislative Board especially wanted to thank members from SMART’s Sheet Metal Local 88 out of Las Vegas, who helped to amplify the message.
“They were an extraordinary help!” Doering said. “Jeff Proffitt and Alfonso Lopez — we couldn’t have moved anything without their support. Sheet Metal put rail labor on the map in Nevada.”
Also advocating for the legislation was Fran Almaraz, who helped set up meetings and facilitated a relationship with legislative leadership, Doering said.
Assisting the cause as well were TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, who provided guidance after succeeding earlier this year in getting two-person legislation made into law in his state, Dean Mitchell, who helped in researching and targeting the message and the TD Public Relations Department, which helped to compose an op-ed published by the Nevada Independent and put together print material to get the word out about the legislation.
And, as he did with S.B. 427, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen’s Nevada State Legislative Board Chairman Matt Parker mobilized BLET members to advocate loudly in favor of the legislation.
“It truly was a team effort,” Doering said.
A.B. 337 was approved April 23 by the State Assembly by a 29-12 vote and in the state Senate on May 7 by 13-8 margin. Both votes were party line with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.
Nevada now joins Arizona, California, Colorado, West Virginia and Wisconsin as states that have legislation requiring two people to operate freight trains.
“This successful passage in Nevada proves that our persistence pays off,” Risch said. ”Concerning two-person crews, the message of public safety did not change from two years ago and will not change going forward. It’s that simple. Two crew members are vital to ensuring that these trains are operated safely and that our communities are secure.
“Legislators in Nevada knew this before, and they know it now. As a result of the 2018 election, the leadership in the governor’s office changed and now this safety-focused, common-sense bill has been made law.”
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will have some major shoes to fill with the April 13, 2019, retirement of Robert “Bob” Lauby, the agency’s chief safety officer.
Lauby had served in that capacity for FRA since September 2013. He was a frequent presenter at SMART Transportation Division regional meetings and worked to provide regulatory oversight for rail safety in the United States while overseeing the development and enforcement of safety regulations and programs related to the rail industry.
“Serving as the associate administrator for Railroad Safety and FRA’s chief safety officer is one of the highlights of my career,” Lauby said. “The job has been both challenging and fulfilling.
“Over the years, we grappled with many important issues and have significantly changed the industry for the better.”
Lauby had a hand in several regulatory safety efforts at FRA such as Positive Train Control, conductor certification, training requirements, drug and alcohol testing for maintenance of way employees, roadway worker protection, passenger equipment standards, system safety and others.
Other safety oversight improvements happened as a result of major accidents. Some of the major ones included crude-oil accidents at Lac Megantic, Ontario, Canada; Mount Carbon, W.Va.; and other locations; commuter train accidents at Spuyten Duyvil and Valhalla, N.Y.; and Amtrak passenger train accidents in Philadelphia and Chester, Pa.; Dupont, Wash.; and Cayce, S.C.
“No matter the challenges swirling around him, Bob had safety in mind,” said National Legislative Director John Risch. “He’s been great to work with and one of the most committed, level-headed professionals in the rail industry.”
Lauby said that he treasured any interaction he could have with members of rail labor as these helped to broaden his perspective about whom he was working to protect.
“I always took time to talk to the SMART TD membership to get their complaints, opinions, and perspectives on the latest industry issues,” Lauby said. “I often left enlightened or with a new perspective.
“Railroad managers are experts on what is supposed to happen. SMART TD members are experts on what actually happens. They always know what works and what does not work.”
In his more-than-40-year career, Lauby’s railroad and transit experience included safety, security, accident investigation, project management, project engineering, manufacturing and vehicle maintenance.
He joined the FRA in August 2009 as staff director of its newly established Passenger Rail Division in the agency’s Office of Safety and was later promoted to deputy associate administrator for regulatory and legislative operations at FRA. One of his responsibilities in that role was to oversee the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).
Prior to his time at FRA, Lauby was director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad Safety, overseeing hundreds of rail accident investigations for NTSB and coordinating with our union’s Transportation Safety Team in many investigations. He was NTSB’s representative on RSAC.
Lauby addressed SMART TD members in a workshop at the 2018 Seattle, Washington, regional meeting.
“At our regional meetings, I would introduce Bob and tell the troops that Bob was the big gun and can handle all the tough questions, which he always did,” Risch said at a party celebrating Lauby’s retirement in late March.
Lauby said he took his multiple presentations at TD regional meetings, including at the Seattle regional meeting last July, seriously — he felt he owed it to the attendees to give them useful information.
“I looked forward to the meetings each year and spent hours preparing my presentation and preparing for the questions I would get at the end – during the Q and A session,” he said. “I wanted the material I presented to be timely and useful to the membership, and I always tried to include the inside scoop – the stuff nobody else would talk about!”
But the benefits from his visits and interactions went both ways, he said, and showing up at the meetings gave him a fresh perspective on the industry.
“I always enjoyed speaking to the SMART TD membership – both at the Regional Meetings and when they were on their jobs,” Lauby said. “Whenever I traveled by train, I tried to spend time with the train crew or ride the head end to find out the issues of the day.
“I learned more about railroading from the working men and women of the railroad industry than from anyone else.”
Lauby’s departure is leaving a vacancy that FRA will have a difficult time filling, Risch said.
“No one will really fill your shoes because there is no one with the knowledge and experience to do that,” he told Lauby at his retirement party. “You committed your working life to rail safety, you have been a good friend of mine and a good friend to railroad workers everywhere.
“We wish you all the best as you enter this next stage of your life.”
Lauby said his career leaves him with a sense of gratitude.
“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the industry I love, in a role where I felt I could make a difference,” Lauby said. “I will miss the thousands of people I interacted with each year. That includes the FRA employees and railroad industry labor and management … all the folks I dealt with at the various RSAC meetings. People are the most important part of any organization and the railroad industry is no different.”
An article published March 28 on the website of the Sightline Institute follows up on an Associated Press report from over the winter about the Department of Transportation’s repeal of the Federal Railroad Administration’s electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake rule for tanker cars.
In addition to the AP findings, writers Aven Frey and Eric de Place for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, which advocates on sustainability and environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest, also said that “PHMSA and the FRA low-balled their predictions for oil train numbers, an assumption that tilted the analysis in favor of the industry.”
SMART Transportation Division has been in favor of the installation of ECP brakes on tanker cars, with National Legislative Director John Risch calling them “the safest, most advanced braking systems in the world.”
The Sightline Institute piece notes that the ECP rule’s repeal “put rail-side communities at substantial risk across the Northwest, particularly because we can expect to see oil train shipping to significantly increase again.”
In response to the repeal of the ECP rule, legislators in the region have taken note.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 22, 2019) – Two large railroad unions in the United States have pledged their joint support for the Safe Freight Act legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R – Alaska).
The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1748) requires that two certified crew members operate freight trains on U.S. rails and has the backing of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry, and there is no doubt that the only safe rail operation is one that includes at a minimum a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “A clear message must be sent to our lawmakers and to the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Congressman Young for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue to improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and for the general public.”
“This is necessary safety legislation to protect railroad workers and the American public,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “While the railroad industry talks of one-person train crews and even autonomous trains, the 2013 tragedy of Lac-Megantic is justification enough that we need two sets of eyes and ears in the locomotive cab.”
Recent well-publicized rail accidents in other nations involving trains with one or no crew members show how smaller crews increase the risk of catastrophe in railroad accidents.
In September 2018, an autonomous runaway TasRail train reached speeds of 31 mph before it derailed in the Tasmanian city of Devonport, injuring two people. The train had become unresponsive to remote control commands, including the train’s emergency stop feature.
On Nov. 5, 2018, a runaway BHP ore train of 268 cars with no one aboard reached speeds of 62 mph before it was forcibly derailed in Western Australia. The approximately 1.9-mile-long train loaded with iron ore was operated by a lone crew member who had left the locomotive to inspect an issue with the brakes when the train began moving.
And finally, an oil train with a single-person crew in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, rolled into the center of the town July 6, 2013, after its brakes disengaged. The resulting derailment touched off an inferno that killed 47 people and destroyed the town center.
In the United States, labor unions and others concerned with safety on the United States’ 140,000 miles of rail are seeking to prevent such events from happening. Legislation setting crew size at two people aboard has passed in five states. A two-person crew bill backed by both the SMART TD and BLET unions (H.B. 1034) was signed into law March 21 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
“Automation of cars, buses, aircraft and trucks are being addressed by legislation and in regulation by the federal government and many states. It’s time the federal government provided some oversight on railroads,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “Congressman Young’s bill is a first step, and we thank him for his leadership on this. The safety of the public and our members depend on this.”
“Safety is non-negotiable, and this legislation is about railroad safety,” BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “The members of the BLET and SMART TD are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to performing their jobs as safely as possible, and we thank Congressman Young for his ongoing support and for introducing H.R. 1748.”
This national legislation introduced by Young, a longtime advocate of railroad safety, is a common-sense step toward making our nation’s rails safer for workers and the public alike. It has the full endorsement of both unions.
H.R. 1748 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
### 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.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The results of Tuesday’s elections, while not the absolute best-case scenario for labor, indicated that voters might be ready to end the one-party majority in the federal government in three months’ time, said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch at the opening session of the last day of the 2018 Regional Meeting at the Hilton Diplomat Resort.
A special election campaign in Ohio saw both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence appear in support of Troy Balderson, who was running to finish out the remaining months of a term in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. The seat was left vacated by fellow-Republican Pat Tiberia.
Yet even with the top two Republicans in the nation trying to give Balderson some momentum, he defeated Danny O’Connor, a relatively unknown Democrat, by 1 percent, according to unofficial results Tuesday. The 12th District, which includes Ohio’s capital Columbus, was carried by Trump by more than 11 points in the 2016 presidential election, according to The Associated Press.
Balderson and O’Connor will square off again in November for a full term to represent the district in Congress, and the result could be different with such a narrow margin.
Missouri’s special election Tuesday brought better news for labor, in what has been “a solidly red” state, Risch said.
Proposition A, a labor-led referral effort to repeal right-to-work legislation, was successful with 67 percent of voters voting to repeal a right-to-work law in place. Thirty-three percent of voters voted to keep the law, according to unofficial results. Labor faced much opposition with the Koch brothers leading an underground deceptive ‘yes vote’ effort that would have kept the right-to-work law in place. Missouri would’ve been the 28th state with such legislation in place had the referral not been successful.
“Even with all the deceptiveness, even with all the ways in which they tried to tilt the playing field in their favor – all of that, we won in Missouri,” Risch said.
He said a majority of voters in Missouri understood and recognized that Proposition A’s backers were trying to undermine the ability of unions to get better wages, fringe benefits and improve safety through deceptive direct mailings and other tactics.
“When they understand this, they vote the right way,” Risch said. “They vote for themselves, they vote for their unions, they vote for the ability to do something in the workplace.”
Risch feels that this victory, as well as victories by teachers in West Virginia, Arizona and Colorado this year, could signal a turning point for workers in the fight against income inequality.
“I see a trend, I see a movement across this country,” he said. “I think the tide is turning. I hope the tide is turning because we can’t go the other direction much longer.”
SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch addresses attendees Wednesday, Aug. 8 at the opening session of the final day of the Hollywood, Fla., Regional Meeting.
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch gave attendees a broad overview of the landscape of the transit industry on the third day of the TD regional meeting.
Among the topics covered: how to grow support for transportation-related bills in Washington, D.C., train automation, operator safety, stock buybacks and the potential threat politicians pose to what they describe as “entitlements.”
“If you see something, do something,” Risch told the crowd, encouraging them to get involved by running for public office, engaging government officials face-to-face to educate them about the issues important to the transportation industry and being more visible at public meetings and in the media.
National Legislative Director John Risch, standing, addresses the opening session of the third day of the SMART TD Regional Meeting in Seattle on July 4.
“It’s not me or our small office in D.C. that passes a crew bill,” Risch said. “That’s not the most effective way. The most effective way is when constituents contact them.”
He praised the grassroots efforts of Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez, a bus member out of Local 1607 in Los Angeles, who took it upon herself to meet Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Cook at a town hall meeting. After the discussion, Cook signed on to the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) as one of the 112 bipartisan members in the U.S. House who support the two-person crew bill.
General Chairperson Steve Simpson (GO 489) met with U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and one of the most conservative congressmen, and also was able to get Gohmert to sign on in support of H.R. 233 and to advocate for funding for the National Mediation Board, Risch said.
“This is a political year — they’re all ears. They’re all ears in the political years,” Risch said. “Once they get elected, they’re not quite as attentive.”
Risch said the responses received by the Federal Railroad Administration in a request for comments on automation in the rail industry largely agreed with rail labor’s approach — that all trains should have two-person crews.
“The vast majority, with a handful of exceptions from railroads, of the comments were comments saying the only safe way to be allowed to run a train through America is with two crewmembers — a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” Risch said. “It’s a safety issue — it’s an issue to where you need two people to get the job done.”
Two safety bills have been introduced in Congress — one to protect passenger rail workers in the Senate and one to protect bus operators in the House.
The House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of California and U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York, is a strong bill and if passed, would protect our bus members.
“It will require that bus companies develop risk-reduction programs, and not only do they have to develop them, they have to do it with their bus drivers and union representatives,” Risch said.
The programs would target areas on bus properties where safety could be improved, such as fixes for the vehicles, and de-escalation training, Risch said.
“Too often, the fare is a dollar-and-a-half and the guy’s only got a dollar getting on the bus and then the bus driver tells him it’s a dollar-and-a-half…and this 50-cent issue turns into something terrible,” Risch said.
Class I railroads received millions, if not billions of dollars back when the Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut the U.S. corporate tax rate last year. Risch reminded attendees what the railroads are using the money for rather than infrastructure and maintenance.
“They’re using it to buy back stock — elevate the stock price. Who are the biggest stockholders? — Top officers of the railroads and the hedge funds,” Risch said. “Those are the guys that are profiting. Union Pacific will spend twice as much money these next three years buying back stock than they will in investing in the railroad.”
The runaway debt that has been created by spending increases also has politicians eyeing what they describe as “entitlements” — among them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Railroad Retirement. Politicians want to get their hands on the money that fund these “entitlements” – money that we’ve put in for our retirements – and bankrupt these programs.
“That’s the deal we’ve made — we’re going to pay in for 30, 40 years and then we would have a few years to enjoy retirement because we invested,” Risch said. “That was the deal — it was a pension plan. You can’t change that. We’re not going to stand idly by if they try to change that deal.”
Washington, D.C. (June 6, 2018) – SMART Transportation Division leaders announced today their support for the Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act introduced by Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (D – Calif.) and Congressman John Katko (R — New York) that would enhance the safety of bus drivers nationwide.
Incidents of assaults on bus operators occur daily and threaten the safety of both our members and the riding public. Countless news reports of incidents involving spitting, beatings and stabbings by unruly passengers have left SMART-TD bus drivers as victims of frequent violence.
“There have been gruesome, inexcusable acts that have been committed on our bus members including shootings, stabbings and beatings, and little has been done about it. We need adequate driver shields and mandatory de-escalation training,” said National Legislative Director John Risch. “I want to thank Representatives Napolitano and Katko for developing and introducing this important piece of legislation. Our pledge is to continue to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure all bus operators are given the protection they deserve.”
The legislation would require transit agencies to develop Bus Operations Safety Risk Reduction Programs by implementing physical barriers to prevent operator assaults, de-escalation training for bus drivers, driver-assisted technology to reduce accidents, and modified bus specifications or retrofits to reduce visibility impairments.
“There is no higher priority than operator safety. On a daily basis, we see reports of drivers getting assaulted and having their lives irreversibly changed because they were behind the controls just doing their jobs,” said Calvin Studivant, SMART TD Bus Department Vice President. “This critical legislation will significantly improve bus driver safety through risk reduction programs and other safety requirements.”
In 2015 SMART TD supported passage of the FAST Act, which required that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issue rules designed to prevent assaults on transit workers, so far FTA has neither released nor implemented these rules. The Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act continues to build on SMART TD’s efforts to protect bus drivers and eliminate operator assaults.
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, including bus operators.
SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch addressed the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees (NARVRE) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on May 21, touching on the current national political climate and the need for retirees to step up to protect what is rightfully theirs amid renewed attacks on unions.
“What is happening in D.C. is what I call ‘an erosion of civility,'” Risch told attendees at NARVRE’s 41st Biennial Convention at the Hilton Garden Inn. “Add to that erosion the closeness of the numbers in each house of Congress, and you have a keen focus on the next election, not a keen focus on what’s right for our country.”
An explosion in deficit spending caused by the tax cuts and spending bills passed by Congress at the end of last year once again has fueled talk by some politicians of cutting so-called entitlements.
Politicians’ eyes see the nest egg of Railroad Retirement — the result of the hard work of current and past railroaders — and would love to dive into that pension plan, Risch told the retirees.
NARVRE, an advocacy group out of Mississippi, has worked to preserve Railroad Retirement benefits for more than 80 years for members of all rail unions.
“When Speaker Paul Ryan and his crew talk about the need to rein in ‘entitlements,’ you need to know that what they want to cut is your Railroad Retirement benefits and reduce your Medicare coverage,” he said. “Something you already paid for, but since the government used the money for things like tax cuts for the railroads, they want to break the agreements that were made with all of us.”
Those attacks should rouse retirees and active workers alike to action, Risch said.
“When the debt and deficit debate starts in earnest, we need NARVRE, and more importantly, NARVRE members to shout out: ‘No to any cuts in our pension, Medicare and Medicaid.’ Our union, of course, will be there, but we can’t do it alone,” Risch said. “Your grassroots response is the only thing that will stop substantial cuts to these vital safety nets.”
Greedy corporate interests also are looking to tear unions down these days. The Janus case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court could kill “union security clauses,” allowing those who don’t pay dues to leech off public unions, he told attendees.
“It’s Janus and public employees today, and the rest of us will be next,” Risch said.
Other threats include the potential of automation to further whittle away railroad jobs and for politicians to eliminate Amtrak in the name of savings. These scenarios would have a catastrophic effect on Railroad Retirement’s sustainability.
But speaking out can help preserve what Risch calls the “crown jewel” that rail workers created.
“It’s not NARVRE or the rail unions that will protect our pension,” he said. “It’s the grassroots efforts of our members and people like all of you in this room — people who demand of their congressional delegation that Amtrak gets the money it needs; who demand that Congress keep their hands off our Railroad Retirement and Medicare,” Risch said.
“The good news is very few Americans are politically active, meaning those that are have far more clout then they should. So I’m calling on each of you to use that clout. Call your elected representatives, attend their town hall meetings and speak out. That’s what’s effective.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress passed and President Trump signed into law Friday a bipartisan spending agreement also known as the “omnibus” spending bill that provides a massive boost toward several of our union’s priorities, including transportation infrastructure projects, the Railroad Retirement Board and the National Mediation Board.
With the growing demand by our nation’s leaders to address infrastructure needs, the omnibus provides a major boost to funding passenger rail and transit projects such as $1.9 billion for Amtrak, including $650 million for projects in the Northeast Corridor.
This will provide much-needed funding for the Gateway Project that will double passenger train service between New York and New Jersey to reduce congestion while making repairs to tunnels and tracks that are long overdue. For our bus and transit members, the bill provides $2.6 billion to fund major transit capital investments, including heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit projects nationwide.
In addition, the Railroad Retirement Board received a $10 million boost that will allow the agency to phase out its decades-old hardware systems with modernized Information Technology services to provide and disburse benefits to our railroad retirees in a timely manner. Lastly, the omnibus provides the National Mediation Board with $13.8 million that includes the sustained $570,000 funding increase to address the arbitration backlog.
“The SMART TD National Legislative Office continues to inform lawmakers about the importance of funding transit and passenger rail that are vital to our union membership and the nation’s transportation workforce at large. We will continue working to ensure that Congress addresses the full needs of our rail workers by increasing resources for the National Mediation Board and Railroad Retirement Board so that our members receive the services they earned and deserve,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said.
The Republican tax bill would result in millions of dollars in cuts to the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and take funds away from out-of-work employees. Tell your senators and representatives to VOTE NO.
Next week, the House and Senate are expected to vote on a tax bill that is expected to add $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion to the federal deficit in the form of corporate and individual tax cuts. According to estimates, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund could lose as much as $9 million without any subsequent action by Congress under a 2010 budget process known as sequestration.
“Required spending reductions would significantly exceed the total resources available to be sequestered,” said Michele Neuendorf, a Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) labor member counsel, in an email. “This would have the practical result of a 100% sequestration of all non-exempt direct spending accounts including the funds from the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund which is used to pay unemployment and sickness benefits.”
Under the federal “Pay-As-You-Go” (PAYGO) Act of 2010, federal spending is required to balance or offset any increases to the federal budget deficit (also known as sequestration). As a result, the tax bill would trigger automatic budget cuts across all federal programs including the RRB’s Railroad Unemployment Trust Fund, which is targeted for a 6.6 percent cut or approximately $9 million in the 2018 fiscal year by the administration.
“This tax proposal is Robin Hood caught in reverse,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch. “It would take from the poor and give to the rich. If the tax bill becomes law, the railroads will still be able to deduct money that they spend on union-busting lawyers while our members will no longer be able to deduct their union dues. The corporate tax rate for the big railroads will go from 35% to 21% while ours will stay the same with fewer deductions.”
It also means that $9 million intended for ailing and unemployed rail workers doesn’t go where it was supposed to. Instead it will go into the pockets of corporations and the well-to-do.
“Every person in America should be outraged that the Republican tax bill will borrow $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion to fund tax cuts for the wealthy while leaving no room for future federal investments toward infrastructure projects such as airports, transit systems, and passenger railroads,” Risch said. “I’ve been in the business of government policy since the 1980s and this is simply the worst tax proposal I have ever seen. Economists across the political spectrum are condemning this plan and the Republicans are so desperate for some sort of ‘win’ they are moving forward with little to no transparency or accountability to their constituents.”
Time is running out. A vote is planned for next week. Call your senators and representatives and urge them to vote against the tax bill.
SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch, pictured, along with Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and D. Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, in an op-ed piece published Nov. 29 on thehill.com remind leaders in Congress not to overlook the job-creation potential of carbon-capture technology.
After derailments, blocked crossings and other complications, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have asked for the federal Government Accountability Office to study the effects of longer freight trains.
In the letter dated Nov. 7, ranking members Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., made the request after referencing the derailment Aug. 2 of a CSX train in Hyndman, Pa.
The derailment of 32 cars from the train that consisted of five locomotives and 178 rail cars caused the evacuation of about 1,000 town residents and destroyed a house. The representatives noted in their letter that the average freight train consists of about 70 cars.
“Recent press reports indicate that some railroads are now operating trains with close to 200 or more cars that are more than two miles long,” they wrote. “We have concerns that longer trains can create unusually long delays at grade crossings and may pose safety risks to train crews and the public.”
DeFazio, a ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Capuano, a ranking member on the Railroad Subcommittee, also mentioned operational challenges for rail workers, such as possible loss of radio contact, or service delays as a direct result of the longer trains.
“We appreciate that these congressional leaders have asked for a review of these dangerously long trains.” SMART-TD President John Previsich. “This issue was also addressed by John Risch, our national legislative director, at a recent STB hearing.”
Risch appeared Oct. 11 in Washington D.C. before the Surface Transportation Board at a listening session focused on problems with CSX’s service.
DeFazio and Capuano’s letter asks the GAO to look into various aspects of longer trains from the perspective of rail worker and public safety and also to examine the levels of oversight available on the federal, state and local levels to remedy safety concerns posed by longer trains.