The SMART Transportation Division joins transportation labor leaders nationwide as we mourn the untimely death of AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Larry Willis.
“Brother Willis was a tremendous leader who provided determined guidance, measured action and stood undaunted by the multitude of challenges transportation labor in our country faces now and will continue to face going forward,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Along with the other unions that comprise the TTD, we will miss his leadership, tremendous insight and experience. We are filled with sadness for his family and friends at his tragic loss and mourn along with them.”
On Nov. 30, TTD Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan issued this statement of mourning and remembrance:
“With his wife and daughter by his side, AFL-CIO TTD president Larry Willis, 53, succumbed on Nov. 29 to injuries sustained on November 22 in a tragic biking accident.
AFL-CIO TTD President Larry Willis passed away on Nov. 29.
“We mourn today the shocking loss of a brother and fierce advocate for working people.
“The transportation labor family and the entire workers’ rights community lost a leader, activist, mentor, and friend when Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), passed away yesterday.
“For more than 20 years, Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who work on the front lines of our transportation system. In addition to serving as president, a position he was elected to in 2017, Larry also served as secretary-treasurer, chief of staff, general counsel, and legislative counsel and representative at TTD. His mastery of complex legal and regulatory issues set the foundation for TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system.
“During his tenure at TTD, Larry faced some of transportation labor’s most daunting challenges. He met those and other crises head on, showing an unwavering dedication to working people and their unions, and a deep-seated desire to help those suffering from circumstances beyond their control. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Larry took on the insurmountable challenge of restoring our transportation industry and balancing the security needs of the country with the due process working people are entitled to, successfully securing protections in our laws that lie at the center of our homeland security regime. During the 2008 financial crisis, he played a pivotal role in shaping the largest economic stimulus package for transportation investments ever passed in the U.S. Even up until the week he left us, Larry continued to push for health care and economic assistance for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and acted as a steady reminder that recovery from this crisis is not possible without the essential functions performed by transportation workers.
“Larry’s advocacy style was straightforward and effective: forge meaningful relationships with leaders at all levels of government and across the political spectrum, build power through unity and find ways to work together to lift up all transportation workers. This approach is perhaps best exemplified in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill. Under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, Larry’s leadership led transportation labor to endorse one of the most pro-labor FAA reauthorization bills in U.S. history.
“Millions of people have had their lives improved because of the work Larry did, yet most of those people will never know Larry’s name. For Larry, that didn’t matter. He was not motivated by fame or fortune – his end goal was always about doing the most good for the greatest number of people. Though his time with us has been cut short, Larry’s legacy will live on in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached through thoughtful, sophisticated arguments, the colleagues and staff he influenced and mentored, and the working people he dedicated his life to.
“Larry graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Political Science and earned a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School. He was an active member of the D.C. Bar. He loved Camp Echo, biking, traveling with his wife, cheering on his daughter at swim competitions, and playing tennis with his father. Larry is survived by his loving wife, Amy, and beloved daughter, Samantha.”
Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.
Dear Secretary Chao:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry, I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.
While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.
These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.  The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.
As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage. DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines  and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations. Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.
Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them. In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. 
Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive. While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.
This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.
However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.
We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.” In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.
Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”.  The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.
While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.
In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:
“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.
We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.
While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”
To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.
Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department
 Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.
 To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.
 TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.
 For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01
 For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators
 Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.
 Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.
 Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.
 71 FR 8042
The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, released the following on March 18, 2020:
The people who build, operate and maintain our nation’s transportation systems are struggling, as are most Americans, with the scope and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the disease does not appear to be slowing down, and it is clear that this is not only a public health crisis, but also an economic one. As the elected leaders of transportation unions we are calling on federal policymakers to take decisive action to address both the immediate and long-term health and economic effects caused by COVID-19. Critically, any solutions must focus on helping front line workers who are bearing the brunt of the outbreak from both a health and economic perspective.
There are three separate, but inextricably related challenges:
Addressing the immediate public health crisis by preventing the spread of the disease and keeping workers safe on the job.
Providing immediate economic relief for those whose livelihood is threatened during this crisis.
Providing long-term economic stability for transportation workers and the systems they support.
Confronting the Public Health Crisis
Although many employers are telling employees to work from home, front line transportation and hospitality workers cannot just log into a computer to do their jobs. Bus drivers, port workers and longshoremen, mariners on board ships, train operators, airline pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, passenger service agents and others must be physically present to perform their duties. It is therefore incumbent on government agencies and employers to ensure that workers are given the guidance, training, resources and equipment to both keep themselves healthy and to prevent further spread of the virus.
This starts with strict and sector-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all front line transportation workers. These guidelines must recognize all modes of viral transmission, including the inhalation of infectious aerosols, and stress employer responsibility for providing and maintaining a safe work environment. Further, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect working people, including those covered under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), from occupational exposure to infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Workers must also be provided with and allowed to use protective equipment such as N95 respirators and protective gloves while on the job. Finally, COVID-19 tests must be free and available to everyone to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment. The lack of adequate testing allows public health officials to understate the true scope of the virus and prevents individuals from making informed, intelligent decisions when deciding whether to go to work or remain on the job.
Immediate Economic Assistance
There are several commonsense policies to address the immediate economic concerns of working people that must be central to any immediate economic relief package. The fact that this country does not have mandatory paid sick and family medical leave for all workers is a national embarrassment. The spread of COVID-19 is demonstrating the public health and economic consequences for such callous, shortsighted policies that routinely require working people to choose between giving up pay and reporting to work sick. In this time of crisis, paid sick leave should be mandatory. We call on Congress to step in and designate COVID-19 as a serious health condition for the purposes of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Congress must also strengthen and expand Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Railroad Unemployment Insurance (RUI) eligibility and benefits, including increasing the maximum benefit and broadening eligibility. For those who are laid off, furloughed, or take voluntary leave due to an economic slowdown, UI and RUI are critical resources. It is also an effective economic stimulus because it gets money directly into the hands of those who need it most and are most likely to spend it. Congress should also take action to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to providing adequate benefits.
Long-Term Economic Stimulus
The transportation sector is already being particularly hard hit by the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Passenger volume has dropped precipitously for air carriers, Amtrak, commuter rail and public transit, and the volume is not expected to improve for weeks, if not months. Freight operations have also been hit hard as production has dropped across the globe. These are the same transport options that will be critical to getting our economy up and running again once the virus crisis passes. Transportation workers and the industries they support are going to need help from the federal government. The same is true of the United States Postal Service, which currently does not receive taxpayer funds, but will need financial relief and flexibility to further utilize its vast network as Americans increase their demand for e-commerce, vote by mail, and prescription drug delivery during this crisis and into a recovery.
First, if we are serious about mitigating the long-term economic effects this pandemic is going to cause, Congress and the administration must prioritize direct spending on transportation infrastructure and services across all modes. As borrowing rates remain historically low, there is no better time to make major investments in our transportation systems, which will keep Americans working and support the economic well-being of communities across this nation.
We must also consider that the effectiveness of any government response will depend on getting the policy right. Any effort to stimulate the economy and protect critical industries must not be an exercise in corporate welfare that benefits only the wealthiest among us. We saw this done poorly in the aftermath of 9/11. While Congress acted quickly to stabilize the airline industry, thousands of workers who lost their jobs had to wait a year and a half for expanded unemployment insurance benefits. For many, this was too little, too late.
Additionally, aviation workers made steep concessions after 9/11 to help keep the industry afloat. Yet, as the airlines rebounded and eventually reached record profits, the employees’ share of those profits remained stagnant. For many front line work groups it took as long as 20 years to get wages and benefits back to pre-9/11 levels. Others, like food catering workers, are still waiting to get back to 2001 levels.
Therefore, there must be protections built in to any stimulus legislation to ensure that companies that receive public funds cannot use this money to undermine workers’ livelihoods by offshoring or outsourcing jobs, or by handing the money over to shareholders in the form of increased dividends and stock buybacks. Catering contractors and subcontractors of the airlines that seek public assistance from any stimulus package must be required to provide health care coverage to their employees that meets or exceeds the standards set by the Service Contract Act. There must also be provisions to prevent employers from abrogating their collective bargaining commitments, even in a bankruptcy process.
Similar protections should be imposed on public transit agencies, Amtrak and commuter rail providers that receive federal money to compensate for losses in fare box dollars or state tax revenue. Public funds must be prioritized to maintain service, employment levels, wages and benefits. Further, no public funds should be used to prop up the foreign flag cruise ship industry that utilizes foreign labor and flags-of-convenience laws to avoid hiring American crews and adhering to American labor laws and standards, as well as environmental codes.
The policies need to be clear. This will not only keep people employed and participating in the broader economy, it will keep these sectors prepared to meet the surge in demand that will occur once this crisis is over.
Transportation labor is ready and eager to do our part to steer our country through this crisis. Every day, workers are continuing to go to work, perform their duties, and do their best to ensure that our passenger and freight transportation networks continue to operate in a safe and efficient manner. It is these workers who will suffer the most as this pandemic stretches on. Half-measures, jumbled guidance and corporate welfare will not contain this pandemic, and will certainly not provide the economic stimulus that we desperately need. We need policies that put workers first and position our country to flourish once this crisis is over.
Marshall Ainley, President, MEBA
Levi Allen, Secretary-Treasurer, UMWA
Tim Barnes, Asst. to the President/Legislative Rep., UNITEHERE
A letter co-signed by SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Larry Willis asked the United States’ chief trade representative to re-examine policies that leave American rail workers at a disadvantage.
The United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), planned to be a trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), does not address certain issues covering cross-border traffic between Mexico and the U.S., the union leaders wrote.
Since 1931, Mexican railway companies have had a policy that they only employ Mexican rail workers. This policy has endured through the decades and was “enshrined” through NAFTA in the mid 1990s.
In the summer of 2018, Kansas City Southern began to allow Mexican crews to cross the U.S. border and operate within the country’s borders, drawing strong objections from both SMART TD and the TTD.
“Allowing workers from Mexico to operate in the United States while U.S. workers are prohibited from operating in Mexico is a direct and existential threat to the jobs of thousands of conductors and locomotive engineers represented by SMART TD,” the letter stated.
A reciprocal measure requiring U.S. crews to operate the trains was not included in the USMCA amid objections from the Mexican government, Ferguson and Willis stated.
“Without its inclusion, the agreement fails domestic rail workers and their sector, and further fails to uphold principles of parity between the U.S. and Mexico on the issue of rail service,” they wrote, calling upon Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to fix the disparity.
“SMART TD and TTD strongly agree with the Administration that NAFTA has failed working people and that the impacts of a trade agreement that was not written for their benefit are still being felt,” they stated. “We call on you to not abandon freight rail workers.”
In a victory for safety, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) denied a request by Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCSR) to outsource brake inspections to Mexico, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) reports.
“In its decision, the FRA correctly told KCSR that their request – which TTD and our rail unions strongly opposed – was ‘not in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety.’ We could not agree more,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis.
In 2008, the FRA granted KCSR conditional regulatory relief of 49 C.F.R. § 232.205 (a)(1) and 49 C.F.R. Part 215. In lieu of conducting the required inspections at the International Bridge interchange, the FRA allowed KCSR to move freight cars received in interchange from KCSR’s Mexican operations across the U.S./Mexico border to KCSR’s yard in Laredo without performing a full Class I brake test at the border. One of the conditions set by the FRA was that KCSR must perform Class III brake tests (set and release) at the International Bridge interchange. In their petition to the FRA, dated May 31, 2018, KCSR requested that the Class III brake tests be performed at their Mexican Nuevo Laredo and Sanchez Yards instead of at the interchange.
In their request, KCSR maintained that it would be safer to perform the tests at the Mexican yards due to vandalism while the trains are stopped and blocked Mexican crossings, however, KCSR offered no specific evidence demonstrating any safety or security risks of performing the Class III tests at the interchange.
“FRA cannot approve KCSR’s request to move the test to its affiliate KCSM’s (Kansas City Southern de México Railway) yards 9 miles across the border within Mexico. …The Board is denying KCSR’s May 31, 2018, request to modify the existing relief in this docket because KCSR has not demonstrated that a modification is in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety,” the FRA’s Robert C. Lauby, associate administrator for railroad safety, said in his response letter to KCSR, dated March 8, 2019.
“The FRA’s decision is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Willis said. “Last year, the FRA granted KCSR permission to operate trains with crews from Mexico to Laredo, nine miles across the border. This decision was made without input from the public or any guarantee U.S. safety standards are being met.”
SMART TD and BLET sent a joint letter to U.S. DOT opposing the decision to allow KCSR to operate Mexican train crews within the United States.
Among other priorities, the coalition of transportation unions, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, is calling for operators to remain on board automated vehicles to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure, and for Congress to establish a fund that would supplement wages, health care costs and training or retraining programs of workers affected by automation.
“Driverless technology is coming at a time when the economy is balanced against working people, wages are stagnating, and workers are finding it harder and harder to get by. Not only do transit workers stand to see their jobs changed dramatically or automated away, but serious concerns about safety remain. So far, elected leaders do not seem to be taking these threats seriously,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis. “We cannot allow safety to be compromised or the good jobs in this sector to be steamrolled just so tech companies and Wall Street investors can have their way.”
The eight key policies are as follows:
Transit agencies must give workers advance notice before deploying automated vehicles (AVs).
The collective bargaining rights of transit workers must be preserved. Additionally, transit agencies must negotiate the use of automated technologies with their unions.
Automated transit vehicles must adhere to strict federal safety standards.
Drivers must remain onboard on automated vehicles, regardless of how far technology develops, to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure.
Congress should establish a transportation workforce fund to help cover wages, health care costs, unemployment benefits and training or retraining programs for workers affected by driverless technology. This fund will be paid for through a mileage-based user fee of highly or fully automated transit vehicles.
Transit agencies wishing to use AVs must examine the impact they will have on transit workers and issue a report.
The U.S. Departments of Labor and Transportation should also examine the impacts automation has on transit ridership, capacity and employment. This includes examining the direct and indirect impacts automated ride-sharing or ride-hailing services have on transit services.
Before transportation agencies implement automated technology, they must issue a workforce training plan.
These policies on AVs and driverless technology were laid out at the TTD’s Executive Committee meeting in New Orleans.