In protest of what he said was gross misrepresentation by New Jersey Transit (NJT) of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART Transportation Division General Chairperson Jerome Johnson has resigned from NJT’s coronavirus safety task force.
Johnson, also president of Local 60 (Newark, N.J.), sent a letter April 6 to the carrier, saying that NJT had been unresponsive to concerns about the cleanliness of trains and that they were not being cleaned as frequently as NJT stated they would.
“I provided NJ Transit with pictures and train numbers, especially on weekends, train cleanings are just not being done properly,” Johnson told NJ.com reporter Larry Higgs. “Protocols are not being followed. Equipment being clean every 24 hour is false. I have pictures, videos and complaints.”
Johnson also said that the carrier did not provide personal protective equipment (PPE) in a timely manner and that the carrier’s coronavirus safety task force did not convene for a two-week period with labor representatives present.
“I’m not a union official who doesn’t want NJ Transit to succeed. When they succeed, we succeed,” Johnson told Higgs. “The protocols in place aren’t being followed. My resignation should speak volumes.”
Since late March, SMART-TD continues to field hundreds of reports from the labor workforce in all sectors it represents of carriers not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
David Rasmussen, legislative representative for SMART Transportation Division Local 60 (Newark, N.J.), has been nominated as the rail labor representative on the New Jersey Transit (NJT) board by Gov. Phil Murphy.
“A strong NJ TRANSIT Board is critical to ensuring a leadership team whose sole focus is on restoring safety, reliability, and accountability to commuters,” Murphy said in a March 21 news release. “I thank the Legislature, the Labor community, and our colleagues in transportation for their input, and I look forward to working with the new board members.”
Rasmussen has been Local 60’s legislative rep. since late 2015. Prior officer positions the 53-year-old from Woodbridge has held include vice chairperson of GCA-610 and vice local chairperson of LCA-610. He is among seven new nominees to the board who still must be confirmed by the state’s Senate.
“I feel I will be an asset to the board as I will bring my nearly 30 years’ experience as a conductor at NJT. Through my career I’ve worked at nearly every terminal and at yard facilities within NJT. I have also worked all types of services that govern our responsibilities,” Rasmussen said. “I feel this will serve the board well, as the other members can lean on me and my experience to identify best possible solutions to resolve any problem, issues or changes the board may be considering.”
The addition of the new board members was part of a restructuring of the transit agency, which is dealing with financial pressures and a shortage of engineers that happened late last year. Murphy’s signing of the overhaul in late December was a win for the N.J. State Legislative Board.
“This piece of legislation adds the largest rail union (SMART TD) to the Board of Directors at NJT. We advocated for this for two years,” New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol said at the time of the signing. “This was a huge undertaking by our office, and it has paid off.”
Among the changes brought about by the bill:
Five new positions are created on the transit agency’s board, bringing the board from eight to 13 members.
Board composition will go from four to eight public members and increases the number of labor representatives to two — one to be appointed from the labor organization that represents a plurality of bus operations workers and one to represent the labor organization that represents a plurality of rail operations workers, which is SMART TD.
A chief ethics officer will be employed to address whistleblower complaints and a customer advocate would compose reports about on-time performance and other customer-centered activities.
The board will have to hold at least 10 public meetings annually with many at times so commuters can attend.
A residency requirement is waived for certain employees.
SMART Transportation Division Local 60 at Newark, N.J., has scheduled a motorcycle bike run for Saturday, July 16. Proceeds from the bike run will go to support the charity, Railmen for Children.
The ride is open to anyone who wishes to participate. The cost is $20 per rider, $15 per passenger and $15 for non-riders. Registration is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The ride will begin at 11 a.m. and will start and end at the Tramontin Harley-Davidson, 482 Hope Blairstown Rd., Hope, NJ 07844.
Riders will be escorted by the Blue Knights NJ 8. Food and entertainment will be provided after the ride.
About Railmen for Children
New Jersey Transit conductors and train engineers established Railmen for Children 30 years ago to bring joy to special needs and less fortunate children each year. Today, Railmen for Children conducts fundraising activities throughout the year in order to fund a Santa train.
Every year Railmen for Children invites local schools and organizations consisting of less fortunate and handicapped children on a Santa train. Teachers ask the children to write Christmas wish lists to Santa; those letters are then delivered to Railmen for Children. Railmen for Children does everything in its power to grant the wishes of the children and Santa delivers the gifts to the children on the train ride.