New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol met with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Westfield, N.J., an encounter that was later featured in a video produced by the DOT and then shared on Buttigieg’s official Twitter account in conjunction with Labor Day on Sept. 6.
Sabol, of Local 1447 (Newark, N.J.), met Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 9 and discussed his career as a freight rail conductor, remote-control operator and as a SMART-TD union officer.
“I got involved in my union right away, and that’s because of safety,” Sabol told Buttigieg. “Railroading is the most dangerous job in the country.”
A member of the SMART-TD National Safety Team, N.J. SLD since December 2016, and also his local’s president, Sabol reminded the Transportation Secretary of something that sometimes is lost among the public.
“Our railroads and bus operators, which we represent as well, they’re first responders,” he said.
Sabol recalled the efforts made by TD members to help evacuate people in tunnels during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.
Sabol also said that the passage of infrastructure legislation will improve with an expansion of service, better accessibility to riders and improved safety for a number of TD members.
“The best part of my job is being able to help people,” Sabol said. “As you the mayor were able to help all those people, I do it at a different level with a different group of people.”
Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be increasingly important as regulatory efforts develop to make the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and certified engineer — enforced on freight trains throughout the United States.
The Biden administration announced earlier in the year that FRA is revisiting the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding freight train crew size and would be prioritized at some point in the autumn.
SMART-TD retiree Gregg Weaver, left, and his wife Carol wear SMART “Blue Collar Biden” shirts as they watch Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speak Saturday, Oct. 24, in Bristol, Pa.
SMART representatives had a front-row seat as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Oct. 24 at Bristol Community College in Bristol, Pa.
SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and Gregg Weaver, a retired TD Local 838 member and former Local 1390 officer who served as a conductor for many Amtrak rides taken by Biden, were in the front row at the “drive-in” rally that was broadcast live on CNN from the town outside Philadelphia.
“What we heard from Joe Biden today was a concrete plan,” Sabol said. “He has a strategy to address the virus. He has a plan to repair the economy. He has ideas and has a strategy to make things better going forward with a focus on transportation and infrastructure.”
Weaver, who worked the rails on both the passenger and freight side with Conrail for 42 years, said Biden has proven his concern for the working people. Weaver’s son, Blake, a Local 838 member, followed in his father’s path and has been an Amtrak conductor for more than 16 years.
Gregg Weaver, a retiree from TD Local 838, and his son Blake, a member of TD Local 838 and an Amtrak conductor, attend Joe Biden’s rally on Saturday, Oct. 24.
“Everybody wants to talk to him (Joe Biden) after the speech – there were politicians, the big-money donors who have millions,” Weaver said. “He didn’t go after the big donors. He picked a blue-collar working man to come talk to him. He has time for us.”
Biden addressed the COVID pandemic at the outset, mentioning that the country had set a record for daily cases with more than 80,000. The Biden campaign has observed social-distancing and mask protocols at its rallies to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Most of the attendees participated in the rally from their cars, honking their horns in unison to show appreciation during the speech.
“I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said. “We can build back better.”
With just days until Election Day, Biden’s speech touched upon a number of union-related issues, such as infrastructure, the gigantic $1.5 trillion corporate tax cuts in late 2017 that remain the signature legislative accomplishment of the current administration and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
“This guy’s not on the level. He thinks Wall Street built thus country,” Biden said. “You and I know who built this country … working people built it — the middle class, and unions built the middle class.”
In the April 2018 SMART Transportation Division News reported how Class I rail carriers reaped great benefits from those Republican tax cuts.
Union Pacific (UP) received a $5.8 billion boost. CSX saved $3.6 billion, Norfolk Southern (NS) about $3.48 billion and Kansas City Southern (KCS) $488 million. BNSF, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, reported in its Form 10-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it received a tax benefit of $7.4 billion. Savings for the two Canadian-based Class I railroads also increased, reported at $1.4 billion (U.S.) for Canadian National (CN) and about $406 million (U.S.) for Canadian Pacific.
“Vice President Biden understands where working people are coming from. He’s been there. He knows what kind of struggle the working people of country are going through,” Sabol said. “With Biden, SMART members, labor and the middle class will absolutely have a seat at the table.”
Today, thousands of SMART members and other unionized essential frontline employees still are waiting for additional assistance and protections that are being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. For others, enhanced unemployment and sickness benefits that were in effect and a lifeline early in the pandemic have expired.
“How many [parents] a day can look at their kids and say with confidence, ‘everything’s going to be OK’ and mean it?” Biden asked. “Times are hard. Unemployment is way up. Folks are worried about making their next rent or mortgage payment, whether their health care will be ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Worried about sending their kids to school … worried about not sending them to school.
“They see folks at the top doing much better while the rest are wondering who’s looking out for me. That’s Donald Trump’s presidency.”
Legislation to help union workers such as the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act has been stopped by Trump and his Republican allies, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
Attendees of the Joe Biden rally in Bristol take a group photo before the former vice president’s speech. From left are Mary Kate Weaver; Carol Weaver; TD Local 838 retiree Gregg Weaver; Tyler Hutchinson; SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and TD Local 838 member Blake Weaver.
Weaver reminds his SMART-TD brothers and sisters that railroaders especially need to keep in mind that their benefits are vulnerable to the whims of Capitol Hill.
A vote for Trump and for his Republican allies is opening the door for workers’ health care, jobs and pensions to be targeted, he said. Children would be off their parents’ health coverage at age 18 instead of being covered until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.
Weaver said a vote for Democrats would protect union jobs and railroaders. Biden would not be hostile to Amtrak, whereas Trump and Republicans have habitually tried to cut funding for the national passenger rail network.
“Joe Biden has got their backs. He’s not going to make things worse for them,” Weaver said. “There will be a lot less fighting with the Democrats than with the Republicans.”
Biden gave a brief outline of his economic recovery plan — taxes would not be raised on any family making less than $400,000, while making corporations pay their fair share.
“It’s time for working people and the middle class to get tax relief,” Biden said.
He also said his administration would focused on job creation and education.
“We’re going to create millions of union jobs modifying the infrastructure to modernize it, “ he said.
Biden also emphasized in the speech that he is not banning fracking, an accusation leveled by Trump lately on the campaign trail.
On Sept. 14, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law S-2380, which retroactively protects the state’s essential workers, including SMART Transportation Division bus members, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Essential employees’ workers compensation claims are routinely rejected by employers because the employees can’t prove they contracted COVID-19 at their place of work. This law shifts the burden of proof to the employer in state workers’ compensation claims for essential workers who interact with the public and contract COVID-19 during the declared state of emergency.
“This is the strongest law in the country for essential workers,” said New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol, who worked in conjunction with the state AFL-CIO in order to get legislators to pass and Murphy to sign the bill. “The governor and state legislators have taken strong action to protect TD members and all of our essential workers who were and continue to face the risk of being exposed to COVID during the course of doing their jobs.”
Most of the laws that were booked in states involving protecting essential workers nationwide were simply executive orders — limited in scope covering just police, fire and medical workers. The CARES Act passed in the early months of the pandemic only included financial coverage of testing for the virus. The New Jersey law covers all workers who are out of work because of COVID-19 who miss an extended period of time from their job, Sabol said.
“It covers the medical part of everything,” Sabol said. “If you had a person who got sick from COVID and you were out for weeks, it’s now covered by workers’ compensation.”
The bill covers the period from March 9, when Gov. Murphy declared a state emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic.
S-2380/A-3999 was sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, Sens. Nick Scutari, D-20th District, Robert Singer, R-30th District, and Linda Greenstein, D-14th District, and by Assemblymen Thomas Giblin, D-34th District, and John Burzichelli, D-3rd District, and Assemblywomen Carol Murphy, D-7th District, and Joann Downey, D-11th District.
A second bill — S-2476 — is being considered that enhances death benefits for workers who passed from COVID-19.
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.
A bill called the Transportation Funding Fairness Act (TFFA), introduced by first-term U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D) of New Jersey, would give more latitude for states to use federal funds to help pay for projects, such as the Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
“The TFFA will clear one of the obstacles the administration has placed in the path of building Gateway, and other similar projects around the country,” Malinowski said in a press release. “Funding for infrastructure is one issue on which I think the Congress can make progress this year, and this bill can be an important part of that effort.”
The bill (H.R.731), introduced Jan. 23, had seven co-sponsors as of Jan. 28 and the endorsement of SMART Transportation Division and the Amalgamated Transit Union.
“SMART Transportation Division supports The Transportation Funding Fairness Act,” New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol said in the release. “It’s about time we get funding fairness for our much needed infrastructure projects.”
New Jersey State Legislative Director Ronald E. Sabol reports that the N.J. State Legislative Board (SLB) has announced their endorsements for candidates running for election Nov. 7, 2017.
“The NJSLB would like to remind all of our N.J. members Election Day is November 7th and that they will be voting for governor as well as all N.J. Senate and Assembly seats,” Sabol said. “Anyone wishing to see the NJSLB’s election recommendations can do so by visiting our website.”