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 Transportation Division Local 759 President Rafael Becerra and about seven of his local brothers and sisters departed their Coach USA garage in Paramus, N.J., on Jan. 10, and traveled to Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Md., to transport our nation’s troops and national guardsmen to protect Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony.
Becerra stayed in the nation’s capital for two weeks, returning home Jan. 24, while others from his garage stayed an extra week before returning Jan. 31.
Dillon’s Bus Service of Hanover, Md., – an affiliate of Coach USA – was in charge of coordinating with different bus companies that sent their buses and operators to help transport the 26,000 troops (according to militarytimes.com) deployed to D.C.
Employees of Rockland Coaches of Bergenfield, N.J., represented by TD Local 1558, also were called upon to transport troops. Coach bus companies from as far away as Pittsburgh also arrived to help.
National Guard soldiers disembark from a bus in January in this photo courtesy of Local 759 President Rafael Becerra and New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol.
According to Becerra, he picked up troops at Andrews and then brought them over to the armory. He then moved them to different hotels and assignments in the D.C. area.
“I also picked up troops from the Reagan airport. The ones I picked up came in from Alaska. I picked up around 29 people,” Becerra said. “I also picked up people from the Florida National Guard from their hotel, and I dropped them off where they were stationed at the African American Museum (National Museum of African American History and Culture).”
Becerra said the first week there was the roughest because he was required to keep making runs from place-to-place and was on call a lot of the time. The troops were constantly coming in during the first week for their assignments, but then there wasn’t a lot of transporting that needed to be done during his second week.
“We waited around a lot at the Andrews base parking lot, waiting to be called upon,” Becerra said.
New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol had nothing but praise for the members who stepped up to assist.
“Brother Becerra and his fellow members took time away from their families during a pandemic to serve a greater cause than themselves — the protection and safe transition required by our nation’s democratic process,” Sabol said. “This assignment had health and safety risks involved — just days before our bus operators arrived, armed insurrectionists had threatened members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol itself. Our members had no guarantee that they wouldn’t be attacked by domestic terrorists or be exposed to COVID while assisting those troops at our nation’s capital — yet they did it without complaint.
“I thank them for their exemplary display of duty.”
Although he was in the city during the inauguration, Becerra said he did not get to see the ceremony up close.
“I was watching it on my phone, sitting in the parking lot. I was kinda afraid to take pictures,” he said. “You don’t just go wandering around. You go from check point to check point to check point.”
When asked if he had any concerns about contracting COVID-19 while there, Becerra said that he thought things were pretty safe with almost everyone wearing a mask, but he was still a little concerned.
“I would say that 99% of the guys, the troops, they all had masks on. I was tested before I went there, and I was tested when I came back. Thank God I came back in one piece. But it’s all part of the job,” he said.
Becerra said that by the time that he left, a lot of troops were already clearing out.
When asked what the most memorable thing about the trip was, Becerra replied, “I was amazed that I had never seen D.C. so empty. There was nothing. There was no traffic, there were no people walking. You could walk on the other side of the fence, but that was the closest you got. They kept closing down areas, so you didn’t know what was going to be closed.”
SMART-TD thanks Brother Becerra and the other troop transporters for their dedication and congratulates them on a job well done.
The same cannot be said for front-line SMART Transportation Division members who have sprung into action to help their communities and fellow members cope with the effects of the coronavirus.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters has been providing cleaning supplies to members to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters (GCA-449) was able to engineer an agreement with a local distillery that provided alcohol-based hand sanitizer to members free of charge.
“I explained our travel ban exemption and our lack of access to running water,” Wolters said. “They seemed more than happy to help our union.
“I decided I can’t rely on the carrier to protect the members, so our officers are donating cleaning materials daily and cleaning when they can.”
Attention to sanitation of work areas also has been a challenge that General Chairperson Larry Miller (GO 386) is doing his best to help meet by providing disinfecting wipes to workers in packages provided by the union.
“I wanted to do all I can on my part to keep our members supplied with whatever I could get at our local stores,” said Miller, who was elected an alternate vice president at last year’s Second SMART-TD Convention. “I know it is not a lot, but it does make a dent. If we all pull together as the SMART-TD team, we will get through this.”
Member Mike Speier of Local 6 (Indianapolis, Ind.) took the initiative of purchasing a number of spray bottles from the dollar store, mixing up a bleach solution with four gallons that he purchased on his own, and then placing the filled spray bottles around the yard office.
“They can put posters up when the cows come home, but that’s not keeping us safe,” Speier said. “It’s cheap to do, I followed the instructions on Google and have been filling them up and giving them to the guys.
Mike Speier of Local 6 in Indianapolis, Ind., poses with his two daughters. Speier has been supplying fellow workers based out of the Avon, Ind., terminal with bleach water to help disinfect their work areas.
“If I keep my brothers and sisters safe and healthy, it ensures that I come home safe and healthy.”
If managers would give workers a bit of extra time to sanitize and disinfect their worksites — about 10 minutes — and allow the people to pull together, it’d help to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading, he said.
“You have a half-dozen guys buy bottles and bleach water, and we can really nip this in the bud,” Speier said.
Some members are doing their best to keep others informed.
On the West Coast, General Chairperson James Sandoval of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District and Local 23 (Santa Cruz, Calif.) alternate legislative representative, has been sharing information with members across TD locals and transit agencies alike to help spread information during the outbreak. In particular he is raising awareness about federal and state benefits that are available especially for those who may find themselves unable to work because they or someone they care for is dealing with COVID-19.
“Since we are in uncharted waters with this pandemic, it is extremely important to support each other and share information that may help because there is no book on this,” he said. “I have been sharing information with all District 3 general chairpersons, our International, our local labor counsel and other unions. We must step up to make sure nobody feels alone right now because things are changing at a rapid pace.”
Sandoval says that a cooperative effort has brought about shift adjustments at both Santa Cruz’s bus and paratransit properties by the carrier, which also has eliminated disciplinary procedures on sick calls, begun a no-question 10-day stay-at-home policy, supplied personal protective equipment and implemented bus sanitation practices.
“I couldn’t have accomplished improving our workplace strategy around COVID-19 to help protect our members without the support of my great team at our local. I have always believed that working together means we can get through anything — we will come out of this stronger than ever!”
Johnny Walker, legislative representative for Local 610 and secretary of the Maryland State Legislative Board, has been using his experience in the military and as a railroader to help pull people in his neighborhood and at his workplace together to cope with the stresses posed by the pandemic.
He praised the efforts of General Chairperson Jerome Johnson (New Jersey Transit conductors) of Local 60 in Newark, as doing an exemplary job in keeping things moving in this time of crisis, as are other NJT members.
“He has been doing everything he possibly can to protect his members and the riding public. After all, NJT operates in and out of New York City,” Sabol said. “Our N.J. bus members as well have been dealing with fuller buses because of route cuts.”
These examples, as well as other members’ efforts that haven’t yet been reported to us at news_TD@smart-union.org, are what’s going to keep the country moving and our fellow brothers and sisters healthy as we all work through the challenge of this pandemic.
Union leadership is reviewing each and every submission and is working to get those problem areas resolved, but keep in mind it is impossible for your general chairperson or state legislative board to adequately respond if the situations are not reported. The more details we receive, the better chance we have of getting them corrected.
“I read each and every one of these reports, and we all discuss it daily to ensure someone is following up with a corrective action plan,” said Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson. “Our general chairpersons are doing a fantastic job, and in many cases they are teamed up with our vice presidents in keeping the pressure on the carriers to get the unsanitary conditions and lack of supplies fixed. Our Legislative/Safety Department is following up on the national, state and local levels where needed to ensure members’ voices and concerns are being addressed.”
Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson of the TD President’s Office encourages members to reach out to him at email@example.com for ideas on how SMART-TD members can help pull together resources to assist each other during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes branding supplies with SMART decals so that people know that the union is helping to provide the materials that otherwise would not be available.
A rail crossing vegetation maintenance bill S. 3425 was signed Jan. 9 by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Attendees at the signing included, from left, Sheny Mendez, SMART-TD Local 759 legislative representative; Victor Amo-Krah, SMART-TD Local 1413 legislative representative; 26th District Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce; 19th District Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez; in the far back is 14th District Assemblyman Dan Benson, the Assembly Transportation chairman; immediately behind Lopez is bill primary sponsor Sen. Pat Diegnan, the Senate Transportation Chairman; Gov. Murphy; N.J. DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti; SMART-TD General Chairperson Jerome Johnson (GCA-610); SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol; Dave Rasmussen, SMART-TD Local 60 legislative representative; and SMART-TD General Chairperson Gordon Harris (GCA-877).
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed S. 3425 into law on Jan. 9, a bill requiring rail carriers to maintain vegetation near and around crossings in the state.
The bill passed through the New Jersey Senate last May by a unanimous 35-0 vote and later in December was approved unanimously by the state’s Assembly.
It requires vegetation to be cleared by at least 300 feet from crossings by rail carriers. If the carriers do not comply within 15 days of receiving written notice that a crossing must be cleared, then the state Department of Transportation will clear the vegetation and charge the carriers for the cost of doing so.
“Excessive vegetation has the potential to cause harm to commuters, railroad workers, and many others,” said SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ronald Sabol. “Thank you to the governor for signing this important legislation that will improve safety across our statewide rail system.”
Sen. Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. of New Jersey’s 18th District was the bill’s primary sponsor.
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.”