Posts Tagged ‘Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson’

The INVEST in America Act and how it protects TD members

A surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced June 4 by chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has a wide-reaching positive impact for members of the SMART Transportation Division.

Mostly mirroring the identically named INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last summer but died in the Republican-held Senate, the 2021 version known as H.R. 3684 is a $547 billion five-year surface transportation bill with a two-person freight crew provision and encompasses other issues important to all TD members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

The bill directs federal investments in roads, bridges, transit, and rail, re-imagines national transportation policies and helps put President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that invests in American workers and communities into motion.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: we can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said.

Of particular importance to TD members are the portions of the INVEST in America Act that cover bus, transit and freight rail.

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

What follows is a recap of some of the provisions within the bill most important to SMART-TD members:

Amtrak

  • The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.

Bus

  • Creates a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) training center modeled on the successful National Transit Institute, but with a frontline employee mandate to focus on training for new technologies, safety and emergency preparedness.
  • Expands FTA’s safety plan to include a focus on passenger and personnel injuries, assaults, and fatalities; a risk management process to address transit worker assaults; a joint labor/management safety committee empowered to approve the safety plan; and a comprehensive frontline workforce training program on safety and de-escalation.
  • Prevents a transit agency from deploying an automated vehicle that duplicates, eliminates, or reduces the frequency of existing public transportation service or a mobility on demand service. Transit agencies considering transit automated vehicles and mobility on demand service are required to develop a workforce development plan describing how the automated vehicle will affect transit workers. Ensures transit workers are given fair notice if their job is jeopardized by a transit automated vehicle or mobility on demand service.
  • Authorizes FTA research on redesigning bus driver compartments to improve driver visibility, expand driver functionality, and reduce driver assault.
  • Directs the Transportation secretary to review the costs and benefits of requiring lap/shoulder belts in large school buses and to consider requiring seat belts in newly manufactured school buses. Requires newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with automatic emergency braking and electronic stability control systems. Directs the secretary to conduct research and testing on fire prevention and mitigation standards—including firewalls, fire suppression systems, and interior flammability and smoke emissions characteristics—for large school buses and consider issuing updated standards.

Freight rail

  • Requires the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rescind any special permit or approval for the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car issued before the date of enactment. Also prohibits DOT regulations on the transport of LNG by rail tank car from taking effect until DOT conducts a further safety evaluation. Directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate an evaluation of the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail.
  • Improves rail safety by addressing highway-rail grade crossing needs.
  • Requires a study on the effects of long trains.
  • Requires FRA to increase its roster of rail safety inspectors by 20 percent.
  • Requires FRA to collect data on train length and crew size when an accident occurs.
  • Requires the creation of a standardized FRA safety investigation process.
  • Requires FRA to engage in a public process before granting waivers from, or suspensions of, railroad safety standards and regulations.
  • Creates a federal blocked crossing program to collect data and enforce a 10-minute blocked crossing limit.
  • Has a two-person crew freight train mandate that, like the 2020 bill, has some exemptions for short lines and train length. These are:
    • The train operations are not on a main line.
    • The train does not exceed a maximum speed of 25 mph on territory with an average track grade of less than 2% for any segment of track that is at least two continuous miles.
    • The locomotives are performing assistance to a train that has incurred mechanical failure or lacks the power to traverse difficult terrain, including to or from the location where assistance is provided.
    • The locomotives are not attached to any equipment (except a caboose) and do not travel further than 30 miles from a rail yard.
    • A location where one-person operations were being utilized one year prior to the date of enactment of this bill, only if the DOT Secretary determines that the operation achieves an equivalent level of safety.

    Short-line exception
    In addition to the above, a train may be operated with a reduced crew, if the carrier has fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and an annual revenue of less than $20,000,000.

    A train must be operated by a two-person crew (no exception), if:

    • It is transporting one or more loaded cares carrying material toxic by inhalation.
    • It is carrying 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block.
    • It has 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid throughout its consist.
    • It is 7,500 feet in length or longer.
  • Has a cross-border provision for the southern border of the U.S.
  • Makes yardmaster employees subject to FRA’s hours of service protections.
  • Directs the FRA to take such actions as are necessary to ensure that certain older air brake control valves are phased out on rail cars operating in cold regions of the United States, an issue brought to light by SMART-TD leadership in 2019.
  • Directs the DOT to require railroad carriers to regularly report on failures of positive train control (PTC) systems.
  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule on fatigue management plans within one year.

Transit

  • Establishes a working group to improve the musculoskeletal health of transit and commercial vehicle drivers by developing stronger ergonomic seating standards in transit and commercial vehicles. Requires the working group to compare design standards for women to those for men.
  • Provides funding for corridor planning and development of high-speed rail projects, reducing traffic congestion and shortening travel times.
  • Requires passenger and commuter railroad carriers to implement response plans and employee training in order to address assaults against both passengers and employees. The section also requires railroads to report annual assault data to FRA.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the U.S. House on June 9.

Read a section-by-section summary of the 2021 INVEST in America Act. (PDF)
Read the bill. (PDF)
Read a fact sheet about the bill. (PDF)

SMART-TD Leaders Pledge Support to 2021 INVEST in America Act

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 4, 2021) – Leaders of the SMART Transportation Division today announced their full support of the 2021 version of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

DeFazio

The transformational $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced today by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio of Oregon contains critical safety reforms for the bus, transit and freight rail industries. Similar to a 2020 version of the bill, provisions of the legislation mandate two-person freight rail crews and take steps to address the problems of bus operator and transit worker assault as well as other issues faced by SMART-TD’s bus, rail and transit members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

A markup of the bill is scheduled to take place June 9.

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.

Memorial Day message from TD President Ferguson

Brothers and sisters:

As we mark a second Memorial Day in what we hope are the waning days of the coronavirus pandemic, let us all take the time to offer a measure of respect to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.

Our union takes seriously the duty to show appreciation to members of the military, both living and no longer with us. We must remember all they have done for our country and, by extension, all of us in times of conflict and of tranquility. Their fights have preserved the freedoms established at our country’s founding and have enhanced the strength of our nation. The Memorial Day holiday serves as a great reminder to show our gratitude and respect.

At a time where we still battle a virulent enemy, please take some time to pause in remembrance of the debt we owe to our servicemen and -women in the United States Armed Forces who fought and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms of our country that are too easily taken for granted.

Also, as a reminder, our union wants to honor our brothers and sisters who have served in the military. If you are a veteran, please let us know by providing information about your service so we can recognize you in the future.

May God bless our troops, both living and those who have passed.

Please be safe, and thank you.

In solidarity,


 
 
 
 

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Learn more about Memorial Day
Update your veterans’ status
SMART-TD resources for veterans

STB chair to Class Is: You have cut the workforce too deep

On May 27, the chair of the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) Martin J. Oberman reached out to all Class I CEOs asking them whether the carriers are prepared to reverse the workforce cuts they have made in anticipation of handling an economic rebound as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.

Oberman

“I am specifically requesting that you also address whether you have any long-term plans, including your hiring plans for 2021 and 2022, to reverse any of the diminishing workforce levels which have resulted from your strategies in recent years,” Oberman said in his letter.

Rail employment data collected by the board indicate that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, that overall Class I rail employment has declined from 127,867 to 115,485, a reduction of 12,382 jobs. Train and engine personnel employment has been reduced by Class Is by nearly 5,000 workers from 51,801 in March 2020, to 46,951 in April 2021, the latest month for which STB data is available.

Oberman expressed concern that recent rail service problems reported by some shippers may relate to that broader trend of rail labor reductions over the last several years in addition to the furloughs and quarantines brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I recognize that these rail service challenges, at least to some extent, have been related to workforce reductions resulting from COVID-19 cases, quarantines, and furloughs based on the temporary decline in demand and the resultant adjustments made by railroads in nearly every facet of their businesses,” he wrote. “But I am also concerned by the extent to which these service issues may be related to or exacerbated by a broader trend of rail labor reductions that has been occurring over the past several years.”

Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), adopted by CSX under the helm of the late E. Hunter Harrison, has become an acceptable operating scheme among the largest U.S. railroads focused on reducing operating ratios by lengthening trains and emphasizing cost reductions by slashing employment, reducing the time available for inspections and mothballing equipment, as reported by The Associated Press and VICE Magazine.

From an economic perspective, Oberman said the STB has received some significant reports of flaws in the Class Is’ service model.

“Although many shippers have reported that railroads are providing consistent and dependable service, the Board has also received concerning reports from a meaningful number of rail customers of subpar performance, including missed switches, railcars delayed at intermediate yards or interchanges, extended out-of-route movements, and prolonged dwell at origin for some unit train traffic,” Oberman observed. “Additionally, we have been made aware of instances of significant congestion at various intermodal facilities, which has resulted in delayed train arrivals and disruptions to container availability.”

A review of share prices since Harrison was placed atop CSX by a hedge fund in March 2017, shows that shares for most of the Class I carriers have more than doubled since March 2017, except for Canadian National and BNSF (which is privately owned).

Conversely, STB rail employment data from April 2021, indicate that overall Class I employment has declined by nearly 34,000 jobs from 149,323 in March 2017, while train and engine personnel employment has gone down by 12,240 jobs from 59,191 in March 2017.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said he was pleased to see STB Chairman Oberman and the board taking an active role in protecting rail shippers and making sure T&E crews are properly staffed.

“This is a good first step in getting people back to work and getting the rail workforce to an adequate level,” President Ferguson said. “Let’s get our members some relief so they’re able to receive adequate rest and a quality of life they deserve.”

Link to STB article regarding the letters.
Link to STB site with Oberman’s letters to carrier executives.

Nevada gov. honors railroaders with proclamation

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has issued a proclamation praising America’s railroaders, declaring Wednesday, April 28, 2021, as “A Day In Honor of Railroad Workers.”

A portion of the proclamation reads: “The safe and efficient movement of the trains transporting… freight and… passengers through Nevada is due foremost to the dedication and professionalism of those employees who are directly involved in train movements, including Train and Crew Dispatchers, Maintenance of Way personnel, Signal Maintainers, Mechanical personnel, and train crews.”

The SMART Transportation Division Nevada Legislative Board and BLET Nevada State Legislative Board worked jointly to lobby Gov. Sisolak regarding the proclamation. The two boards issued a joint statement, which reads in part:

“Every day, front-line railroad workers report for duty as required and perform the tasks of their jobs in a manner which ensures that the movement of freight and passengers by rail which is needed to keep this nation’s economy functioning is accomplished. In spite of various objectives and circumstances which create hurdles to be crossed in providing this vital service, the work which you do continues to deliver for those counting on it… On this special day, we salute and thank you for the work that you do, while encouraging you to stay focused on safety in the course of your work. We also ask that you join us in remembering those workers who have passed on before us, some in the line of duty, while committing to continue fighting for all still among us with whom we share struggles.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said, “Our unions thank Governor Sisolak for honoring railroaders with this proclamation and for recognizing the important role SMART-TD and BLET members play in keeping our economy strong. We also thank Jason Doering, SMART-TD Nevada State Legislative Director, and Matt Parker, BLET Nevada State Legislative Board Chairman, for their efforts in helping to secure this proclamation and for their dedication to railroad safety.”

A copy of Governor Sisolak’s proclamation can be found here (PDF).

# # #

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.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

VICE article explains the dangers of PSR

Members and leaders of the SMART Transportation Division as well as the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, spelled out why U.S. freight railroads’ obsession with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) increases the danger to the public and railroad workers alike.

Journalist Aaron Gordon spoke with TD President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan about degradation in the safety culture of freight railroads because of PSR in an in-depth article published on March 22. “It’s going to end up like Boeing,” President Ferguson warned.

Gordon’s article touched upon many topics that our members are unfortunately already well aware of, including: the severe reduction of rail employees which has greatly impacted safe operations, the increase of fatigue associated with the same demanding work but with a reduced work force, the practice of railroads to have inspectors spend less time inspecting cars, the deferral of needed maintenance and potential safety issues being glossed over so that dwell time is not increased. It paints a very realistic and clear picture of how the railroads’ operating ratios and profits have been placed well ahead of safety and all in the name of PSR.

But by questing for those increased returns on Wall Street, the lessons learned from past operational mistakes could conceivably end up costing railroads in the long run, subjects interviewed in the article say.

This article is essential reading, and it can be found on the VICE website.

Ninth Circuit Ruling Favors Unions and States, Rejects FRA’s Attempt to Preempt State Crew Law

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Feb. 23, 2021) — Two of the country’s largest freight railroad unions achieved a favorable decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday regarding an attempt by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to preempt legislation passed by a number of states that established a minimum of two-person operating crews on freight trains.

The case, brought by the states of California, Washington and Nevada and by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), challenged former FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s attempt to cancel the laws of those and other states while at the same time attempting to authorize nationwide one-person crews. The unions and states argued that Batory’s May 2019 order violated the comment-and-notice procedures of Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that his agency could not implicitly preempt the state safety rules.

The Court of Appeals ruled that FRA’s order was “arbitrary and capricious,” taking particular note that the assertions by FRA and the rail carriers that reducing the number of crew members in the cab to one person could improve safety “did not withstand scrutiny” and “was lacking.” The court also criticized the order as not being a “logical outgrowth” of the two-person crew proposal, because “[t]here was nothing in the [proposed regulation] to put a person on notice that the FRA might adopt a national one-person crew limit.”

The court chided FRA for basing its negative preemption decision on “an economic rationale” instead of what is its main obligation — safety.

The court also found the order’s “real and intended effect is to authorize nationwide one-person train crews and to bar any contrary state regulations.” In that it utterly failed to address the safety concerns raised by nearly 1,550 commenters who support two-person crews, the court found the order’s rationale was arbitrary and capricious, thus violating the APA.

Likewise, the court eviscerated the lack of a sound factual basis in the order, which merely cited a study funded by the Association of American Railroads, holding that “a single study suggesting that one-person crew operations ‘appear as safe’ as two-person crews seems a thin reed on which to base a national rule.”

“First, we thank the more than 1,500 BLET and SMART–TD members who took the time to comment on the need for two-person crews, because you have made a difference,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “We also congratulate the judges in this case for recognizing the former Administrator overstepped his bounds, and we look ahead to working with the FRA when crew size is again considered on a national level by the agency as a matter of public and operational safety.”

“We assert, and will continue to assert, that having two sets of eyes and two people working in concert together with any improvements in technology, will be the best way to serve public safety and to continue the effective and efficient movement of our nation’s railroads,” the union presidents said.

The court ruling, in vacating and remanding the FRA order, sends the matter of a potential rulemaking for freight railroad crew size back to FRA for the agency’s consideration. It also means that two-person crew legislation in the states that had been targeted by FRA’s order remain in effect.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is available here (PDF).

###

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.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

SMART-TD Safety Condition Report is launched for members to submit info about unsafe conditions

To address the growing safety concerns of our membership, we have implemented a universal Safety Condition Report that is now available on the SMART-TD website for all members to use.

This form will become the primary tool to report and collect data concerning unsafe working conditions, including COVID-19 issues, from all members. Organizational information such as Craft, Local, Carrier, State Legislative Director and General Committee are loaded based on a member’s selection using defined database values, ensuring an accurate submission so that the officers responsible for acting on the report are directly and timely informed.

Members are presented a default list of safety hazards (including COVID-19) to choose along with identifying the state and location of the unsafe condition. Additionally, the form will dynamically update based on the members’ input, creating a customized report. After submission, an automated email to the General Chairperson and State Legislative Director with jurisdiction is sent as an initial notification. Full details of the Safety Condition Report are then accessed by these officers via the TD Connect portal along with printing and exporting capabilities for further collaboration with Local officers so that the unsafe conditions can be addressed.

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

It is important to note that the data collected by this Safety Condition Report and the information within are kept and used solely within our SMART Union computer system and are used by SMART-TD officers to assist in addressing the issues presented by members.

“Membership safety and well-being is a founding principal of this Union, but we cannot assist without being properly informed of the unsafe issues facing our fellow brothers and sisters.” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson stated. “These reports are to enhance our safety efforts as many carriers lack proper and effective reporting mechanisms. Our SMART Constitution lists safety as our local legislative representatives’ primary mission, stating ‘They shall report to their Locals regarding the handling of all alleged unsafe or unsanitary working conditions found to exist, or reported to them, within their jurisdiction. They shall undertake to correct such conditions through appropriate measures consistent with the local and national policies of the Transportation Division.’ Therefore, we ask that you also forward this information as soon as possible to your local legislative representative or other SMART Union officer for proper handling. If you are unsure who they are or how to contact them, please contact our office.

“It is imperative that we all accept the personal responsibility to properly document known unsafe conditions, acts and security concerns. If more people would take the time to do this we could, over time, address most of the long-standing concerns we have. Without documentation, nothing will ever change — the issues and concerns will continue to remain and often grow until a very unfortunate situation such as an injury, accident or fatality brings to light what many knew was a problem long ago but failed to address.”

The union’s chief of staff hopes that the use of this form brings hazards that have been taken for granted or tolerated by workers to light.

“Sadly, we hear one particular scenario too often,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Someone says, ‘That has been an issue for a long time’ or ‘Everyone knows that is a problem’ at a particular property. Yet everyone assumes that someone else has written the unsafe condition up and unfortunately, no one has. The issue remains and the carriers use that against us by stating the very same thing — ‘That has been like that forever, and no one has said anything or taken issue with it.’

“This online reporting process is here to change that. Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough. Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

The Safety Condition Report is accessible directly from the SMART-TD home page as both a banner and as a menu item — look for the blinking yellow caution signal.

“Please assist us with assisting you,” President Ferguson said. “All of our members deserve safe working conditions on the job and to return home safely. If there is an issue you want to report — report it.”

President Ferguson: This election is pivotal

The following article appeared in the August/September 2020 edition of the SMART Transportation Division News and is referred to by President Ferguson in the video above.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With the 2020 general election right around the corner, we are dedicating a large portion of this edition of the SMART-TD News to what may be the most-critical question we’ve ever been faced with: Who should serve as President of the United States for the next term?

Divided and contentious as this subject can be, I am asking that you take the time to read through with an open mind, and think critically about what we have riding on the outcome of this election as unionized essential transportation workers.

In determining who SMART and its Transportation Division should endorse, first and foremost we listened to what our members had to say. I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you who responded to our surveys and emails, called our office, and wrote to us to express your viewpoints. Your opinion matters to us above all else. With that being said, we also considered external sources and blocked out those that misrepresented the candidates and their intentions, or were biased towards one end of the political spectrum or the other.

Problem is, there is an abundance of misinformation coming from all directions. In a world where it’s difficult to trust virtually every source of information, where should we turn?

Fortunately, in this election we have a race where both candidates have set precedent in the White House; President Trump as the incumbent with nearly four years of experience under his belt, and Joe Biden with eight years of experience as our former Vice President. We also examined the promises that each candidate has made on the campaign trail, and compared those to their actions while holding elective office. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

Below are some examples that you can trust, because they are based on objective fact – no conjecture, no spin, no bias, and no BS:

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) appointments

In March 2009, the Obama/Biden administration nominated Joseph C. Szabo for the position of FRA administrator; a career railroader, SMART-TD member and Illinois State Legislative Director. Brother Szabo was the first FRA administrator to come from a rail labor background, and he served until 2015 when the Obama/Biden administration appointed Sarah Feinberg to the position.

Under Szabo’s tenure, accidents, injuries, and fatalities dropped to record-low levels, and the FRA improved its rules pertaining to fatigue mitigation and training requirements. Under Feinberg’s tenure, the FRA issued notice of a proposed rulemaking which would have required two-person train crews.

In July 2017, the Trump/Pence administration nominated Ronald Batory, the former CEO of Consolidated Rail Corporation, for the position of FRA administrator. Within one year of Batory’s nomination, the FRA had begun allowing Kansas City Southern to utilize Mexican train crews to cross our southern border and operate trains into Laredo, Texas.

SMART-TD and other rail labor unions had to sue the FRA to rectify this issue – a process which took more than two years to resolve.

During that time, the Trump administration ignored rail labor’s pleas to secure our southern border and prevent American jobs from being lost to foreign countries; both of which were campaign promises of his.

In May 2019, the FRA withdrew its proposed two-person crew rulemaking, claiming that research didn’t support implementing such a rule, and that two-person crews would unnecessarily impede the future of rail innovation and automation.

More on two-person train crews, and National Mediation Board (NMB) appointments

With Mr. Batory leading the FRA and its withdrawal of the proposed two-person crew rule, the nation’s rail carriers saw opportunity and in October 2019, eight (8) railroads filed a lawsuit against SMART-TD, attempting to force us to bargain over crew consist on a national level. To better their chances, the railroads filed their lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas, which is notoriously one of the least labor-friendly courts in the country.

The case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge who in February 2020 ruled in favor of the rail carriers and ordered us to negotiate over crew consist, despite the fact that moratoriums are in place barring such negotiations.

At the same time they filed the above lawsuit, the railroads turned to the NMB, requesting that they begin the process of forcing SMART-TD into binding arbitration over the same crew-consist issues. The NMB is controlled by a 2/3 majority of Trump-appointed members, as follows:

■ Mr. Gerald W. Fauth III, a former consultant and president of a company that railroads hire for mergers, acquisitions, time studies, cost analyses and traffic analyses.
■ Ms. Kyle Fortson, a former labor policy director for Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Despite SMART-TD’s objections, in January 2020, the NMB granted the railroads’ requests and voted by a 2/3 majority in favor of moving forward with the binding arbitration process.

In stark contrast to the above, Joe Biden has met with SMART’s leadership and committed to defending two-person crews. For more than 30 years, Biden commuted for several hours per day on Amtrak. To this day, he remains on a first-name basis with some of our members.

With respect to the NMB, the lone Obama/Biden appointee, Linda Puchala, is the former president of the Association of Flight Attendants. In the crew-consist binding arbitration
decision, Ms. Puchala wrote nearly three pages in dissent objecting to the NMB’s decision.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) appointments

Similar to the other regulatory agencies mentioned in this article, the FMCSA’s stated purpose is to establish policies governing carriers and ensure their compliance, thereby reducing accidents and protecting our bus members and the passengers we carry.

Under the Trump administration, the post of FMCSA administrator was vacant until February 2018, when Raymond P. Martinez was nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Martinez’s nomination was lauded by carrier-sponsored lobbying groups such as the American Trucking Associations, the American Bus Association and the United Motor Coach Association.

In October 2019, Martinez resigned as FMCSA administrator and Jim Mullen assumed the position of acting administrator. Mullen served in that capacity until his resignation in August 2020, which left Wiley Deck to act as FMCSA administrator.

This frequency in turnover has largely resulted in an agency without clear direction or leadership.

However, there has been one consistent theme over the last few years; the FMCSA has lent a sympathetic ear to the carrier-sponsored lobbying groups that endorse President Trump, while largely ignoring organized labor and the general public. This is evidenced by the FMCSA’s waiving of hours-of-service requirements for Mexican carriers, which already have inadequate regulations when compared to their U.S.-based counterparts. FMCSA has also turned a blind eye to carriers’ efforts to eliminate drivers’ breaks, including meal and restroom breaks, and they have allowed outsourcing of school bus drivers to third-party rideshare companies with questionable practices for conducting the requisite, thorough background checks for drivers.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appointments

Similar to the NMB’s structure, the NLRB is required to have five members with a simple majority appointed by the president. To clarify the importance of these positions, these are the individuals who are in charge of investigating and remedying unfair labor practices with the carriers, as nominated by the Trump/Pence administration:

■ John F. Ring (chairman), a former management and labor relations attorney, appointed in 2018.
■ Marvin E. Kaplan, former chief counsel of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, whose 2017 appointment was supported by a number of business special-interest groups.
■ William Emanuel, a former labor law attorney for transportation, logistics, and manufacturing companies, who was appointed in 2017.

With respect to the other two NLRB seats normally held by minority party appointees, President Trump has stated his intention to re-appoint Lauren McFerran, although he has yet to follow through. It is also apparent that he intends to leave vacant the seat that had been occupied by Democratic appointee Mark Gaston Pearce, resulting in a board with three Republican members and no or perhaps eventually a
single minority party member.

Since the law requires only three NLRB members for a quorum to conduct its business, the agency has pressed forward with its two vacant seats and issued a series of decisions, rulemakings and initiatives that
heavily favor corporations and repeal myriad existing worker protections. Under President Trump’s direction, the NLRB has acted on every single item on a top-10 corporate interest “wish list” that was published by the Chamber of Commerce in early 2017.

Department of Labor (DOL) appointments

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Eugene Scalia as the new labor secretary is driving wide rifts among HR and benefits professionals, with some praising his industry knowledge as a boon to businesses. Others decried the choice, saying he’d hurt the American worker. Scalia has spent his career fighting for the interests of financial firms, corporate executives and shareholders rather than the interests of working people.

In another example of stark contrast, in 2009 the Obama/Biden administration nominated Hilda Solis for the position of labor secretary. At the same time, Solis joined Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force, and pressed ahead with a clear and unapologetic agenda to aggressively enforce workplace protection laws, and enact new rules and regulations intended to grant more power to unions and workers. Corporate interest groups, antiunion organizations, and Republican Congress members adamantly opposed Solis’s nomination. Following Solis’s resignation in 2013, the Obama/Biden administration praised her accomplishments and chose Tom Perez, a former civil rights attorney who dedicated much of his efforts to increased protections for the elderly, war veterans, and labor unions, as her successor. Perez was known for regularly making house calls and onsite trips to obtain personal feedback from workers.

Legislation affecting all TD members

In July 2020, SMART-TD and other rail labor unions were successful in getting the U.S. House of Representatives to pass H.R. 2, which contains:

■ Two-person freight crew requirements;
■ Bus and transit operator safety measures;
■ Blocked rail crossing enforcement measures;
■ Cross-border solutions;
■ Hours of service requirements for rail yardmasters;
■ Additional funding for Amtrak;
■ Requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines for providing personal protective equipment and cleanliness standards for essential employees.

When passed to the U.S. Senate as a part of the Moving Forward Act, President Trump threatened to veto the bill. Following suit, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called the bill “nonsense,” “absurd,” “pure fantasy,” and vowed that it will die before ever getting to the White House.

As previously noted, Joe Biden has met with SMART leadership and pledged his support for these issues.

Handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Beginning in February 2020, before it was known that the virus had reached this country, we began making myriad preparations for a worst-case scenario, including modifications to our Health & Welfare Plans and a legislative agenda that make sure our members are protected. As a part of those efforts, in early March when there were fewer than 200 confirmed cases in the U.S., we wrote to the railroads, the FRA, the FMCSA, OSHA, and the Department of Transportation demanding that mandates be issued requiring essential employers to comply with basic CDC guidelines for COVID-19 cleanliness, including providing essential employees with the proper protective equipment and social-distancing measures.

As you can probably surmise by now (if you are not already aware) the response from the rail carriers, bus carriers and transit agencies was that the responsibility of adhering to CDC guidelines was entirely up to the employee. In the instances where a few regulatory agencies, such as the FRA, bothered to respond, we were told that they essentially trust the carriers to do the right thing, and in their
view, it isn’t necessary or appropriate to issue mandates.

Instead, we had to take matters into our own hands by cataloging the carriers’ violations and shortcomings via an online reporting tool, which continues to serve its purpose to this day.

What about the booming economy and increased rail traffic?

As is usually the case, over the last decade the number of carloads originated by U.S. Class I railroads has fluctuated with the economy, usually varying by single-digit percentages from year to year. Despite this relative consistency, the railroads’ operating ratios and revenues have gone up by double-digit percentages, while at the same time tens of thousands of rail labor employees have been furloughed.

This is mostly due to the fact that Wall Street investors have taken an interest in our nation’s railroads, and they are obsessed with so-called “Precision Scheduled Railroading” practices, which have resulted in (among other detrimental effects) the doubling and tripling of train length and tonnage, and thus, the reduction of crews.

Under the Trump administration, the White House, FRA, Department of Transportation and other regulatory authorities have refused our requests to mandate the train length limitations and issue safety regulations that we, and the general public, deserve.

It’s also worth noting that, according to the Association of American Railroads, there has been no significant increase in coal shipments from 2016 to today. President Trump’s promises to revive this business would have been hugely beneficial to our brothers and sisters whose livelihoods depend on these shipments, and it was a part of Trump’s policy that had our full support.

Instead, we’ve been handed broken promises.

But my 401(k) is at an alltime high, doesn’t that count for anything?

Of course it does. However, more important than the inevitable ebb and flow of the stock markets is the very real threat of bus and rail automation, train crew consist changes, reduction of federal subsidies for certain carriers such as Amtrak, and the funding and administration of the Railroad Retirement Board and Social Security Administration.

Every single budget from the Trump administration proposed the reduction or elimination of funding that not only employs our members, but protects their retirement and health & welfare benefits. If not for the hard work of our Legislative Department and the support of certain members of Congress, Amtrak would have gone bankrupt under the Trump administration. This single event would deal a devastating blow to the solvency of our Railroad Retirement benefits.

In addition to the above, automation of trains and buses, and the elimination of crew members and operators alike would have compounding effects that reach far beyond the obvious unemployment issues and the solvency of our retirement funds. As we all know, furloughs tend to hit our youngest members (not just in seniority, but also in age) the hardest. From a healthcare and benefits perspective, these are our healthiest members with the lowest frequency of major medical, dental, vision, short-term disability and long-term disability claims. There is a direct correlation between extensive furloughs and the already difficult-to-manage rising cost of our benefits.

The downstream consequences of Trump’s policies can easily extend to our higher seniority members who are immune to furlough.

We’re all in this together!

In conclusion

While this edition of SMART-TD News might not change your mind about who you’re going to vote for this November, we certainly hope it will help to shed some additional light on the importance of this election and what we all have at stake. When casting our ballots, we’re making the choice between better protections and job security for our members, or leaving our regulatory agencies in control of the very Wall Street investors, CEOs and corporations that they are intended to protect us from.

We’re making the choice between tough bargaining with the nation’s rail carriers that leads to the best possible deal in our next contract, or risking letting President Trump make carrier-friendly appointments to a Presidential Emergency Board that will determine our fate.

We’re making the choice between protecting our working class or continuing on our path of worshipping the almighty dollar, while throwing caution and safety to the wayside.

One thing is certain — on our current trajectory the rich will continue to get richer, while unionized labor and other hard-working citizens are left behind to pick up the scraps.

So, I ask all of you today: Are you ready to stand up to the abuse we’ve been dealt for these last several years? Are you prepared to cast a vote that will help to ensure that your family and future generations have the ability to earn a living wage, with choice health-care and retirement benefits? Are you ready to begin rebuilding an America that works for all of us, and not just our most wealthy and elite citizens?

Regardless of the outcome, I pledge that we will continue to fight for the protections, pay, benefits and retirement that we deserve. Without your support, however, this becomes exponentially more difficult, if not impossible. It’s going to take ALL of us to make this happen.

Thank you, and God bless.

Fraternally,
 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

District court rules Batory’s declaration of preemption stops Illinois 2PC law

In yet another example that elections have consequences, the Trump-appointed FRA administrator’s actions have potentially minimized both public and employee safety on the railroad.

In September 2019, after the State of Illinois enacted a law requiring that trains operated in Illinois be operated with a certified conductor and certified engineer, the Indiana Rail Road, which often operates with one-person crews over 250 miles of track in Illinois and Indiana, sued the Illinois Commerce Commission in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Backed by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the carrier challenged that newly signed state law.

In May 2019, just days after the Illinois Legislature had passed the law, Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, who was appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, withdrew a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on crew size and declared that any state law regarding crew size was preempted.

In the Indiana Rail Road lawsuit, the carrier and lobbying groups repeatedly referred to “the wisdom” of Batory’s declaration of federal preemption. The Trump appointee has followed up with other FRA choices such as safety waivers for railroads during the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to issue an emergency order on faulty air brake components.

“Ron Batory’s notice withdrawal absolutely paved the way for the district court to rule,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We must keep in mind, however, that this issue is not yet settled. A larger discussion in court remains ahead, as the judgment states.”

Indeed, the district court noted that the issue of validity of the FRA’s action, which was raised by SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was not properly before it and as such, the action stood for the time being.

The court went on to note that those issues are currently pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving a challenge by the states of California, Washington and Nevada, along with SMART-TD and BLET, as to the FRA’s compliance with the required APA procedures and its ability to declare state law preempted.

Oral argument was heard in that case Monday, October 5, 2020. The court has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision hopefully in the near future.

“It is worth noting that if the Ninth Circuit later holds that the FRA Withdrawal Order is invalid, then the Illinois Commerce Commission may move to vacate the judgment,” the district court ruling stated regarding the Illinois case.

The Illinois Commerce Commission, which would have enforced the law, was joined by SMART-TD and the BLET in defending the two-person crew law.

The court’s ruling effectively voids enforcement of the law, which took effect in January.

Read the ruling.

TD veterans: We need your help

Oct. 5, 2020

Brothers and Sisters:

Shortly before I joined the union in the mid 1990s, I served with the U.S. Army for three years in service to our country. I know I am not alone in this distinction as many of our union brothers and sisters in the SMART Transportation Division served in the military, and some continue to bravely serve.

Sharing that bond with the veterans in our union, and long before I was elected president of our union, I noticed that some recognition of our veterans’ service was long overdue. SMART-TD has not accumulated any definitive records about our members who have served in the military — whether they served, what branch they served, when they served. This is an oversight we are looking to correct by asking our members to update their veteran’s status by using a new Member Info Update form on the union website.

The link is: https://webapps.utu.org/WebSiteForms/MemberUpdateRequest.aspx

By updating your information, as a veteran, you will be eligible for future exclusive programs and information focused on veterans. The first step of this process was taken April 20 of this year with the addition of a Veteran Services page to the TD website. There will be more steps to come, but we first need to record who our veterans are in order to get the information out there and to better target our communications.

This project is close to my heart and a long time coming. I hope you will voluntarily participate by updating your information. Your union wants to recognize the sacrifices of all of our veterans and to better serve all those who served our country.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for your service. And please stay safe!

Fraternally,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President – Transportation Division
U.S. Army: 1988-1991

A Labor Day message from President Ferguson

Brothers and Sisters,

It may not be common knowledge to many Americans who have the opportunity to kick back and relax on Labor Day what the true genesis of the holiday is.

In the early 1880s, Labor Day was initiated by strong local union leadership in the New York-New Jersey region and was later adopted by some states.

President Grover Cleveland then signed Labor Day into federal law on June 28, 1894, to appease angry union workers engaged in the Pullman railroad labor strike that had been going on since May. Among the leaders of that strike was Eugene Debs, who later served as an officer of one of SMART-TD’s ancestor unions.

After a federal injunction against the workers, Cleveland sent thousands of armed troops into Chicago to break up the strike July 3, 1894. Days later, the situation turned deadly, with more than a dozen workers killed and many other people injured. The federal Department of Labor’s official history of Labor Day leaves out the part about blood being shed.

It was an election year in 1894. Even with the establishment of the holiday, Cleveland, a longtime foe of organized labor, was not re-elected.

In the present day, 126 years later, the circumstances of this year’s Labor Day are unusual to say the least. Much like prior holidays this year, we continue to deal with the risks of a global pandemic — the events that many of our members engage in to celebrate the labor movement and to show solidarity have been restricted or outright canceled.

Please do your best to enjoy those freedoms and, if you are lucky enough to have it, a day off. Please keep your safety and health in mind, along with this:

Unions changed the fate of the American worker. At a time when workers were devalued and mistreated, they provided a brotherhood to stand against big industry. This Labor Day, let us celebrate those who fought for and who continue to fight for a better life while working hard and pursuing their American dream. It is their and our perseverance in pursuit of fair treatment and the sacrifices we, the essential American worker, make on a daily basis that have resulted in the benefits that we enjoy.

Your SMART Transportation Division wishes you and your families a safe and enjoyable Labor Day.

Be safe and thank you.

Fraternally,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division