Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law H.B. 1841, a two-person crew bill that was championed in various forms for seven years by SMART-TD Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn and the other members of the state’s legislative board.
Affectionately known as a “zombie” bill — H.B. 1841 had been buried and put on hold numerous times by legislators but kept coming back in the face of carrier opposition — it became the law of the land March 27.
“We were able to finally prevail by building a cohesive coalition of supporters including police and fire departments, environmental organizations, other labor unions, and interested community organizations to advance this bill across the finish line,” Krohn said. “We not only finally prevailed in our statehouse, we’ve successfully passed the STRONGEST state train crewing law in the entire nation!”
As written, the bill allows the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to “order railroad carriers to increase the number of railroad employees in areas of increased risk to the public, passengers, railroad employees, or the environment, or on specific trains, routes, or to switch assignments on their road with additional numbers of crewmembers, and may direct the placement of additional crewmembers, if it is determined that such an increase in staffing or the placement of additional crewmembers is necessary to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public, passengers, or railroad employees, to prevent harm to the environment or to address site specific safety or security hazards.”
The bill survived a last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler on March 6 to quash it before it passed through the state Senate by a 34-15 vote.
Schoesler, a Republican, attempted to adjourn the legislative session rather than have the bill come up to a vote five minutes before the close of the legislative session, Krohn said.
“Schoesler attempted to shut down the Washington State Senate rather than allow our crewing bill to come to the floor for consideration and a vote,” Krohn said. “It’s an example of just how far the rail carriers and their allies are willing to go to kill off our safe train crewing bill as well as any other railroad safety legislation they oppose!”
That motion to adjourn was defeated by a party-line vote, and the bill subsequently was heard and voted upon.
Five Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted with every Senate Democrat in favor of the bill. The 15 senators who voted against H.B. 1841 were all Republican.
Krohn said the law is scheduled to take effect Thursday, June 11, 2020, and restores minimum freight crew legislation in the state that had been removed from the books in 1966 thanks to carrier lobbying efforts.
At the federal level, Washington state is a party along with three other states and rail labor unions in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) attempt to prevent states from passing laws mandating train crew size.
A hearing in the case is likely to be held in late summer or fall.
The Washington State Legislative Board had some good news to report this week about its effort to get two-person crew legislation passed in the state.
“For six consecutive years, we have doggedly pursued passage of this critical public safety bill. Today, for the first time we advanced train crew size legislation to the floor of the full House for a vote,” Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn reported. “House Speaker Frank Chopp personally presided over the chamber for this historic vote.”
The bill, H.B. 1841, passed, 72-24 (with two excused absent members), on March 13, marking the first time the Washington House of Representatives has OK’d final passage of train crew size legislation, Krohn said.
The passage marks the halfway point of efforts to get the legislation passed in Washington state. It next needs passage in the state’s Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.
“This year, the carriers have waged the most aggressive campaign ever against all of our rail safety bills,” Krohn said. “We can expect they will turn the heat up even higher and expend even greater resources in opposition as the bill is considered by the state Senate.
“It will continue to require dogged persistence along with considerable efforts on our part to overcome the organized business coalition the railroad carriers have strung together in their quest to block us from moving crewing legislation across the finish line into state law.”
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division’s Washington State Legislative Board, represented by Legislative Director Herb Krohn, gave awards to a number of state legislators supportive of the union’s safety efforts at July’s regional meeting.
Receiving Golden Spike Awards for “exemplary leadership in advocating for legislation to protect the safety of both railroad workers and the general public” were state Sens. Steve Conway (D – Dist. 29) and Patty Kuderer (D – Dist. 48).
Washington state Sen. John Conway accepts his Golden Spike award from Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn, left, and SMART TD President John Previsich, center, at the Seattle Regional Meeting.
When receiving his award, Conway talked about the need for multiple-person crews on trains and the vital support crewmembers provide to first responders when a rail accident happens.
“We’re going to get that bill,” Conway said. “We’re going to get it passed.”
Kuderer, an attorney who worked on a number of railroad-related cases, is a “magnificent advocate” for rail safety, Krohn said, and had a hand in the state hearings regarding the aftermaths of both the 1993 Kelso accident and the 2015 Stampede Pass incident in which a train came apart during a blizzard.
In her speech accepting the award, Kuderer talked about how her grandfather, a union railroader, and later her grandmother could stay in their home after retirement thanks to a pension that unions fought for and protected.
However, the recent Janus v. AFSCME decision places those things in jeopardy.
Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn, left, looks on as Transportation Division President John Previsich congratulates Washington state Sen. Patty Kuderer on receiving a Golden Spike award at the Seattle Regional Meeting.
“There’s direct evidence that unions work and they’re not the problem,” Kuderer said. “I think what we need to do is to fight fire with fire. The Freedom Foundation is not going to give up. The Koch brothers aren’t going to give up. Big money interests, they’re not going to give up. But we have something more than they have – we have numbers, we have people, and we need to communicate the message of the unions more effectively to people to make them understand why it’s important to be a part of it.
“Just know that here in Washington, we’re going to do what we can to continue to protect unions and working families,” she said.
State Sen. Steve Hobbs (D – Dist. 44) received the Washington State Legislative Board’s 2018 Senator of the Year award for support of rail labor and working to lead the state’s Transportation Committee.
Washington state Sen. Steve Hobbs, right, thanks Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn after Hobbs received a Golden Lantern award at the Seattle Regional Meeting.
“If you don’t remember about the people – the people that drive the buses, the people that are on the rail cars, the people that fly the planes – then you’ve missed the point about transportation,” Hobbs said. “Because transportation is not just about getting people from Point A to Point B or getting your product from Point A to Point B, it’s about connecting people, building relationships.”
State Rep. Mike Sells (D – Dist. 38) was given a Golden Lantern award as the 2018 Representative of the Year. Sells leads the Washington State House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee and has sponsored or co-sponsored “every piece of legislation that we’ve introduced on rail safety,” Krohn said.
Washington state Rep. Mike Sells, left, accepts a Golden Lantern award from Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn at the Seattle Regional Meeting as Transportation Division Vice President John England, right, looks on.
Three state senators also were recognized for their advocacy and full support of TD legislation.
State Sens. Marilyn Chase (D – Dist. 32), Mark Miloscia (R – Dist. 30) and Hans Zeiger (D – Dist. 25) all were given awards for voting for 100 percent of TD safety legislation and for their 100% sponsorship or co-sponsorship records for all TD-supported legislation over the past six years.
Washington state Reps. Marilyn Chase and Mark Miloscia show off the awards they received from the Washington State Legislative Board at the Seattle Regional Meeting.
In addition to Krohn, Assistant State Legislative Director Steve Mazulo of Local 855 and Darren Volland, legislative representative of Local 426, served as the host local committee for the meeting at the Westin hotel in Seattle.
Members of the SMART Transportation Division’s Washington State Legislative Board have been quite busy in recent weeks.
Working with the board members and state emergency management officials, state senators and representatives of the Washington State Legislature Jan. 29 introduced six bills that could have a direct impact on Transportation Division-represented railroad employees and the safety of the communities in which their trains operate.
Also introduced were a yardmaster hours of service bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and a rail crew transportation safety bill.
Under the proposed crew-staffing legislation, all trains and yard-switching assignments will be staffed with no less than two qualified employees. Trains designated as hazardous material trains of 50 cars or less, will be staffed with no less than three qualified employees, with the thirdemployee assigned to work on the rear of the train in a position to be able to safely observe and monitor the train.
Trains designated as hazardous material trains of 51 cars or more will be staffed with no less than four qualified employees, with two employees assigned to work on the rear of the train in a position to be able to safely observe and monitor the train.
Hazardous material trains are defined utilizing the current national standards adopted by Department of Transportation and all Class I carriers. The State Utility and Transportation Commission can direct carriers to exceed the minimum requirements if specific conditions affecting safety or security necessitate additional crewmembers.
Hearings on both bills have been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 9 in the House Labor Committee and the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Transportation Division Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn said.
“Our workers know how to run these trains safely, but the railroad refuses to provide adequate staffing, exposing the public and railworkers to death and injury. These bills simply restore Washington State’s commonsense safety standards,” Krohn said.
“We looked at what went wrong in each of the catastrophic explosions and the close calls, and it’s clear that one or two people simply can’t monitor and safely operate these dangerous cargos. Adding even one more person to a train, particularly at the back of the train, will save lives.”
H.B. 1809 was introduced by State Rep. Larry Haler (R-Richland) and currently has a total of 33 additional co-sponsors.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said, “This bill just requires a minimum level of staffing because an adequately staffed train is a safe train.”
S.B. 5697 was introduced by State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee), Chairman of the Senate Majority Caucus. It currently has 23 additional co-sponsors.
“Safely moving goods through Washington State is in everyone’s interest. The public is counting on us to ensure that trains, no matter what they are transporting, are safely operated,” Evans Parlette said.
“I’ve worked as a conductor for 10 years with a perfect safety record and this bill will make trains safer,” said Local 324 Chairperson and Legislative Rep. Paul McGill of Seattle.
The text of the bills read, in part, “Any person, corporation, company, or officer of the court operating any railroad, or part of any railroad or railway within the state of Washington, and engaged as a common carrier, in the transportation of freight or passengers, who violates any of the provisions of section 3 of this act are guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not less than one thousand dollars and not more than one hundred thousand dollars for each offense.”
Krohn said the bills are in response to concerns raised by emergency management officials who have become aware that the crewmembers on the head end of trains, in most cases, cannot see their train beyond a limited sight distance. Recognizing that the train crews are the first responders, they believe that trains that pose a significant risk to the public need crewmembers on the rear of the train, in a position to be able to see the train and take appropriate action if something goes wrong.
Krohn said he attended a freight mobility roundtable discussion last year featuring a presentation on oil-train safety from emergency responders. “Not aware of who I was, Director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management Barb Graff mentioned the BNSF Railway one-person crew contract proposed to the members of General Committee of Adjustment GO 001 last year. She said she was glad that it was voted down and said two-person crews were not enough on hazmat trains.”
That led to Krohn and members of the state legislative board working with emergency management officials to get the ball rolling on the two bills.
“As an emergency manager, I plan for disaster and work for safety. Human eyes are key to safety and proper staffing is important, which is why I support this bill,” said Dominic Marzano, emergency manager for Kent, Wash., and division chief of the Kent Fire Department – Regional FireAuthority.
Noting that railroad yardmasters are required to work excessively long hours by railroad carriers, H.B. 1284 and S.B. 5696 will prohibit a yardmaster to “remain or go on duty for a period in excess of twelve consecutive hours…An employee may not remain or go on duty unless that employee has had at least ten consecutive hours off duty during the prior twenty-four hours.”
If the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission finds that a Class I carrier violates the provisions of these bills, if passed, “the commission may assess a civil penalty of not less than ten thousand dollars and not more than fifty thousand dollars.”
Krohn said that yardmaster and BNSF GO 341 General Chairperson Jeffrey Sellman was the impetus behind these bills and worked tirelessly to advance them in the legislature.
Finally, H.B. 1808 and S.B.5797 will, if passed, “regulate charter party carriers providing railroad crew transportation and every contract crew hauling vehicle with respect to the safety of equipment, driver qualifications, insurance levels, and safety of operations. The commission must adopt rules and require reports as necessary to carry out this chapter regarding contract crew hauling vehicles and establish federal motor vehicle safety standards for contract crew hauling vehicles, regardless of seating capacity, as the minimum safety standards.”
“I am really excited about how we’ve advanced these bills in the legislature,” Krohn said. “They are reasonable bills that won’t break the bank of the railroads. They are a reasonable precaution to protect the public and our members.”
Krohn encourages Transportation Division members and all concerned railroad employees to contact their lawmakers and seek their support of these legislative proposals.