Unions seek to overturn punitive New Jersey substance abuse law
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, January 9 — Two railroad labor unions have jointly filed a lawsuit to overturn a punitive New Jersey law that prohibits New Jersey Transit locomotive engineers from operating trains if their personal motor vehicle driver’s license is suspended.
The unions argue that the state law, signed by Governor Chris Christie in late August of 2016, is preempted by Federal law, specifically, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and also by existing Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) certification requirements for locomotive engineers.
The lawsuit was filed jointly on January 9 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD).
“Current federal law and existing federal rail safety regulations already thoroughly address the treatment of railroad workers who have their personal motor vehicle licenses revoked for operating under the influence of alcohol or other banned substances,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “The New Jersey state law is incompatible with the federal law and is a solution in search of a problem. It does nothing to make the railroad safer.”
Federal law provides for safety checks and regular re-checks on locomotive engineers’ personal driving records, and mandates counseling and/or treatment for locomotive engineers who are diagnosed as having an active substance abuse disorder. Workers who refuse or fail to comply with the federal law have their certification suspended. Those who comply with the federal law and the terms of federally-mandated substance abuse program are permitted to continue working in a safe manner.
The state law reads in part: “A person whose driver’s license is suspended or revoked for a violation of R.S.39:4- 50, section 2 of P.L.1981, c.512 (C.39:4-50.4a), or a law of a substantially similar nature in another jurisdiction shall not operate, during the period of suspension or revocation, a locomotive or train provided by the New Jersey Transit Corporation, or any public or private entity under contract to the corporation.”
“Safety of our members and the traveling public is our top priority,” said SMART-TD President John Previsich. “But this matter is heavily regulated in the Federal arena, with science-based programs and systems already established to address such issues. Introducing another layer of bureaucracy, with overly punitive measures that conflict with Federal law, will only serve to disrupt and interfere with the very effective programs already in place.”
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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 55,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The SMART Transportation Division is headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted, Ohio. It is a broad-based, transportation labor union representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, mass transit and airline workers in the United States. It is a division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers based in Washington, D.C.