CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 6) — SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) jointly petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 6 to take action in responding to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States.
“With at least 231 patients treated in 22 states, and at least 14 deaths at the present time … we and other rail labor Organizations take this issue very seriously, and we have been monitoring it closely,” wrote SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce in a letter to FRA Administrator Ronald J. Batory.
The two union presidents pointedly questioned the FRA’s lack of an action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers.
“As you are likely already aware, over the last several weeks multiple departments within the Department of Transportation … have issued guidelines to employers on how to approach this issue, along with statements and guidelines focused on educating and protecting the crew members, passengers, and consumers who may be impacted by this deadly disease,” the union presidents wrote. “To our knowledge, the FRA has overlooked, or perhaps outright disregarded, its responsibility to get involved with this matter.”
The presidents urged FRA to issue guidelines directed at U.S. rail carriers, employees and passengers similar to those issued by other departments within the DOT.
Those would include:
Sanitizing equipment such as (but not limited to) locomotive cabs, computers, remote control boxes and communal areas such as passenger cars, offices, crew staging areas, company provided ground transportation, and away-from-home lodging facilities.
Providing crews and passengers with personal protective equipment, alcohol-based hand sanitizer strong enough to kill viruses, and other cleaning supplies as deemed appropriate.
Encouraging employees to stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and/or fever) that are similar to those associated with the coronavirus and to leave if they develop such symptoms while working.
Strongly encouraging rail carriers to relax current attendance policies which can be described as unforgiving, at best, to employees who miss work due to illness.
Educating all rail employees (including supervisory staff) on the appropriate guidelines for self-monitoring of their health, as well as monitoring and addressing others who appear to be symptomatic.
Reporting to appropriate health departments where employees have shown aforementioned symptoms that prevent them from carrying out their assigned duties.
Developing plans for employees who reside with, and/or come into direct contact with individuals who are symptomatic.
Encouraging carriers to develop health programs and practices which exceed FRA’s recommended guidelines.
Encouraging all parties to understand and comply with other such guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Presidents Ferguson and Pierce concluded by again urging prompt action from FRA to protect the safety of railroad workers and the traveling public.
“Further, we ask that you provide continual updates to these guidelines, as other departments have done. Please advise of your plans pertaining to this very serious situation,” they wrote.
If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding. “Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.” The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted. Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020. The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions. In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion. Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say. The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE. The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year. “RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.” It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations. “The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.
A federal court in Texas ruled in favor of rail carriers this week, directing the SMART Transportation Division to negotiate over crew-consist without regard to moratoriums barring such negotiation. U.S. District Court Judge Mark T. Pittman, a January 2019 Trump appointee, issued his ruling on February 10, 2020. The case was filed Oct. 3, 2019, by BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Grand Trunk Western, Norfolk Southern, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, and the Belt Railway Company of Chicago asserting that the moratoriums in the various crew-consist agreements did not bar the carriers from reopening crew consist. The judge, following the carriers’ arguments and ignoring any counter by the union, found that any dispute over whether the moratoriums barred reopening was a minor dispute, then nonsensically concluded that the union would have to negotiate while arbitrating over whether the union even had to negotiate in the first place. “Unfortunately, this decision comes as no surprise. The court ignored the provisions of the RLA,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “The judge sided with the carriers on every issue, not even recognizing our arguments or providing any real analysis. It is simply infuriating.” Carriers are attempting to replace one of the crew members in the cab of the train with technology and to establish one-person operations. The crew-consist agreements that have been negotiated by the SMART-TD and its predecessor unions over many years stand in the way but are being undermined by this and other actions. “As a group we are going to work together to correct the course that this ruling has put us on,” Ferguson said. SMART-TD filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, La., on February 12, the day after the judge’s ruling was released. In a related matter, the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), which represents the carriers, has requested that the National Mediation Board (NMB) appoint an arbitration board member to force a single arbitration over the more than two dozen crew-consist agreements that have been negotiated locally by various General Committees. SMART-TD, and nearly two dozen of its GCs, have sued the NMB challenging the Republican members’ 2-1 decision granting the carriers’ request to appoint an arbitrator. Judge Pittman’s ruling is available for review here.
On January 23, 2020, SMART Transportation Division and nearly two dozen General Committees brought suit against the National Mediation Board (NMB) challenging its 2-1 decision which granted a National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) request to appoint an arbitration board member concerning crew-consist moratoriums in local agreements. The NRLC acts as the representative of the carriers. The carriers, through the NRLC, took the position that the moratoriums do not bar service of Section 6 bargaining notices regarding crew consist and urged the NMB, through a little-used provision of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) that allows the NMB to appoint a board member to an arbitration panel, to appoint a SMART-TD member to an arbitration board. The SMART-TD rejected earlier attempts by the carriers to arbitrate the moratorium issue, noting that the language clearly bars any bargaining over crew consist and, moreover, that such matters can only be handled locally. Despite the organization’s numerous arguments that such action was clearly improper, the NMB’s majority, along party lines, named TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson as the union member of the board. Through this action, the carriers are trying to force a single arbitration over more than two dozen crew-consist agreements that have been locally negotiated by the various General Committees. According to the suit, “The NMB has unlawfully and without authority initiated an arbitration process involving the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers -Transportation Division (“SMART-TD”) and multiple rail carriers, contrary to the provisions of the RLA.” The NMB majority consisted of Kyle Fortson and Gerald Fauth, Republican appointees of President Donald Trump. Chairwoman Linda Puchala dissented in the decision. Puchala, in her dissent, said the decision by the two other board members circumvents decades of RLA precedent in how these disputes are handled.
Matt Hanson, alternate legislative representative and trustee for Local 171 (Aurora, Ill.), is continuing his bid to retain his seat on the Kane County Board.
Hanson, an incumbent seeking a full term, is facing a Democratic primary challenge March 18 and continues to build momentum for a successful campaign with endorsements from the North Central Illinois Labor Council (NCILC) and the Fox Valley Building Trades (FVBT) along with several elected officials since entering the 2020 election cycle. “I will continue to govern, drive discussion, and vote to support all employees of Kane County whether or not protected through collective bargaining,” Hanson said in an email. “Votes can be cultivated and secured using a variety of means, all of which I look to utilize. I always “do the work” for myself and like-minded candidates when my assistance is requested.” During this effort, Hanson’s been juggling time serving on the county board, his union officer responsibilities, and his full-time career as a locomotive engineer for BNSF and can use the support of his fellow union brothers and sisters both in Illinois and elsewhere. He has a fund-raising event scheduled 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 3 at Mike & Denise’s Pizzeria, 1760 N. Farnsworth Ave., Aurora, Ill., 60505, and invites members to come out and support his efforts. Tickets are $25. “Any help that can be lent is needed and immensely appreciated,” said Hanson. “I am proud to tell everyone encountered on the campaign trail that I am a card-carrying union railroader that belongs to SMART-TD Local 171.” To contact Hanson and contribute to his campaign, email email@example.com or mail checks to Friends of Matt Hanson, P.O. Box 1101, Aurora, IL 60507.
His hands are rough. His boots are dirty. He has the resume to prove it. Vance Snider is a SMART Transportation Division member out of Local 1313 in Amarillo, Texas, a veteran of the U.S. Army, a father of two and a BNSF conductor. He’s also running for Congress to represent Texas’ 13th District, an open seat with the announced retirement of Rep. Mac Thornberry at the conclusion of the 116th Congress. “My hands are rough, my boots are dirty, and I’m not a career politician” is the quote that introduces his biography on his campaign website. He has the background to prove that — working his way up from sweeping floors in his dad’s parts shop in Texas and fighting for our country on foreign soil.
Snider, 30, served in Afghanistan after enlisting in the Army in December 2007 after his high school graduation. After completing his service, he hired on to the Texas Northwestern Railway in 2013 and later moved on to become a conductor for BNSF. He’s been a TD member since April 2015 and is running as a first-time candidate as a Republican to represent the 13th District, which is home to hundreds of SMART-TD members and retirees and their families. He will need their support to win in the crowded 15-candidate primary that takes place March 3, and he plans to fight for our members and the people in the district if elected. It’s a challenge to be sure. The 13th is a vast district that has more ground to cover than 13 U.S. states and one of the most Republican. The winner of the Republican primary is practically a shoo-in to win in November and move on to D.C. — Thornberry won his last re-election bid with 81 percent of the vote. And Snider is doing his best to break the typical red-blue stereotype. He’s a registered Republican because his values align most with the pro-life and pro-Second Amendment stance of the party. But when out talking to prospective voters, he said that sometimes people who identify as Republican get hung up on the fact that he’s a proud union member. “Republicans are typically associated with big business,” Snider said. “They forget about the little people who made them the millions of dollars.” So he’s trying to change that by infusing some youth into the party and to break some of the typical set-in-stone party preconceptions by running for the House. The 2018 election and the hyperpartisanship in D.C. is what inspired him to run – he’s tired of seeing people staying in Congress for decades but then ignoring important issues such as railroad safety. “I want to go forth and create a revolution – bring regular people to the House and Senate. Get rid of the incumbents,” Snider said. “It’s about taking action and doing something about it. “I got tired of the political BS going between the two parties. That’s what really annoyed me.” Since officially becoming a candidate on the ballot in early October and even before then, Snider has been campaigning on his own terms. He’s found that some of the 14 other Republicans competing for the chance to appear on the November 2020 ballot have been following his lead. “I’m actually out there hitting the pavement – I was one of the first ones to put the name on the ballot and put out yard signs,” he said. “They’re all copying my campaign. I’ve been hand-delivering yard signs – the campaign seems to be going really well. I ain’t scared to get up at 6 in the morning and drive across the country, so putting a few miles on my truck doesn’t bother me.” He doesn’t usually put on a suit and tie on his visits — he just goes out as he normally dresses from his Texas upbringing, cowboy hat on his head, and a message that he is going to represent people from all over the district, not just the people in its two major cities of Amarillo and Wichita. It means a lot of mileage on his Ford F-250 (he estimates he’s put 8,000 miles on it criss-crossing the district) and dirtier boots, but it shows his commitment to his beliefs. “Politicians need to start working for the people,” he said. “They need to elect a like-minded individual who thinks about the people in the district first, then the rest of the country. I want to start a revolution – show I’m a normal Joe Blow guy like you — and can get out and do something.” After Thornberry, who’s held the seat in the 13th District for 25 years, announced his retirement, Snider fully committed the run and he’s had 100% support from his wife, Christy, and the rest of his family. His platform includes a commitment to being pro-life and defending Second Amendment rights. He also counts rail safety as an issue in his campaign, which sets him apart from others in his party and has led to the backing of his campaign by SMART TD PAC and others associated with rail labor. The number of co-sponsors show that current incumbent Republicans have been slow to come around in supporting the two-person freight crew legislation (H.R. 1748 in the House and S. 1979 in the Senate). Thornberry has not signed on to the Safe Freight Act, and so far only 10 GOP reps have signed on as co-sponsors compared with 124 Democrats. But Snider sees hope that rail safety and having two on the crew will eventually be recognized as a non-partisan issue that goes beyond red or blue. “We need to get Republicans aboard,” he said. “I’ve had national support from all over the country – I’ve got donations from Democrats and Republicans. It’s about being working class, a working person – making sure we’re all taken care of.” “We need to give the honest truth – make the public aware of it. A lot of them think we still have five people on the train,” he said. The public also does not recognize that there are safety and environmental factors to railroad accidents that would be worsened by going from two to one person in the cab, he said, pointing out that a Jan. 1 derailment into the Kootenai River in Idaho could have easily resulted in a fatality had there not been two people aboard to assist one another to survive in their BNSF locomotive that was partially submerged during the accident. “It’s about informing the public. It’s about safety. And public awareness — that’s what it comes down to,” he said. Moreover, the work schedule of a railroader does not help matters when it comes to rail safety, and having two aboard is an important check, even with Positive Train Control. “Whenever you’re working an extra board, you’re fatigued,” he said. “There’s been issues where a signal drops from clear to red—there’s more going on out there than people think. When you have those instances when you have to have someone out there, two sets of eyes are better than one. “There have been times when guys have missed a signal, and you have to speak up.” There are a number of ways rail workers and union members can speak up – one of them is by running for public office, as Snider is. “It took me two weeks to get through the red tape. If I can do it, you can do it too,” he said. “Once you get through the red tape, find a good campaign consultant and an election lawyer who can tell you what can and can’t be done – those are the two key things. Then put your nose to the grindstone and start campaigning.” A second way that isn’t as time intensive, but helps just the same is by donating to the TD PAC. “I would encourage people to donate to PAC. You really can help by donating to the PAC fund, no matter what the level,” he said. “It really helps out and allows candidates like me to go forward. It is bipartisan and goes to both Republicans and Democrats. This money doesn’t come from union dues.” Snider is looking to change things for people in his congressional district, his fellow union members and in Washington, D.C. To find out more about him and how you can help our union brother in his campaign, visit www.vancesniderforcongress.com search Vance Snider for U.S. Congress on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about how to contribute to SMART TD PAC, email TDPAC@smart-union.org or visit https://smart-union.org/td/washington/tdpac/