Pictured in the Governor’s office, left to right: Senator Carolyn McGinn (R); Mike Scheerer, LR Local 94; Troy Fansher, Local 1503; Governor Kelly (seated); Nick Davis, Local 527; Ty Dragoo, SLD Kansas; Chad Henton, ASLD Kansas; Kyle Brooks, Local 1503


In late April, members of the SMART Transportation Division joined Kansas legislators and Governor Laura Kelly at the state capitol in Topeka, where Governor Kelly officially proclaimed April 28th “A Day of Honor and Remembrance for Railroad Workers” in the state of Kansas.

Along with witnessing Kelly sign the proclamation, Mike Scheerer of LR Local 94 (Kansas City), Troy Fansher of Local 1503 (Marysville), Nick Davis of Local 527 (Coffeyville), Kansas State Legislative Director (SLD) Ty Dragoo, Alternate SLD Chad Henton and Kyle Brooks of Local 1503 joined the governor to discuss the vital role railroaders play in the state and in the nation at-large – as well as honor, recognize and remember the ultimate sacrifice some railroaders have made.

“Today reflects our ongoing relationship with Kansas’ government and the recognition that rail labor is vital to the state, and that we are appreciated,” Dragoo said. “It is a proud day for Kansas’ SMART Legislative Board.”

Dragoo also noted that Governor Kelly has been a steadfast champion of SMART TD members and all of rail labor throughout her time in state government. “She has proposed the two-person crew regulation and has been a steadfast wall of support when legislation is directed to harm our jobs,” he explained. “She has been there on every issue; she includes us in policy discussions, and we always have a seat in Kansas.”

The text of the proclamation is below:

WHEREAS, since the first railroad was chartered to carry freight and passengers in the United States in 1827, this nation’s railroads have been vital to the national economy and defense; and

WHEREAS, it is estimated that each American freight rail job supports 9 jobs elsewhere in the U.S. economy; and

WHEREAS, over one-fourth of all freight movement in ton-miles annually in this country occurs by rail, including many of the goods upon which Kansas residents and businesses rely; and

WHEREAS, thousands of passengers arrive, depart, and travel through Kansas on Amtrak passenger trains annually; and

WHEREAS, the rail lines crossing Kansas provide a vital transcontinental link facilitating the movement of this freight and these passengers; and

WHEREAS, the safe and efficient movement of the trains transporting this freight and these passengers
through Kansas is due foremost to the dedication, professionalism, and knowledge of those employees who are directly involved in train movements, including Train and Crew Dispatchers, Maintenance of Way personnel, Signal Maintainers, Mechanical personnel, and fully staffed two-person Train crews;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, LAURA KELLY, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF KANSAS, do hereby proclaim the day
of April 28, 2022, as

A DAY IN HONOR OF RAILROAD WORKERS.

From left, Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513, Gainesville Texas); Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329, Boone, Iowa); General Chairperson Matt Burkhart (GCA-341); SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan wait to deliver their testimony before the Surface Transportation Board on April 26, 2022.


WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 26, 2022) — SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and three members of the union shed light April 26 on the devastating effects Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has had on customers and labor alike before the Surface Transportation Board (STB).

Their testimony came on the first day of STB’s hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” convened in Washington, D.C.

President Ferguson’s testimony will begin immediately upon playing the video.

“As professionals, it’s painful to watch our shippers get bad service or no service at all, much higher rates, destroyed product and equipment, and in some cases having to resort to shipping by truck whenever possible,” President Ferguson said. “I want to make our voice heard that we stand with the shippers who want our professional service to keep the supply chain open and keep this country’s economy moving.”

President Ferguson referred back to the “safest and most productive era” of railroading years ago with more service flexibility, proper maintenance and full extra boards that has now been sacrificed for the higher stock prices sought by Wall Street investors through the implementation of PSR.

“Thousands of men and women have been laid off with reckless abandon while no consideration has been given to the service that has ultimately been forsaken,” he said. “All that is known to us and our members at this point is that the railroads are dead set on achieving the lowest operating ratio attainable at any cost.”

“Railroading, once revered as one of the most-coveted blue-collar jobs in the world, is now hemorrhaging employees at unprecedented rates because of the abusive work environments PSR has created. Truth is, employees are leaving the industry faster than the railroads can hire.”

He referenced the “Hi-Viz” attendance policy that BNSF implemented in February several times, stated that its implementation has led to the departure of 1,000 workers who were forced to choose between trying to attain enough sleep to safely work their next shift or try to spend limited time with family for a undervalued employee that often has only one day off a month.

“Now, because of PSR, two choices exist for rail labor: Work or be fired,” President Ferguson said.

Brother Burkart’s testimony will begin immediately upon playing the video.

General Chairperson Matt Burkhart (GCA-341), a fourth-generation railroad worker, yardmaster and member of Local 1975 (Kansas City, Mo.), testified that the relative simplicity of railroading over its nearly two centuries in the United States is being violated.

“It takes three things to railroad: Power, crew and rail. That’s it. Something to pull it, somebody to move it and something to run on,” said Burkhart, a former member of management. “You give us those three things and we can run all day long. We’re not running all day long right now.”

Burkhart mentioned the lengthy trains PSR has brought, many which exceed 10,000 feet when yards and sidings were made to accommodate World War II-era lengths of 3,000 feet. Not only does it take more moves to build or put a train away, it also takes more time, thus burning through the crew base.

Brother Burkhart also brought to light our equipment, including the hand-held radios supplied to our members, were not made to accommodate these types of train lengths either, stating that, “the radios do not work with the longer trains, hampering the crew’s ability to communicate when inspecting larger trains” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense, it’s perpetuating manpower issues, it’s dangerous, and it’s not servicing our customers. All of it’s bad,” Burkart said.

And, lastly, BNSF, contrary to belief, has implemented PSR and has imposed its own data-driven metrics based on reducing resources and headcount for years, Burkart said.

He offered a pair of simple solutions looking back a decade and a half:

“It takes planning. It takes common sense,” Burkart said. “Two things can be legislated today: a maximum of 8,000 foot on trains. We don’t need these three-mile-long monsters running around. We need to disincentivize any reason to ever store a locomotive. In Donley Creek we have five miles of engines stored. There’s no reason for a train to sit without power.”

Brother Groat’s testimony will appear immediately upon playing the video.

Also testifying was Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329 — Boone, Iowa), a Union Pacific engineer, who mentioned the slower velocity caused by inadequate track maintenance, derailments and mechanical failures caused, in part, by long trains.

“Since the increase in train lengths, I’ve noticed more hard wear,” he said — broken cars split in half, drawbars and knuckles being left on the ground. “These train lengths increase the in-train force that stresses the components that don’t normally fail.”

Travel times for trains also have increased and locomotive use hasn’t been efficient, Groat told the board.

“This is like hooking up a 28-foot camper to a Toyota Prius and trying to drive to Colorado,” he said. “At what time do you expect the engine to fail or a component of the locomotive to fail?”

Brother Bond’s testimony will appear immediately upon playing the video.

Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513 — Gainesville, Texas), an engineer, spoke about BNSF’s throttle and power limitations that had been rescinded April 15 after the STB hearing had been announced.

“The carrier has put profit over everything,” Bond said. “Over customer service, over employees, even over safety.”

Hi-Viz also has caused an employee exodus and a personnel shortage at the carrier when there wasn’t one before, Bond said.

“This new policy has employees resigning in record numbers. I have several employees who are facing discipline and possible dismissal right now,” he said, including a single mother who has staggered custody of her child, now facing potential termination as a result of Hi-Viz.

“With BNSF losing people because of resignations and terminations, they’ve attempted to recall furloughed employees that are hearing of the current work environment and choosing not to return,” Bond said. “The new conductor trainees who are hiring on are quitting almost right away.”

The testimony from SMART-TD was preceded by Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan, who recently detailed PSR-related meltdowns that have adversely affected shippers.

“The workers represented by TTD-affiliated unions have been sounding the alarm on the state of the freight-rail industry for years,” he said. “It’s deeply unfortunate but completely predictable that we would find ourselves here today as both railroad employees and customers sit before you to express a shared simple fact — that today’s freight-rail network is not working for anyone other than railroad investors.”

Regan reminded STB members that Class I railroads shrank their workforce well before the pandemic by 29 percent over the last six years — about 45,000 jobs and were making the system less flexible by storing equipment.

“The elimination of jobs across all crafts of the freight rail network has undoubtedly contributed to operational breakdowns and service degradation, including the ability to operate, inspect, maintain and repair every component of a railroad.”

He mentioned service disruptions experienced by customers of BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern in recent months.

“For as long as these railroads continue along their current path, these meltdowns and service degradations will continue,” Regan said.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Vice President Mark L. Wallace also testified on behalf of labor.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 6, 2022) — The nation’s two largest railroad unions continue to gather allies and momentum as they oppose the imposition of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) tactics by Class I carriers that put safety and the health and lives of working people at risk.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, President of the Air Line Pilots Association Capt. Joe DePete and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce meet April 4 at the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Committee session in Washington, D.C.

At the April 4 Executive Committee meeting of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (AFL-CIO TTD), a pair of airline unions pledged to support rail labor in the fight against unfair PSR-related practices such as BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” attendance policy, which requires rail workers to be available to work 29 of 30 days or risk being penalized. Additionally, the AFL-CIO TTD adopted language in its legislative agenda that encourages railroads to work together with rail labor to reconsider overly punitive attendance policies.

Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, pledged to support rail labor in opposing egregious attendance policies. The airline union leaders also vowed to stand by rail labor in the current round of national contract negotiations. Railroad and airline unions are governed by the Railway Labor Act.

Despite record fiscal returns in 2021 and lip service on the part of Class I carriers showing appreciation for the “essential” job that rail workers performed to move goods and services 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the railroads have chosen to not treat their employees with dignity and fairness during negotiations.

“Supply-chain issues were highlighted in the news at the end of 2021, but the shelves were stocked. It’s not thanks to PSR — that’s resulted in the rail industry doing less with less while making more profit,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce stated. “Employees’ rewards for their work through COVID-19 are that they are being subjected to degrading attendance policies at the expense of their health and family lives.

“These carriers have cut past the bone and are well through the marrow. Now they are scrambling to get people to run their trains,” the presidents said. “What is the incentive for our members who do not have scheduled time off — instead only hours when they cannot be called back into work? What’s the incentive for our members who get punished when life events happen? Thus far our members have been the recipients of nothing but insulting offers at the bargaining table.”

These practices have drawn the attention of media outlets such as Vice Magazine and UK’s The Guardian, as well as transportation labor at large. AFL-CIO TTD’s legislative agenda adopted April 4 states the following:

“Hi-Viz and similar policies serve to do nothing more than increase demands of an already exhausted workforce. For the dignity of these rail workers, their quality of life, and the safety of our nation’s freight railroad network, they must be abandoned and reconsidered.”

The leaders of SMART-TD and BLET will continue to work for intervention on the federal level, including at the Surface Transportation Board, Federal Railroad Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, Congress and in the White House itself, to stop in its tracks the dangerous and reckless nature of the path that the Class I rail carriers have chosen to take.

Also at the April 4 TTD Executive Council meeting, it was announced that five Republication U.S. representatives have contacted the BNSF Railway and encouraged its CEO to reengage with its operating unions to alter the highly-restrictive and punitive Hi-Viz attendance policy.

Read the TTD’s priority statement on rail attendance policies.

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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 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 5) — Five Republican U.S. representatives have contacted the BNSF Railway and encouraged its CEO to reengage with its operating unions to alter the highly-restrictive and punitive “Hi-Viz” attendance policy.

From left, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce, U.S. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson meet April 4 at the Transportation Trades Department AFL-CIO Executive Committee meeting in Washington, D.C.

In a letter to Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce, SMART Transportation Division (SMART TD) President Jeremy Ferguson and BNSF CEO Katie Farmer, the representatives encouraged a reengagement over the punitive policy, which docks employees for taking time off for medical appointments or funerals.

“We write today out of concern for BNSF Railway’s recently established absenteeism policy, called ‘Hi-Viz,’ and the growing number of resignations that have occurred since its implementation,” the representatives wrote. “Even a modest number of those resignations may pose additional stress to our already strained supply chain.”

Among the letter’s signatories were Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who met with President Pierce and President Ferguson on April 4 at a meeting of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (AFL-CIO TTD) Executive Committee, the nation’s largest transportation labor coalition. Others signing included Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, David McKinley of West Virginia, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Chris Smith, also of New Jersey.

The Hi-Viz attendance policy requires rail workers to be available to work 29 of 30 days or risk being penalized. Thousands of well-paying unionized railroad jobs have been cut since implementation of the PSR strategy began in 2017. The Hi-Viz policy by BNSF and draconian attendance measures used by Class I railroads have led to additional attrition and a worker shortage as carriers try to undo the self-inflicted reductions they’ve made. President Pierce and President Ferguson said more than 700 BNSF operating employees have resigned since implementation of Hi-Viz on February 1, 2022.

The representatives concluded their letter by urging the BNSF to reengage in good-faith discussions with its unions to develop a more mutually acceptable attendance policy.

“We urge both sides to reengage in good-faith discussions to achieve a policy that works for all,” they wrote. “Only by working together can meaningful policies be developed, and mutual resolutions achieved … We view this as a crucial priority to maintaining a robust transportation system and a healthy supply chain.”

A PDF of the five representatives’ letter regarding Hi-Viz is available.

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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 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The BNSF “Hi-Viz” attendance policy drew the attention of the U.K.-based Guardian media organization March 14.

“We feel stabbed in the back, completely demoralized with the work we did through the pandemic, understanding the situation, going the extra mile, and doing what we’re asked to do, and then some without complaint,” an engineer for the Class I carrier told Guardian reporter Michael Sainato about the punitive points-based policy, described in the article as “arcane.”

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan also was quoted in the article as well:

“This is a policy that, frankly, is just blind to the moment,” he said.

SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are both members of the AFL-CIO TTD.

BNSF earned record profits last year and implemented the Hi-Viz policy on Feb. 1.

Read the full article.

FTA has not yet implemented worker safety provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

WASHINGTON – Today, 20 labor organizations representing transit drivers and other transportation workers urged Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Nuria Fernandez to immediately implement the safety provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to protect transit workers from assault.

Four months after the passage of the BIL, the FTA has yet to implement these safety provisions. Meanwhile, transit workers continue to face danger on the job.

Assaults against transit workers have long been a concern but dramatically increased during the last three years of the pandemic, as did assaults on other frontline transportation workers like airline and airport workers.

Labor unions representing frontline transit employees have responded to this crisis over the years through legislative and regulatory measures, most recently securing several provisions in the BIL to protect transit workers.

Because of the BIL, the FTA is now statutorily required to collect accurate data on transit workforce assaults, to reform its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) process to include worker voices and incorporate measures to reduce the risk of assault in every transit system, and to update its national safety plan to address the risk of assault and public health concerns.

The unions wrote: “Our members include bus and rail transit operators, station agents, car cleaners, mechanics and other frontline workers, all of whom are at risk of assault and worse each day they arrive at work. President Biden committed to protecting these workers and that promise was enshrined into law as part of the BIL. Before, and particularly during the COVID19 pandemic, these workers have laid their lives on the line every day to ensure Americans have access to safe, reliable transportation, and we must not turn our backs on them another day.”

Signers of the letter include the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) and the nation’s largest transit unions, including the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division (SMART-TD), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU).

The letter was also signed by the following unions: Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), Association of Flight Attendants–CWA (AFA), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes–IBT (BMWED), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (IOMM&P), International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU (NCFO), Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), and Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS).

Read the letter here.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 7, 2022) — In conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) urge all members to engage in a petition drive to bring attention to the draconian and punitive attendance policies that have forced rail workers to live in constant fatigue.

This effort comes simultaneously with a letter by AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan to the federal Departments of Labor and Transportation in support of both unions’ request in late January for an investigation into all rail carrier attendance policies, not just BNSF’s recently imposed “Hi-Viz” policy that has sparked outrage among all affected employees.

The petition is available here.

“We speak with one voice, shoulder-to-shoulder, in saying enough is enough. Congress must act to end these unsafe and life-sapping policies that punish workers with job loss. These severe and excessively harsh policies also penalize families by taking away what precious little time they have with their loved ones, leaving them dead tired and drained,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce said. “We thank TTD President Regan as our organizations continue to oppose draconian carrier attendance policies, such as the BNSF ‘Hi-Viz’ policy. These policies are clearly designed to further maximize carrier profits at the workers’ expense. Our unions will work jointly with TTD to raise awareness of these issues; they have gone unchallenged by our legislators and regulatory agencies for much too long.”

A case in point— according to a report in Business Insider published on March 4, five Democratic political leaders want an investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into Amazon’s attendance policies, and we have one question for them:

When do railroad workers get their turn?

Warren Buffett, while not as rich as Jeff Bezos, was crowing about BNSF’s record 2021 profits. It just so happens that his railroad, which happens to be the largest in the nation, imposed the draconian and punitive “Hi-Viz” policy that is absolutely in line with what Amazon is doing — points, permanent records and punishment for people if life gets in the way of work. Other Class I railroads have similar attendance policies. All of these need to be examined closely so that all workers receive the stable work-life balance that they DESERVE.

We’ve seen members’ posts on the internet, we have taken the calls and we have read and responded to the emails from our memberships. This is a top priority for SMART Transportation Division and BLET leaders. We need to work together and unite for a positive change instead of directing anger and discontent inward. As we continue to work with our elected leaders for the same help and support, it stands to reason that we will be reminding Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Richard Blumenthal as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker and Cori Bush that they should push for answers from BNSF and other railroads with the same energy and focus that they are placing on Amazon.

###

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 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a proud member, released the following statement on March 1 after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger, president and secretary-treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the below statement in response to President Biden’s first State of the Union (SOTU) address to the nation.

“From the passage of the American Rescue Plan to the biggest investment in infrastructure in our nation’s history, the first year of the Biden Administration was a capstone year of legislative victories for transportation labor unions and working people.

“Chief among these legislative victories is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), a once-in-a-generation investment across every sector of our transportation network — and an unprecedented investment in workers. 

“We proudly represent 36 labor unions whose members will be put to work during the implementation of this historic legislation, ushering in a new era of manufacturing, construction, and transportation job creation. We applaud President Biden for putting union job creation and worker empowerment at the center of his governing agenda.

“We welcome the progress of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which recently released a report outlining 70 recommendations to empower workers, including an initiative to increase worker awareness of their federally protected rights to organize and establish a resource center for information on unions and collective bargaining.

“We urge Congress to heed the President’s call to pass the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would help workers collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

“We look forward to continuing to work with President Biden and the Administration to create good union jobs, invest in America’s transportation infrastructure, and expand collective bargaining for every transportation worker in the nation.”

The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division division is a member, filed a response to the Federal Transit Administration’s request for information regarding transit worker assaults. Its filing is reproduced below.

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions, we thank you for taking this important step to begin examining the serious safety issues facing transit workers across this country every single day.

TTD’s affiliated unions collectively represent most transit workers in this country, including rail transit, bus, roadway, construction, and maintenance workers. Most of these workers interface directly with the public, and all are exposed to the risks of assault. We have long-called for both legislative and regulatory solutions to increase worker safety, including putting a stop to the scourge of assaults on transit workers.

Background

In 2015 TTD and our affiliated unions successfully fought for the inclusion of assault prevention language in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This language required the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that established safety standards, practices, or protocols for protecting transit operators from the risk of assault. Unfortunately, despite our calls for the FTA to expedite the NPRM soon after passage of the FAST Act, the Obama administration did not act on this issue, leaving us in the hands of the Trump administration for four years.

Correctly anticipating that the Trump administration was unlikely to take action on transit assault, despite statutory requirements to do so, our executive committee called on Congress to take further steps to solve this crisis in 2018, including passage of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act. Critically, elements of the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, in combination with the Public Transit Safety Improvement Act, both supported by transportation labor, were included first in the INVEST in America Act, and in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was ultimately signed into law on November 15, 2021.

While this is a historic step for transit worker safety, it comes more than seven years after the FAST Act mandated real action to solve this crisis. Tragically, during these intervening years thousands more transit workers have been needlessly attacked – particularly because of COVID safety enforcement – and many more have been killed while performing their duties.

The token action taken by the FTA under the Trump administration fell far short of both what was required in statute and what was needed to help protect these workers. Rather than issuing a rule protecting transit operators from the risk of assault, as required by the FAST Act, the FTA — more than four years after the passage of the law — instead issued a toothless suggestion that transit agencies merely examine the problem if they felt so inclined. Specifically, the notice required local transit agencies to study the problem, but stopped short of requiring any meaningful action. A problem as widespread and important as worker assaults should not be left to a piecemeal approach where workers’ safety is left up to local jurisdictions without resources or meaningful guidance from FTA. Despite TTD’s calls to offer real mitigation strategies that may have included the increased use of driver shields or de-escalation training, the FTA willfully ignored the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of frontline workers.

As mentioned above, the IIJA includes key priorities from the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act and the Public Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which together, will significantly improve safety for transit workers. It is important to note that these safety improvements will only be realized if the provisions required by the IIJA are implanted in such a way that transit agencies are held accountable in the transparent reporting of safety data as well as in their partnership with frontline workers to develop safety plans.

While the applicability of these provisions to this RFI are discussed in greater detail below, specifically they will:

1.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population over 200,000, the recipient must:

a.       Establish a safety committee that is made up of an equal number of frontline employee representatives and management representatives, which has responsibility for:

                        i.      identifying and recommending risk-based mitigations or strategies necessary to reduce the likelihood and severity of consequences identified through the agency’s safety risk assessment;

                     ii.      identifying mitigations or strategies that may be ineffective, inappropriate, or were not implemented as intended; and

                          iii.      identifying safety deficiencies for purposes of continuous improvement.

                iv.      Not less than 0.75 percent of a recipient’s funds must go to safety-related projects eligible under section 5307.

2.      For recipients of 5307 assistance in urbanized areas with a population fewer than 200,000, the agency safety plan must be developed in cooperation with frontline employee representatives. The above-described performance targets and set aside do not apply to those recipients.

3.      Changes to National Transit Database (NTD) reporting: Transit agencies must now report all assaults on transit workers to the NTD, defined as: “a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

TTD cannot overemphasize the need to expeditiously implement these new requirements as, particularly given the increase in assaults faced by transit workers as a result of COVID safety enforcement and in light of the historical circumstances that necessitated seven years of further advocacy to protect our workers, even after Congress recognized the need for additional protections and mandated FTA to uphold its responsibilities to transit workers.

What types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support roadway worker safety?

Roadway workers can be particularly vulnerable to injury due to the nature of their jobs, and we strongly believe that FTA has a duty to provide regulation to ensure that these workers are protected. Too many tragic incidents have occurred leading to serious injuries and deaths that could have been avoided with adequate protections in place. We support the comments of NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy regarding the need to end the use of Train Approach Warning (TAW) and similar protocols. The safety of workers’ lives deserves many more redundancies than TAW can provide, as demonstrated by the many tragic incidents cited in NTSB’s letter.

One important redundancy that should be utilized is Positive Train Control systems (PTC), which provide crucial information to locomotives. We encourage the use and expansion of PTC and view it as an important safety tool. However, the PTC systems are only part of a solution that should include multiple redundancies and fail-safes. PTC systems can only notify operating engineers of messages sent by dispatchers or readings picked up on installed sensors. There are no sensors on locomotives or tracks that specifically check for the presence of workers. Additionally, dispatchers do not always have accurate reports of which tracks are occupied by roadway workers, and even small errors can have deadly consequences. Occasional human error is an unavoidable fact of life, and the only way to ensure safety is to have layered mechanisms designed to work even if other mechanisms fail.

Robust safety protocols are necessary to ensure that all redundancies are leveraged to keep roadway workers safe. These redundancies include ongoing communication with dispatchers, shunts, blue flags, signage, and locked derails to indicate that tracks are occupied. Labor representatives must have input in identifying needed redundancies and protocols. There is no excuse for failing to use simple, tried and tested methods such as flags, signage, and derails, even as we adopt new technologies.

What types of interactions typically lead to transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

Historically, our ability to examine aggregate data about trends in assaults has been limited to information collected in the National Transit Database. Unfortunately, data collected into the NTD has long failed to accurately represent national trends in workplace violence. That is because the only data that is collected in the NTD are injuries which result in an arrest, serious injury, or death. Shockingly, based on the definition of serious injury in statute, it is our understanding that a transit operator could have their nose broken, be hospitalized for 24 hours, and suffer first-degree burns without triggering any reporting requirements.

Furthermore, the limited information that is collected is exceedingly difficult to view and examine. A request for recent assault data from the NTD made by the Transportation Trades Department in 2018 was rejected, and we were told that we should instead submit a FOIA request.

We are therefore left to rely primarily on news stories or information reported by union locals representing workers at transit agencies to better understand both the circumstances that lead to assault as well as the nature of the assaults themselves. To that end, we are hesitant to speculate on “typical” interactions that lead to worker assaults. The enforcement of mask and other COVD safety mandates and farebox collection are undoubtedly a significant factor in many of these interactions. However, the seemingly arbitrary nature of many incidents reviewed by TTD and our affiliated unions necessitates the collection and analysis of accurate data.

Importantly, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act redefines assault for the purpose of data collection in the NTD. Per Division C, Section 30001 of the IIJA, assault on a transit worker is now defined as:

“Assault on a transit worker — The term ‘assault on a transit worker’ means a circumstance in which an individual knowingly, without lawful authority or permission, and with intent to endanger the safety of any individual, or with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life, interferes with, disables, or incapacitates a transit worker while the transit worker is performing the duties of the transit worker.”

While this is a critical step in better understanding the national trends in workplace safety for transit workers, it is equally critical that this data be transparent and easily accessible not just to the safety committees created under the IIJA but to researchers, labor unions, and other individuals who may use that information in the pursuit of improving safety for working people.

What actions could address and limit these types of interactions?

First, TTD strongly supports the creation of joint labor-management safety committees as required under the IIJA to solve this problem and encourages expeditious implementation of this portion of the IIJA by the FTA. This approach is not a one-size-fits all solution but instead recognizes that local problems require local solutions.

What approaches could prevent transit worker assaults?

Again, we support the process for arriving at solutions as laid forth in the IIJA. Transit workers should work directly with management to examine data, under the new reporting requirements of the IIJA, and determine local solutions best suited to meet their needs. That may include a full redesign of the operator workstation, driver shields, de-escalation training, changes to routes or route intervals, the presence of law enforcement, along with other interventions or combinations of certain interventions.

What differences, if any, are there in approaches to preventing transit worker assaults across different types of transit systems or modes?

Currently, the response is piecemeal. Some transit agencies have responded to safety threats by including shields for drivers. However, there is no consistency across agencies in the implementation or design of shields. Passengers have still been able to reach around and throw objects at workers or make contact with them. While we reiterate our support eschewing a one-size-fits all solution, we strongly urge the FTA to provide transit agencies with best practices when implementing solutions. Minimum standards for shield designs or workstation redesign, for example, may help to avoid solutions that are well intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

If FTA pursues requirements to address transit worker assaults, what minimum requirements should be included?

It is critical to note that this RFI was issued on 9/24/21, prior to the passage of the IIJA. TTD firmly supports the implementation of transit worker safety improvement required under that act. Moreover, we believe that NTD data on transit assaults must be available and transparent, and that the FTA should partner with transit agencies to ensure consistency in the implementation of interventions across the nation.

Further, TTD strongly supports additional actions, like the Competitive Research Funding Opportunity: Redesign of Transit Bus Operator Compartment to Improve Safety, Operational Efficiency, and Passenger Accessibility NOFO issued by the FTA on 02/11/2020. Ultimately, retrofits like shields are helpful but are often imperfect. A wholesale reimagining of the operator’s workstation including the inclusion of worker safety standards for procurements are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of operators, both from assaults and ergonomically, as well as for the reduction of blind spots and the safety of those sharing the road with transit vehicles.

We would also like to note that the FTA does not have a choice in implementing strategies to prevent worker assaults, as this question implies. The FAST Act mandated such action from the agency, and we are glad to see the agency stepping up to meet its statutory obligations.

How should the requirements apply to different transit system types or modes?

This question recognizes a unique challenge. Rail station managers, rail workers, bus operators, maintenance yard workers, and all other transit employees face unique circumstances and safety challenges that require solutions tailored to their environment.

We believe this challenge is largely addressed by the IIJA, through the creation of safety committees made up of workers and management, who, together can identify their unique challenges and the solutions necessary to solve them.

The FTA must be an active partner in this process, and these committees must not be a box-checking exercise for transit agencies, however. Providing true oversite, making newly collected data in the NTD transparent and accessible to researchers and representatives of labor, and holding listening sessions at a national level to provide oversight of this program as its implemented will all be critical in the coming three years.

What other types of FTA actions might be beneficial to support transit worker assault prevention?

In its role as the federal authority on transit and transit safety, FTA should be continually engaged to identify actions that would benefit the safety of everyone who uses our nation’s transit systems. If transit workers are unsafe, they are not able to do their jobs and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for riders. Because of the complexity of transit systems, increased coordination will be needed to ensure that transit worker assaults do not continue to skyrocket. Data-sharing, transparency, and collaboration with frontline workers and labor groups should be prioritized as new ideas are considered.

What information is collected on transit worker assaults that is not reportable to the NTD?

Prior to the passage of the IIJA, the NTD only collected data on assaults leading to “serious injury” as then defined in 49 CFR 830.2, “(1) Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.” Obviously, this definition leaves out many possible injuries that need to be captured to have an accurate understanding of transit worker assaults. We believe that the passage of the IIJA will be a major improvement to this issue; however, the FTA must also renew its commitment to transparency and ensure that such data is made available for review.

What internal threshold do RTAs use for tracking transit worker assaults other than those reportable to the NTD?

It is impossible to know what threshold every RTA uses across the country, and we believe that this demonstrates a piecemeal and haphazard approach to transit worker safety. With the passage of the IIJA, we hope that reporting of assaults will be brought into harmony across jurisdictions and allow for more robust leadership from FTA to ensure that our nation’s transit workers are adequately protected. The definition of assault and the data that is collected regarding it should not vary across RTAs. Further, this kind of tracking should not be limited to only those RTAs that have Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans, as this can exclude rural transit agencies.

On average, how many additional transit worker assaults occur per year that do not meet a current NTD reporting requirement?

While the answer to this question would undoubtedly be useful in addressing the scourge of transit worker assaults, the lack of an adequate answer is part of the problem. Transit agencies are not often forthcoming with information, which not only means that responsibility is neglected and left to representatives of the frontline workers to try their best to collect that data, but also that transit agencies have no way of responding to national trends because of a significant lack of awareness.

What are or would be the costs associated with tracking these additional assaults?

TTD believes that any additional costs associated with collecting and reporting this data are trivial relative to the incurred costs of workers compensation, lost hours from workers, and the high turnover at transit agencies as a result of deteriorating workplace conditions. Whatever trivial costs may exist should not be a criterion in determining how or whether or not they should live up to their statutory requirements under the IIJA to do so. Moreover, we believe they should go beyond the basic requirements of the IIJA and report this information annually, with analysis, and tools for transit agencies to implement interventions that may alleviate the impacts of national trends in assault.

What technology is available to address transit worker assaults, including operator assaults?

TTD supports the research and implementation of technologies that improve worker safety. In the case of worker assaults, however, there are a number of solutions that could be implemented easily and without the need for additional research and testing time that would be needed for new technologies. Simple workstation redesigns that provide secure barriers between workers and the public would deter many assaults. De-escalation training, route planning, and procedural and schedule planning can mitigate many assaults. We do not believe that FTA should wait for possible technologies to be developed to implement these known solutions.

How can FTA better support the development and implementation of these technologies?

For the reason noted above, FTA needs to be actively involved in the implementation of new technologies and strategies to increase transit worker safety. As part of these efforts, the agency should consult directly with frontline workers and representatives of frontline workers, including safety experts and law enforcement professionals, to share lessons learned in the field, and specific thoughts on how to correctly implement the statutory requirements of the IIJA.

In closing, TTD urges FTA to act expeditiously in the implementation of new transit safety requirements in the IIJA, and reminds the agency of its statutory obligations to protect transit workers from assault. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and look forward to working with the agency moving forward.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This Labor Day, the SMART Transportation Division is proudly joining the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, (TTD), to recognize and thank frontline transportation workers for their service and sacrifice, and remind Americans that our transportation workers are #EssentialAlways.
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART-TD members were instrumental in keeping the American economy open and functioning by working throughout the pandemic delivering goods and materials and transporting essential workers to where they needed to be. While their heroic efforts during the pandemic undoubtedly saved lives, transportation labor unions want to remind America that their members, and the duties they perform, are essential always.
“I have the highest admiration for the dedication, courage, and drive all of our members displayed as they remained steadfast, working through the initial stages of the pandemic, doing the work that is often overlooked but essential in keeping our country on its feet. They did this during the uncertain initial stages of the pandemic, through lockdowns and beyond,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The word ‘essential’ is the perfect description of all SMART-TD members and other transportation workers who keep our nation functioning and on the move. This campaign and the recognition we hope it brings is well-deserved and overdue.”
The #EssentialAlways campaign comes at a historic crossroads for this dedicated workforce. As the United States continues to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — which millions of frontline transportation workers have disproportionately shouldered — Congress and the Biden administration are pursuing transformational investments in infrastructure as part of the president’s build back better agenda. Highly skilled transportation workers, including SMART-TD members will be vital in achieving these goals and rebuilding our country.
“Frontline transportation workers power the most advanced economy in the world by operating, maintaining, and building the most complex transportation network on earth,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “Whether they’re helping people get to home, work, or school, moving the goods and raw materials we all rely on, delivering our mail, seeing us through a crisis, or building transportation projects of the future, these dedicated professionals have always been essential to the fabric of America, and they always will be.”
Transportation unions are encouraging the general public, elected leaders, and members of transportation and infrastructure community to join the campaign by following and engaging with the hashtag #EssentialAlways on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to watch and share this video explaining the important role transportation workers played before and during the pandemic, and the role they will play for years to come.