Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART Transportation Division and Dennis Pierce, President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Teamsters Rail Conference, on move announced by the nation’s largest railroads to further abuse shippers and gridlock the supply chain in order to extort a contract settlement from rail unions:

CLEVELAND — Late on Friday, September 9, the nation’s largest railroads began warning major shippers that they are declaring an embargo on certain types of new shipments five days in advance of the end of the federally mandated cooling-off period at 12:00 AM EDT September 16. They further advised that all rail shippers could be blocked from making any rail shipments well in advance of next Friday’s deadline for a lockout or strike. This completely unnecessary attack on rail shippers by these highly profitable Class I railroads is no more than corporate extortion.

Our Unions remain at the bargaining table and have given the rail carriers a proposal that we would be willing to submit to our members for ratification, but it is the rail carriers that refuse to reach an acceptable agreement. In fact, it was abundantly clear from our negotiations over the past few days that the railroads show no intentions of reaching an agreement with our Unions, but they cannot legally lock out our members until the end of the cooling-off period. Instead, they are locking out their customers beginning on Monday and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action.

The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them. Our Unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.

Rather than gridlock the supply chain by denying shipments and potentially locking our members out next Friday, the railroads should work towards a fair settlement that our members, their employees, would ratify. For that to happen, we must make improvements to the working conditions that have been on the bargaining table since negotiations began. Penalizing engineers and conductors for getting sick or going to a doctor’s visit with termination must be stopped as part of this contract settlement. Let us repeat that, our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of a worldwide pandemic.

No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit. Sadly, the Presidential Emergency Board recommendation got it wrong on this issue. As we have said from the day that they were implemented, these policies are destroying the lives of our members, who are the backbone of the railroad industry.

These employment policies have forced thousands of employees out of the industry and make it all but impossible to recruit new workers. With understaffed operations, these railroads abuse their best customers by refusing to provide deliveries consistent with their legal obligations. These self-appointed titans of industry complain constantly about government regulation and interference — except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees. It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEO’s who are running the nation’s railroads into the ground that enough is enough. Congress should stay out of the rail dispute and tell the railroads to do what other business leaders do — sit down and bargain a contract that your employees will accept.

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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 following is a statement from SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce.

CLEVELAND, (September 2) — As we approach Labor Day 2022, our Unions stand at a crossroads. While our normal messages heading into one of the most important days for Organized Labor would be about Labor’s proud history of improving the lives of working-class Americans, we are embroiled in the ongoing effort to obtain a National Freight Agreement worthy of our members’ consideration.

We know there are vastly different opinions amongst our collective memberships on what should happen next, and the democratic principles that drive our Unions give each member the right to their own opinion. Although current opinions may vary, there are other things that apply equally to us all.

It has become clear in our post-Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”) negotiations with the rail carriers that they are counting on the Federal Government to come to their aid if we are unable to reach a Tentative Agreement, and so far, we have not reached an Agreement. The same rail carriers that complain about government intervention when the Federal Railroad Administration proposes a rulemaking on crew size, and also shudder at the thought of the Surface Transportation Board issuing regulations that would help shippers, now all but hide behind Congress, refusing so far to negotiate terms our members would accept and ratify. While there are no guarantees for either side as to what Congress might do if they are involved, there is no doubt that the rail carriers expect Congress to intervene to save them from dealing fairly with their employees if there is a job action; Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz so much as publicly said that earlier in the week.

It is also clear that SMART-TD and BLET have been carved out from the rest of Rail Labor as we were the only Unions that the carriers insisted upon work rule changes from throughout the PEB hearing. Our Unions’ members have also borne the brunt of inept crew management, life-changing attendance policies, and working conditions over the past years that are making it all but impossible for rail carriers to hire and retain operating employees. As such, SMART-TD and BLET members are situated differently at this stage of the negotiations than the members of most of the other Rail Unions.

Knowing that, we should not fault the Unions who have decided to allow their members the right to decide their own fate through a ratification vote. As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Act negotiating process, all of our contracts will soon be settled, one way or the other. Allowing the membership to decide how that happens is at the very core of the labor movement, and our Unions will not interfere in the decision by other Rail Unions to vote upon a Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB’s recommendations.

Instead, we will continue to concentrate our efforts on obtaining Tentative Agreements for our members that are worthy of their consideration. Our goal is to reach an agreement that could be ratified because SMART-TD and BLET members also have the right to control their own futures through the democratic principles that give them the right to vote on and approve contracts.

One thing is now certain, obtaining such an agreement would be much more likely if Congress took a long Labor Day break and allowed the parties to work out their issues without intervention from the Federal Government. While we know that many SMART-TD and BLET members would like to strike their carriers for any number of reasons, it should not take a job action to reach an agreement worthy of their consideration. We call on Congress to stay out of our dispute, and if you do, we are confident that the rail carriers will move from their current positions and settle with their employees in a fashion that could be ratified.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy Labor Day,

President Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD

President Dennis Pierce, BLET

CLEVELAND (April 6) — Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take action on a 2008 Congressional mandate to address rail worker fatigue at Class I carriers, with a specific reference to attendance policies such as those imposed at CSX, Union Pacific, and BNSF.

In an April 6 joint letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, along with Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, remind the FRA Administrator of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which established a law requiring railroads to implement fatigue management and reduction plans.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio

“The Congressional mandate to mitigate fatigue among crewmembers and other safety-related workers is now a decade late,” Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne wrote. “Crewmembers and other craft workers have raised their concerns about being excessively exhausted at work, which is worsened by PSR. These workers cannot wait any longer, and neither can the communities through which trains travel. To mitigate attendance policies that contribute to fatigue and help ensure all safety-related workers are rested and prepared to do the job safely, we respectfully urge your agency to issue the fatigue risk management program final rule without delay, require its swift implementation, and meaningfully enforce it to ensure that the 2008 bipartisan Congressional mandate is met.”

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.

In the letter, Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne lay the cause of fatigue at the feet of the nation’s Class I railroads. The industry’s self-inflicted problems, such as inaccurate train lineups and the implementation of harsh attendance policies, contribute greatly to rail worker fatigue.

“We believe that attendance policies that not only contribute to fatigue but also penalize workers for taking off when fatigued or ill simply cannot co-exist with any serious fatigue risk management program,” the Representatives wrote. “Rather, these policies could incentivize employees to show up to work fatigued in order to avoid reprimand or termination. They also ignore the unfortunate reality that crewmembers already have unpredictable and unreliable schedules, which makes this line of work difficult for many, even before policies that further restrict their lives and abilities to obtain proper rest.”

Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne are also highly critical of the industry’s implementation of the so-called precision scheduled railroading (PSR) business operating model.

“Class I carriers have substantially reduced the size of their workforces since implementing precision scheduled railroading (PSR) at the behest of Wall Street investors. Unions representing railroad workers and individual workers have sounded the alarm on rail worker fatigue, which they believe is worsened by the deployment of PSR and the resulting push to do more work with nearly one-third fewer people on the job.”

Leaders of the nation’s two largest railroad unions, which represent the nation’s train operating crews, applauded the April 6 letter.

“We want to make it clear that we are fighting attendance policies at all Class I carriers. Fatigue has long been a problem at CSX, UP, BNSF, NS and other rail carriers, but it has been made much worse because of extreme job cuts resulting from the implementation of PSR coupled with the industry’s determination to force harsh attendance policies upon the remaining workforce,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce. “SMART-TD and the BLET have also put the issue on the table in our national negotiations, currently in mediation, demanding that all imposed attendance policies be rescinded with negotiated attendance contract rules to take their place. On behalf of our members, we thank Representative DeFazio and Representative Payne for shining a light on this pressing issue in our industry and being vocal leaders for rail worker safety.”

Read the representatives’ letter (PDF)

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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 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

Attention all SMART-TD and BLET members! Tonight at 7:00 p.m. central standard time (8:00 p.m. EST), SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce will be airing a joint interview on the Rails Tails & Trails YouTube channel, which can be viewed at the following link: https://youtu.be/6N9r6QIGqA8.

Presidents Ferguson and Pierce will be providing updates on recent developments with BNSF’s HiViz attendance policy, commentary on our national rail contract negotiations, and discussion of other important issues affecting members of both Unions. 

As additional information, beginning at 6:00 p.m. CST (7:00 p.m. EST), Rails Tails & Trails host Jon Chaffin will be doing a giveaway for supporters of his channel. All members are encouraged to tune in, subscribe to the channel, and leave your feedback in the comments section. We are looking forward to finding out if you think the interview is informational, and if you would like the presidents to join a future episode on the Rails Tails & Trails podcast. If so, please comment on which issues you would like to see them discuss. 

We thank you for your continued support as we work diligently to keep all members informed!