The Antelope Valley Transit Authority recently achieved North America’s first fully zero-emission fleet thanks to the work of SMART SM Local 105 members employed at BYD (Build Your Dreams) in Lancaster, CA.

57 of AVTA’s 87 battery electric coaches and buses were built by BYD at its Lancaster Coach & Bus Manufacturing facility. Many BYD employees and their families are served by the agency in the Antelope Valley.

Portions of the fleet were purchased with the help of state funding, including $28.5 million from the California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) administered by Caltrans and the California State Transportation Agency.

Every American-built, zero-emission BYD bus eliminates approximately 1,690 tons of CO2 over its 12-year lifespan, according to the U.S. Transportation Department. This is equivalent to taking 27 cars off the road. Each bus also eliminates 10 tons of nitrogen oxides and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter, improving air quality in the communities that they serve.

BYD is America’s first battery-electric bus manufacturer that has both a unionized workforce and a Community Benefits Agreement, which sets goals for hiring veterans, single parents, second chance citizens, and others facing hurdles in obtaining manufacturing employment.  According to SMART’s 6th General Vice President and Local 105 Business Manager Luther Medina, “We are proud of our partnership with BYD and the work we have done to ensure the Antelope Valley sets the standard for clean transportation options not only here in California but cross North America.”

On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division bus and transportation members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed thousands of Americans.
“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that public and private entities continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection.”
This relief bill:

  • provides $16 billion in emergency assistance to transit agencies to cover operating costs and direct expenses (e.g., cleaning supplies) at a 100 percent federal share, while preventing the Federal Transit Administration from waiving important labor protections.
  • provides the Los Angeles Urbanized Area with $1,178,517,939 divided up among all the transit systems in the region (Los Angeles, Long Beach and parts of Orange County).
  • waives the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance.
  • provides an enhanced unemployment benefit of an additional $600 per two-week pay period.
  • provides relief checks up to $1,200 per person, $500 per child. Click here to calculate your amount.
  • ensures private insurance plans must cover testing for COVID-19 and any future vaccine without cost sharing.
  • prohibits foreclosures on federally backed mortgage loans for 60 days, and up to 180 days of forbearance for borrowers of a federally backed mortgage loan who has experienced a financial hardship related to COVID-19.

Additional federal relief packages may be developed as the country copes with the coronavirus pandemic. Your Washington, D.C., legislative office will continue working to inform legislators and federal officials of the need of frontline transportation workers to be protected. Your union is collecting reports of employers not meeting CDC protocols to prevent COVID-19 transmission and these can be reported on the SMART-TD website.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said at CES, an annual technology show in Las Vegas, that she plans to take steps toward creating policy guiding the development of self-driving transportation for trucks, buses, transit systems and trains. One of the steps that Chao plans to take toward creating this new policy is to deregulate these industries.
“I also want to take this opportunity to announce that the Department (DOT) will be seeking public input from across the transportation industry to identify existing barriers to innovation. This includes not only barriers that impact vehicles, but also impediments to innovations that can impact our highways, railroads, trains and motor carriers,” Chao said.
In response to Chao’s announcement, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch wrote in an email, “This rush to autonomous vehicles of all kinds should worry all transportation workers.
“We have been working with Congress to limit legislation on self-driving vehicles to automobiles and to not include buses and trucks. So far our efforts on that front have been successful,” Risch said. “We will continue to work on this issue, but the times they are a-changing.”
As part of Chao’s efforts to deregulate the transportation industry, notices for public comment have appeared in the Federal Register on behalf of DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
FHWA

  • Click here to read the Request for Information on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System as published by the Federal Register – to be published 01/18

FTA

  • Click here to read the Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program as published in the Federal Register
  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation

NHTSA

  • Click here to read the Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles from the Federal Register

In November, the federal Department of Transportation finalized a rule that added four semi-synthetic opioids – hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone – to its testing regimen, despite opposition from a number of unions. Brand names of some of those opioids include OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, Dilaudid and Exalgo.
Effects of this expansion, which took effect Jan. 1, as reported by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) include:

  • Employees who are tested for these drugs and cannot offer a legitimate medical explanation such as a prescription will be recorded as testing positive.
  • Employees who have a valid prescription and test positive will have their results downgraded to a negative.
  • Medical review officers (MROs) cannot deny the legitimacy of a prescription for the purpose of establishing a legitimate medical explanation for the positive test. However, the MRO retains the right to flag safety concerns.
  • Clarification of what a “valid prescription” is, especially regarding medication given to take “as needed” as opposed to one prescribed to be taken in a strict time frame is needed and could be affected by the discretion of the MRO.
  • The rule establishes three new “fatal flaws” to a test: 1. Absence of a Chain of Custody Form (CCF); 2. A specimen is not submitted along with the CCF; and 3. Two separate collections are performed using a single CCF.

Comments from the TTD opposed the cutoff levels established for a positive test, requested additional training for MROs, sought clearer guidelines to define what constituted a valid prescription and implementation of a process to challenge the findings of an MRO.  These suggestions were disregarded. In addition, the DOT also ended its blind specimen testing program over the TTD’s objection.
Members should contact the SMART Transportation Department Legal Department if any issues or difficulties arise from this expansion to the DOT’s drug-testing protocols.

Kramer

Seymour Kramer, 70, retired alternate vice president, bus – west, died January 20, 2017. Kramer began his career as a bus operator for Laidlaw Transit in San Francisco in 1970. As a member of Local 1741, he served as president, vice general chairperson, general chairperson and delegate.
In 1991, he was elected to the UTU’s executive board and in 1994, Kramer was appointed to the position of alternate vice president, bus – west by the UTU board of directors. He was elected to that position at the 1995 UTU convention. During his time as general chairperson and alt. vice president, Kramer assisted with many contract negotiations and assisted in organizing properties that are still part of the bus department today.
In 1996, Kramer left his post as alt. vice president and later served as a mediator for the California State Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Kramer is survived by his wife, Laurie Goldsmith; daughters Hannah and Sasha Kramer; sister Karen Florman and many friends.
Click here to leave condolences for the family.

The Hill.com reported that just days after a backpack filled with explosives was found near a New Jersey train station, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and  Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), its ranking member, submitted a bill that would mandate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allocate funds to secure and protect rail and transit transportation hubs.  Read the complete article here.
 
 
 
 
 

By John Risch, SMART TD National Legislative Director
Risch For those of you who don’t know me, I’m honored to serve as your elected National Legislative Director. I came from the ranks, starting in the track department on the Burlington Northern and went into train service, spending more than 30 years in freight and passenger service in North Dakota.
My father was a truck driver and my mother was a stay-at-home parent who raised three children and a cousin of mine. We grew up poor, which gave me a real appreciation for the pay and benefits that a good union job provided. My 30-plus years working on the railroad has given me a real perspective of the issues we face, and drives me to protect what we already have and work to make our jobs better.
The outcome of the Presidential Election will determine whether we make progress on improving our jobs or whether we lose ground.
The next president of the United States will set the tone, and will make important appointments to positions that directly affect you.
The head of the Federal Railroad Administration will decide:

  • Whether the two-person crew regulation is finalized or discarded
  • Whether we enact regulations requiring uniform speed signs on railroads
  • Whether there will be limitations on the use of inward facing cameras
  • What to do about fatigue in the freight rail industry

Appointees to the National Mediation Board will intervene in our contract negotiations and influence things like wages and work rules. They will also appoint arbitrators who decide if an unjustly fired member returns to work with or without back pay.
The head of the Motor Carrier Administration will decide how, or if, we will deal with the terrible problem of driver assault.

The next Chairman of the Railroad Retirement Board will determine not only how our pension is administered, but how our unemployment, sickness and disability benefits are administered as well.
I’m very concerned about Donald Trump, should he be elected as our next President. He has repeatedly said he will discard regulations and get rid of government bureaucracy. These are good sound bites and none of us want more government rules than are necessary, but when you look at the pending regulations affecting us, like two-person crews, fatigue and locomotive cameras, this rhetoric takes on a different meaning.
I have a note on my desk that says: “My most important job is to make sure that bad things don’t happen to our members.” I’m charged with the responsibility of protecting and improving the jobs of our members – an assignment I don’t take lightly. That job may be nearly impossible under a Trump administration.
Here is a book review of a recent book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston. The book explains many of Donald Trump’s human failings. I know the hardcore Trump supporters in our ranks have by and large ignored these failings, but I cannot. I care about our hardworking members and our country, and quite simply put, Donald Trump is unqualified to serve as President of the United States.
If he is elected I’m afraid that he will appoint people to government that are equally unqualified, causing significant damage to the progress we have already made.
While I pledge to do the best I can to improve things for our members, I can’t do it on my own. I need your help at the ballot box. We’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, she will support our union, our issues and the progress that unions have made. This is serious stuff and we all need to do our part in making our jobs better not just for us, but for those who follow. And that work starts with this election.
Anyone who wants to call and talk about this can call me at 202-543-7714. I work for you: What every one of you has to say matters to me.
 

In a written response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Request for Comments entitled  “Motor Carriers of Passengers That Serve Primarily Urban Areas With High Passenger Loads,” dated April 11, 2016, the Transportation Trades Division, (TTD) AFL-CIO, representing 32 affiliated transportation unions including SMART TD, submitted comments in favor of “better oversight of curbside operators. While many carriers run legitimate operations, some take advantage of their unique characteristics and business models to circumvent safety rules and other standards putting drivers and passengers at risk.” Please read the complete letter here.

On April 3 the Star Tribune reported that a Metro Transit bus driver was assaulted by several teenagers in a noontime attack at the Southdale stop in Edina, Minn. According to authorities, the driver sustained potentially ‘life altering’ head injuries. Read the entire story here.