SMART-TD Local 653 (Chicago) is proud to announce the recognition of Legislative Representative Orlando Rojas as the winner of the 2022 Charlie Hayes Award for his work in the greater Chicago labor community.

On Sept. 30, Legislative Representative Orlando Rojas of Local 653 (Chicago) was honored with the Charlie Hayes Award for his labor work. Pictured, from left, are Illinois State Legislative Chairperson Jeff Votteler (Local 1597 – Chicago); Illinois Assistant State Legislative Director Joe Ciemny (Local 1534 – Chicago); Brother Rojas and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy (Local 234 – Bloomington, Ill.).

This award is given by an organization known as Chicago Jobs With Justice (JWJ), which has a mission of training and developing activists in the community by building a permanent coalition of organizations to support ongoing worker outreach and workplace oversight.

The award Brother Rojas received is named after Hayes, a late congressman who served the state’s 1st District. Congressman Hayes was a labor leader in Chicago from 1938 to 1983. In addition to the 45 years he dedicated himself to organized labor, Congressman Hayes was also a leader in the civil rights movement, working alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to register voters in the South and was arrested in the 1980’s anti-apartheid demonstrations that were instrumental in the freeing of Nelson Mandela.

“I’m very happy for him and his family for the recognition,” said SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, who was responsible for Rojas’s successful nomination. “Orlando epitomizes the essential work our commuter members performed during the pandemic and was gracious when accepting the award, in recognizing his fellow members in both passenger and freight service for the dedicated work they do during these still-challenging times.”

Brother Rojas is a conductor in passenger service for Metra, which provides commuter rail services in Chicago and the surrounding area. A member of SMART-TD for over 18 years, he has served in leadership roles in Local 653 for 15 of them, and both his interest in labor and in railroading have roots in his family history.

In the 1960s, his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and his grandfather settled in California. While in California, Rojas’ family worked in agriculture and were members of the movement led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that organized farm workers. His family was on the front lines of United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and were part of the famous series of work actions known as the Salad Bowl Strike.

Following that movement, Brother Rojas’ family moved to the Chicago area. His father worked for the B&O railroad as a maintenance of way employee and was a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes union.

When asked to comment on his achievement, brother Rojas had a reaction that typifies the selflessness that he was recognized for:

“I want to use this moment to recognize the accomplishments and work of all the unsung heroes in labor today,” he said. “There are so many men and women in our community carrying the torch of past leaders like Charlie Hayes. This community is standing on the shoulders of a wonderful history of the labor movement, and I want to acknowledge and thank everyone involved in building on their accomplishments.”

Rojas also mentioned that he intended to nominate SLD Guy for the award when he found out that Bob had beaten him to the punch and had already nominated him. 

Brother Rojas’ hard work and dedication to his job, family, union and community are a testament to his rich family history and is a point of pride for his family here at the SMART Transportation Division.

SMART-TD joins the Chicago Jobs With Justice campaign in congratulating Brother Rojas. We would also like to join them in thanking brothers Rojas and Guy for all they do.

A suspected robber who attacked an on-duty Metra conductor at Van Buren station in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon was taken into custody Wednesday by Metra police in Calumet City, the carrier reports.

Police said the robber brandished a handgun and took an undisclosed amount of cash from the SMART Transportation Division member. Video surveillance captured images of the suspect and he was arrested hours after the incident with charges pending.

Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy says that the incident “saddened and infuriated” him and that the crime should be dealt with using the fullest extent of the law.

“We are very happy there wasn’t a more tragic outcome,” Guy said. “Thanks again for the work of everyone involved in the arrest of this offender, but work remains to be done to protect workers and passengers alike from individuals who seek to harm or cause chaos on board trains, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

He urged Metra leadership to take a strong stance in ensuring the safety of passengers and workers alike. One such solution, in addition to prosecution by police, would be a lifetime prohibition for the perpetrator from using Metra, Guy said.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Dec. 3, 2021) — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have filed motions for preliminary injunctions, seeking to immediately halt unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates imposed by Metra commuter rail and BNSF Railway and require the carriers to negotiate over the issue.

Through the motions, SMART-TD and the BLET seek to restore and preserve the status quo that was in place prior to the implementation of the mandates.

These suits are in addition to the counterclaims SMART-TD and BLET filed against the carriers last month. As background, BNSF on November 7, 2021, and Metra on November 8, 2021, filed suits against the SMART-TD and the BLET, among other unions, seeking a declaration from the courts that their unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates concerned a so-called “minor dispute” subject to arbitration on the grounds that it involves a matter of interpretation of the parties’ existing collective bargaining agreements. The carriers also sought orders prohibiting SMART-TD and the BLET from striking, picketing, and taking other job actions in protest of the mandate.

SMART-TD and BLET answered and counterclaimed on November 12, 2021, alleging, among other things, that the carriers’ unilaterally implemented vaccine mandates are a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. The carriers made no effort to bargain with the unions over their vaccine mandates, or the effects of those mandates, despite the fact that the parties have long been engaged in negotiations for successor agreements, and that all parties have a duty to maintain the status quo in working conditions during such negotiations.

The SMART-TD and BLET are actively embroiled in similar lawsuits with three other rail carriers: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (NS), and Union Pacific (UP). The litigation is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said two federal judges recently blocked enforcement of vaccine mandates.

In related activity, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked enforcement of the regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated. SMART-TD and BLET will continue to monitor the case to determine if there is any impact on rail carriers.

President Ferguson and President Pierce issued the following joint statement: “The language contained in the Railway Labor Act is clear cut, and the carriers’ unilateral implementation of their vaccine mandates without negotiating with the union is a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. We will continue to stand up for the rights of our members.”

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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 (Nov. 24, 2021) — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have responded to the suit Metra filed against them on Nov. 8, 2021, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago Division. The two organizations not only answered Metra’s allegations, they also filed counterclaims challenging Metra’s actions in implementing their vaccine policy without the bargaining mandated by the Railway Labor Act.

The suit is similar to claims filed by the SMART-TD and BLET against Union Pacific (UP), Norfolk Southern (NS), the BNSF Railway (BNSF), and Amtrak regarding their vaccine policies. Metra has taken the position that it has the right to implement and enforce a COVID vaccination mandate among its employees and requests the court to issue a declaratory judgment holding that the dispute between the railroad and the unions is a “minor” dispute, which must be arbitrated if the parties cannot come to a satisfactory settlement.

The unions have countered that Metra has no such authority, and their actions in failing to negotiate terms of implementation violate the status quo requirement of the Railway Labor Act, thus engendering a major dispute.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce issued the following joint statement regarding their action:

“Under threat of discipline, up to and including termination of employment, Metra has ordered all its employees to report their vaccination status by December 7, 2021, with a deadline of January 21, 2022, to either submit proof that they are fully vaccinated or obtain a religious or medical accommodation. Instead of negotiating with us as the law requires, the Carrier is directly dealing with its employees.

“We have several objections to Metra’s unilateral implementation of its policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. We will continue to fight on behalf of all BLET and SMART–TD members in an effort to stop Metra’s lawlessness in its tracks.”

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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 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.

Demetrios Vatistas, secretary and treasurer for SMART Transportation Division Local 281 (Milwaukee, Wis.), discussed working as a Metra conductor during the coronavirus pandemic with a Chicago-area newspaper.
Vatistas has been S&T for his local since February 2019 and a TD member since 1997.
“I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Vatistas told Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., reporter Marni Pyke. “It is extremely weird. We’re so used to working hand-in-hand, side-by-side. This is our family away from home.”
But there is a sense of anxiety when reporting for and performing service these days, especially when boarding what can only be described as ghost trains, Vatistas said.
Metra ridership has fallen a staggering 97% since a stay-at-home order was enacted by Illinois’ governor in March, but Vatistas said that new bonds are being formed, albeit at a safe social distance.
“I see concern, but I also see compassion,” Vatistas told Pyke.
Read the full story from the Daily Herald.

At a meeting last week involving Metra and suburban Chicago city leaders, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, told the carrier that it needed to step up its performance.

Lipinski

“Too often, Metra riders are not getting the service that they deserve,” Lipinski said in a news release. “I said in a town hall I held in December to address problems on the BNSF line that 2019 needs to be a better year for all Metra riders. Metra is still coming up frustratingly short. It is time to stop passing the buck and find solutions.”
Metra struggled with a technology outage involving Amtrak at Union Station in February, which prompted the April 16 meeting, according to the Joliet Herald News.
Read the full story in the Herald News.
Read Lipinski’s news release.

Illinois commuter carrier Metra, in conjunction with Operation Lifesaver, has embarked on a series of educational safety blitzes to raise awareness of the importance of safe behavior around its trains and tracks.
The carrier reported in a March 26 news release that the state of Illinois ranked second in the nation in rail fatalities at highway-rail crossings and fifth in the nation in trespassing fatalities. Last year, 47 people were killed and 51 more were injured in Illinois in incidents at grade crossings or along railroad rights-of-way.
Fourteen of the state’s fatalities involved Metra trains, with six occurring at rail crossings. The fatality statistics do not include deaths ruled as suicides or suspected suicides, the carrier said.
“These safety blitzes allow us to reach our customers directly to ensure that they understand the need to stay vigilant about safety around the railroad,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.
The blitzes began in mid-February, and a complete schedule is available here.
The carrier said that its Police Department will also conduct additional enforcement blitzes throughout the region’s six counties and 242 Metra stations. During the enforcement blitzes, citations and warnings will be issued to pedestrians and drivers who ignore gates and warning devices.
Metra also is considering a draft policy that would evaluate station use and is seeking public input, the suburban Daily Herald newspaper reported.
The plan is open for public comment until April 15 and seeks to measure the use and sustainability of the transit system’s stations in relation to ridership.
Most stations labeled as “unsustainable” with less than 10 percent median ridership are on Metra’s Electric Line, but others include Rosemont and Schiller Park on the North Central Service, Mannheim on the Milwaukee District West, and Kedzie on the Union Pacific West, the Daily Herald reports.
The carrier will use the information to make potential changes to improve ridership in the underused stations or in the worst cases make decisions to close stations and create new access points to the system.
More information on the station evaluation policy can be found at this link.

metra_logo CHICAGO (WLS) — A federal investigation into Metra’s operations has begun following three separate complaints that have raised red flags about safety.

Those three incidents happened within days of each other, one of them occurring a little bit south of the 35th Street station. The train was apparently speeding.

It happened last Monday morning on an inbound Rock Island train.

“Everyone screamed on the train when it was going so fast. It leaned and scared everyone,” said Metra rider Pat Boskey.

Read the complete story at ABC7 Eyewitness News.

An on-duty Chicago Metra conductor received medical attention following an assault during a botched robbery attempt at a west side passenger station Oct. 22.

According to news reports, the conductor, whose identity was not released, was transported to a hospital with unspecified injuries.

The alleged robber, who was said by witnesses to have displayed a knife during the attempt to rob the conductor, was later captured by police.

BNSF operates that commuter service under contract with Chicago Metra.