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SAN FRANCISCO — Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO President Greg Regan emphasized that the resurgence of labor unions’ power has been very apparent as he addressed the general session Aug. 9, the second day of the SMART Leadership Conference.
It began as the nation coped with the pandemic and then as the Biden administration set its sights toward accomplishing true action on infrastructure.
“The labor movement drove the response,” Regan said. “We were the ones who delivered for working people every step of the way.”
Among the examples: Investments in the transportation sector through the CARES Act, which put SMART-TD members furloughed by Amtrak back on the job after the pandemic froze the nation’s transportation system, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which outlaid a historic level of funding for Amtrak and public transportation, among others.
“This is the type of legislation that every president since Richard Nixon has been trying to accomplish,” Regan said. “And it happened last year. That doesn’t happen without the strength of the labor movement pushing that legislation.
“This is a rebirth for this country. We have a massive amount of opportunity for infrastructure in this country right here and we cannot skip over that. We might want to go on and move on to the next fight, but we should take a moment to reflect on what a major accomplishment that was.”
Regan mentioned specifically the work of the legislative departments of both SMART and the Transportation Division on Capitol Hill.
Now, as national rail contract negotiations near the end of the line set forth by the Railway Labor Act and comment has opened for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by the Federal Railroad Administration to make a minimum two-person rail crew nationwide, transportation labor has a chance to flex its muscles again.
Regan took part, along with many unionized workers from multiple industries July 30 in Galesburg, Ill., as they stood together to draw attention to carriers’ treatment of rail workers.
“We are not going to buckle. They are not going to be able to split us,” he said. “There is a level of strength and solidarity I see in freight rail right now that is unmatched.”
As for getting the Rule of 2 finalized by the Federal Railroad Administration, Regan said he’s confident that the public and regulators will recognize that it’s a safety issue and non-negotiable, especially as the comment period progresses to its conclusion in late September. “We’re not going to back down. We’re going to stay together, we’re going to fight like hell and we’re going to deliver.”
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.
On April 26, 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.
“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.
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.”
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?”
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.
WASHINGTON – Greg Regan, President of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and SMART Mechanical Divisions (SMART-MD) are members, released the following statement in response to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order establishing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), which will delay any freight rail work stoppage or strike for 60 days upon taking effect Monday, July 18th. TTD is the nation’s largest transportation labor federation and represents 37 labor unions, including the 13 rail worker unions involved in the ongoing national contract negotiations:
“We commend President Biden for announcing a board of neutral arbitrators to investigate and report its findings and recommendations to help both parties work toward a resolution.
“After nearly three years of bad faith negotiations by the railroads, it is sad but not surprising that we arrived at this point in the bargaining process governed by the Railway Labor Act.
“Our goal from the beginning of this process has been to deliver a contract that freight rail workers could ratify, particularly as the railroads are raking in their highest-ever profits as workloads and work hours have increased exponentially. Throughout this process, the railroads have never made a contract proposal that these workers could reasonably accept.
“Just as they have failed in their responsibility to provide reasonable freight service for their customers and the American people, the railroads have also failed in their responsibility to their workers in their greedy quest to become modern-day robber barons.
“The reality is that these frontline workers are pandemic heroes who move essential cargo and goods through the supply chain, yet they have not received a pay raise in three years and are risking their personal health and safety every day on the job.
“The time has come for the nation’s railroads to be held accountable for their actions, and reconcile the long-term effects of their greed. The seven Class I railroads have raked in $146 billion in profits since 2015 while cutting 45,000 jobs in the same period.
“Quite simply, the facts are on our side and we look forward to the forthcoming recommendations of the presidentially-appointed arbitrators.”
“In a joint statement in response to the Executive Order, the 13 rail unions stated: ‘The Rail Unions remain united in their efforts, and are now working together in preparation of a unified case representing the best interests of all rail employees before the Presidential Emergency Board. Our unified case will clearly show that the Unions’ proposals are supported by current economic data and are more than warranted when compared to our memberships’ contribution to the record profits of the rail carriers.‘ “
Upon the formation of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), the Railway Labor Act (RLA) imposes a 30-day status quo period during which the Board will receive written submissions and hold hearings, and the parties are not permitted to exercise self-help. The Board would be required to issue its report within 30 days of its appointment. Once the Board issues its report, the RLA mandates another 30-day cooling off period as the unions and the carriers attempt to negotiate an agreement based on the PEB’s recommendations. If no agreement is reached at the end of that last 30-day period, then all restrictions on self-help are removed. Therefore, under the RLA, if a PEB is created and no agreement is reached based on its recommendations, the parties could exercise self-help in mid-September. Congress could take action at this point and mandate the Board’s recommendations or extend the cooling-off period.
The 13 unions involved in the national rail labor contract negotiations are: the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen / Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET); the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); the International Association of Machinists (IAM); the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); the Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU), including TCU’s Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC); and the Transportation Division and Mechanical Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD and SMART-MD, respectively).
Collectively, these Unions represent approximately 140,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise 100% of the workforce who will be impacted by this round of negotiations.
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
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.
“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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On April 20, union attorney Deirdre Hamilton was nominated by the president to serve on the National Mediation Board (NMB), the government body that facilitates labor-management relations in the aviation and rail industries. The 33-member union Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), which represents millions of workers across the aviation, rail and broader transportation sectors and of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, urges the U.S. Senate to quickly confirm her appointment to the board. “Deirdre Hamilton’s qualifications are impeccable, and it is clear she will bring to the NMB professionalism, integrity, and a deep commitment to the mission of the agency,” said Greg Regan, president of TTD. “We applaud the Biden administration for nominating someone with Ms. Hamilton’s depth of knowledge and experience, and who understands the critical role that the NMB plays for aviation and rail workers. We look forward to her swift confirmation by the Senate.” If confirmed, Hamilton will bring more than 20 years of valuable expertise and know-how to the NMB. She has significant experience before the federal courts and the NMB on a wide range of legal issues including union elections, mediation, contract enforcement, and major and minor dispute claims, and has amassed an in-depth knowledge of the Railway Labor Act. Regan further underscored the importance of Hamilton’s appointment to the NMB in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis. “Our nation’s rail and aviation industries support good middle-class jobs that are critical to the economy and the mobility of Americans. These sectors and the jobs they create will be even more important as our country seeks to recover from COVID-19 in the coming months and years,” Regan said. “NMB members have an important role to play in protecting the rights of the frontline workers – a goal that we know Hamilton is committed to.”
Members and leaders of the SMART Transportation Division as well as the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, spelled out why U.S. freight railroads’ obsession with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) increases the danger to the public and railroad workers alike. Journalist Aaron Gordon spoke with TD President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan about degradation in the safety culture of freight railroads because of PSR in an in-depth article published on March 22. “It’s going to end up like Boeing,” President Ferguson warned. Gordon’s article touched upon many topics that our members are unfortunately already well aware of, including: the severe reduction of rail employees which has greatly impacted safe operations, the increase of fatigue associated with the same demanding work but with a reduced work force, the practice of railroads to have inspectors spend less time inspecting cars, the deferral of needed maintenance and potential safety issues being glossed over so that dwell time is not increased. It paints a very realistic and clear picture of how the railroads’ operating ratios and profits have been placed well ahead of safety and all in the name of PSR. But by questing for those increased returns on Wall Street, the lessons learned from past operational mistakes could conceivably end up costing railroads in the long run, subjects interviewed in the article say. This article is essential reading, and it can be found on the VICE website.
Washington, D.C. – Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger were unanimously elected today as President and Secretary-Treasurer, respectively, of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), by the organization’s Executive Committee. The SMART Transportation Division is a member of the TTD. Regan started at TTD as a legislative representative in 2011, was elected secretary-treasurer in 2017, and subsequently re-elected to that role this past March. Semelsberger began her career with TTD in 1999, and for the past decade has served as the office administrator, overseeing much of TTD’s operations. Their election, held virtually, follows the tragic and untimely death of former TTD President Larry Willis who, over a 20-year career, helped establish TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system. A memorial video was produced by TTD to honor Willis. “Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who build, operate, and maintain our transportation system. He helped shape many of the policies frontline workers benefit from today, including due process and labor protections that are now standard in federally funded infrastructure projects,” Regan said. “I am committed to carrying forward the work Larry started, and will fight to improve the lives of transportation workers. Along with our unions, I am eager to help steer transportation workers through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and look forward to working with the Biden administration to build back better once the pandemic is behind us.” Transportation union leaders also unveiled the Larry Willis Leadership Award, which will be given annually to a public servant or community leader who demonstrates commitment, dedication, and advocacy on behalf of transportation workers. “Millions of people have had their lives improved because of Larry’s work. We see it today in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached, the colleagues and staff he mentored and inspired, and the working people he dedicated his life to,” Semelsberger said. “The Larry Willis Leadership Award will ensure this legacy lives on by recognizing those who exemplify the work ethic, passion, and mission-driven focus that Larry brought to TTD every day.” TTD’s Executive Committee also discussed their priorities — including federally mandated COVID-19 workplace protections, emergency transportation funding, and long-term infrastructure investment — with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “We have an enormous opportunity in this critical moment to deliver for the American people,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation will play a critical role in this by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision: revitalizing communities that have been left behind, tackling the climate crisis, and enabling American small businesses, workers and families to compete and win in the global economy. In all of this work, labor will be a key partner in our efforts to build a modern infrastructure that creates good union jobs.”