As the expression goes, “There is strength in numbers.” That being said, our union’s about to get stronger.

Through the efforts of SMART-TD’s Michigan State Legislative Director Don Roach and TD Organizer Nick Greficz (GO 687 in Detroit, Mich.), our union has organized the operating personnel of Lake State Railway Company (LSRC) in Saginaw, Mich.

In this photo courtesy of LSRC employee & future member Tom Scott, a Lake State Railway train operates in Michigan.

In an effort that began in 2020, brothers Roach and Greficz had their goal realized in July when our newest brothers and sisters voted to certify and become a SMART-TD local under GO 049.

At the time of the certification vote, there were 39 LSRC employees eligible to become members of the union; however, as a testament to our new members’ work, LSRC has been expanding its customer base and has been hiring more operating crew. By the time their local is officially part of the union, they estimate that they will have membership in the mid-50s with plans on further expansion.

These new members service rail customers ranging from Wixom, Mich., as far north as Gaylord, Mich., and east to Port Huron. They serve a wide range of industries in their territory. The operation is based in Saginaw, the site of LSRC’s largest yard and hub of operations. In addition to Saginaw, LSRC has yards in Flint, Wixom, Midland, Bay City, Pinconning, Tawas, Alpena, Grayling and Gaylord.

In speaking with SLD Roach, he wanted it to be known that SMART-TD is the only union representing the employees of this short line and will be representing trainmen in all crafts. He said, “It took a few years, but we finally got it done. Organizer Nick Greficz deserves much of the credit. He was the boots on the ground, and we couldn’t have pulled this off without him.”

SLD Roach began his career with the railroad working this line as an engineer for CSXT prior to the Class I leasing the track rights to LSRC. When LSRC took over this line and serviced his old territory as a non-union shop, he took it personally.

“It’s infuriating when Class I railroads lease these tracks to non-union railroads. It makes it personal for me. To see our former members working without the benefits of a union contract is unacceptable. I want to thank the LSRC employees for reaching out to SMART and voicing their concerns.” Roach said.

In the case of LSRC employees organizing into SMART-TD, Director Roach’s personal victory has become a victory for our organization.

Legislators in Michigan introduced bills Dec. 2 in both the state House and Senate intended to keep freight rail operations on the state’s more than 3,600 miles of track running safely and efficiently.

H.B. 5596 and S.B. 767 require a crew of at least two qualified people in the operating locomotive of trains transporting cargo and hazardous materials in the state for public safety.

“It is vitally important to maintain the presence of two crew members in the locomotive,” said Don Roach, SMART Transportation Division Michigan state legislative director. “Despite any advances in technology, there is a safety factor called ‘the Rule of 2’ on the railroad. You have the engineer and the conductor in the cab, just like how airplanes have pilots and co-pilots. Right now, that’s being threatened by rail carriers who are looking to reduce costs and keep their profits high.”

“Each crew member has responsibilities and simultaneously performs duties in providing safe and efficient operation necessary with the longer trains railroads have been running. The crew members aboard are the first responders to a grade crossing collision, derailment or other emergency situation, and their reactions can mean the difference between life and death or a minor incident and a catastrophe.”

One real-life incident last year in the state drives the point home very well.

While a two-person crew of the conductor and engineer is the standard operating procedure on most freight traffic in the nation, a three-person crew, including two SMART-TD members out of Local 1709 in Pontiac, found themselves in the position where they saved a man’s life in November 2020 by applying a tourniquet after a moped rider’s legs amputated in a grade crossing accident.

This situation and many others that railroaders in Michigan encounter during the course of doing their jobs will be part of a campaign to raise awareness among the public and legislators about the necessity of keeping the standard of two people aboard, Roach said.

“The public safety of our communities is non-negotiable, and this legislation will help prevent potential accidents or derailments. The citizens of Michigan deserve to feel safer with two crew members in the cab in the trains that roll through their communities, day and night.

“The Rule of 2 matters and saves lives. A crew of two is safer for you,” Roach said.

Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Dist. 50) introduced H.B. 5596, which was co-sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Dist. 101) and:

  • Rep. John Cherry (D-Dist. 49)
  • Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Dist. 26)
  • Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Dist. 23)
  • Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Dist. 21)
  • Rep. Tullio Liberati (D-Dist. 13)
  • Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Dist. 92)
  • Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Dist. 53)
  • Rep. Lori Stone (D-Dist. 28)
  • Rep. Cara Clemente (D-Dist. 14)
  • Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Dist. 29)

The Senate bill was introduced concurrently by primary sponsor Sen. Erika Geiss (D.-Dist. 6).

Read the House bill.
Read the Senate bill.

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Deputy Administrator Amit Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden to become administrator of FRA was advanced Oct. 20 by the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Along with Bose, the nomination of Meera Joshi to be administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also was advanced to the full U.S. Senate by a 22-6 committee vote. A timetable for the full Senate to consider Bose’s and Joshi’s nominations has not yet been set.
In related news, Bose was a passenger Oct. 13 aboard the Amtrak Wolverine route from Chicago to Detroit with three SMART Transportation Division state legislative directors and also appeared at a news conference at Chicago’s Union Station as the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) unveiled its 40-year Midwest Regional Rail plan.
“Looking all the way through 2055, the plan addresses key corridor and investment priorities, potential funding strategies, and necessary governance structures identified by the states working with MIPRC,” Bose said. “While America’s interstate highway system and commercial aviation industry are vital and indispensable, rail can and does play a key role in our multi-modal transportation system,” Bose said. “Nowhere is that more evident than Chicago, the nation’s rail hub.”
SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, chairman of the commission, as well as Michigan SLD Donald Roach and Minnesota SLD Nick Katich, all spent time with Bose during the trip before MIPRC began its three-day-long meeting.
“It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Deputy Administrator Amit Bose while he was in Chicago and on the train to Detroit as part of the MIPRC annual meeting,” Guy said. “It’s clear that he is very aware of our serious concerns and frustrations with the previous FRA hierarchy, but his openness, communication and availability to our members and our leadership are a testament to his priorities and provides a glimpse into how he values SMART-TD’s input on issues affecting our members.”
Bose also was a guest on the SMART-TD National Legislative Office’s monthly Zoom call Oct. 11 where he discussed concerns brought up by both national and state officers.
A full recap of the wide-ranging discussion that Deputy Administrator Bose had with SMART-TD officers will be published in the next edition of the SMART-TD News.