Willis Croonquist, of Local 1177 (Willmar, Minn.), a former United Transportation Union Minnesota state legislative director and alternate national legislative director in the 1980s and ’90s, died Jan. 24. He was 81. Croonquist had been a member of the union since 1955, and served as a guiding light to many on the legislative side of the union, including current National Legislative Director John Risch. “Over the years, Willis was much more than a union brother,” said John Risch, national legislative director for SMART TD. “He was my mentor and a dear friend. He was well-liked and was well respected, which is what made him a very effective Minnesota legislative director and UTU alternate national legislative director.” Risch continued, “Willis was always fun to be with. He knew how to have a good time and when I was with him I had a good time, too. He will be missed … I miss him already.” Past UTU President Thomas DuBose offered his personal condolences in a message to Croonquist’s family: “Please know that the death of my longtime friend Willis was received with shock and much sadness,” DuBose wrote. “Our years of friendship will always be an important entry in my book of memories. “Without question, the American labor movement lost a leading trade unionist and political activist in every sense of the word, with his passing.”
Croonquist’s career was steeped in politics. Not only did he work on the UTU’s legislative side, but he was also a Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party national delegate and counted U.S. Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale among his friends. In an article published in September 2000 in the UTU News, Croonquist talked about how Humphrey inspired him politically. “I was a young brakeman when I first heard Humphrey speak,” he said, “and he lit a fire under me.” Croonquist began his career as a fireman on the Great Northern in 1955, and joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen. Just short of the requisite 10 years of seniority to become an engineer, a movement to eliminate firemen resulted in Croonquist becoming a brakeman and a member of the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen. Elected local legislative representative in 1968, he found his way onto the state legislative board, and in 1984 became state legislative director, a post he held for nine years. In 1991, he was elected UTU assistant national legislative director but resigned in 1993 when the railroad offered a buyout and the Designated Legal Counsel law firm Hunegs, Stone, LeNeave, Kvas & Thornton, sought his expertise as an investigator. After leaving the railroad, Croonquist still maintained his contributions to the union’s political action committee. In 2011, he appeared with family members in an ad promoting UTUIA products that appeared in the UTU News in 2011. He also was honored by Local 1177 for his then-55 years of continuous membership with a brass lantern presented at a meeting of his home local in December 2010. “He was known by many in the government affairs, philanthropic and religious community and loved by all who spent time with him,” said Minnesota State Legislative Director Philip Qualy. “For our 1,200 members and many retirees across Minnesota, I offer my sincere condolences to the Croonquist family.” Carl Cochran, a former Florida state legislative director and the national coordinator of the SMART TD Alumni Association, worked with Croonquist and offered condolences as well. “What is sad is that not all our sisters and brothers were able to get to know Brother Croonquist — a great union person and family man,” Cochran said. Visitation is scheduled 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, with services 11 a.m., Monday, Feb. 11, at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, 15600 Old Rockford Road, Plymouth, Minn.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Board has proudly announced today its endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s campaign for governor of Minnesota. “Congressman Walz’s work with our union since 2006 for railroad safety and service distinguishes his efforts in the 2018 election cycle,” said SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “Since serving as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads with former Congressman James Oberstar, Tim Walz has always had an open door for railroad labor.” Walz has cosponsored multiple versions of SMART TD’s key legislative priority The Safe Freight Act that requires a certified conductor and certified engineer on all trains, authored bipartisan energy legislation and holds a strong reputation in Congress for working in a bipartisan manner across party lines, Qualy said. “Tim Walz is a friend of railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “Our state committee believes that having worked in Washington, he brings a wealth of knowledge home and can bring needed resources to our state. As our next governor, Tim Walz’s common-sense values, pragmatism and enthusiasm will serve Minnesotans well.” Prior to joining Congress in 2007 and representing Minnesota’s First District, Walz was a high school teacher for 20 years in Mankato Minn., where he coached Mankato West to the state football championship. An avid outdoor sportsman, Walz also served in the National Guard, where he achieved the highest enlisted rank of any member in Congress who served in the Guard. “Among some very good candidates for governor, Tim Walz has earned strong support from railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “The Minnesota 2018 elections are crucial to the future of railroad labor and our state.” In addition to Walz, SMART TD’s Railroad Workers Committee also screened gubernatorial candidates Erin Murphy and state Auditor Rebecca Otto May 18th in St. Paul. Qualy said all received “excellent” ratings from the committee. “We look forward to a positive and productive working relationship with Tim Walz in the Minnesota Governor’s Office” said Qualy. “I encourage all of our SMART TD members to get involved with your Local, be sure you are registered to vote, and vote for your job and your pension first this November. Minnesota’s working families must unite this fall to keep this state a great place to live and work,” he said. To read a PDF of the Minnesota State Legislative Board’s letter endorsing Walz, follow this link.
The SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Board, Local 1000 at Minneapolis, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have partnered together to offer Minnesota railroaders HAZMAT training. The class is being held Friday, June 3, 2016, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Board office, United Labor Centre, 312 Central Avenue SE, Room 217, Minneapolis, MN 55414. There is a $175.00 stipend for attendees. Lunch will be provided by the legislative board. The class is limited to the first 30 railroad workers. Click here to register.
The Minnesota Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Judiciary have approved legislation requiring two qualified train-crew personnel on all trains in the state with bipartisan support.
Senate File 918 is now before the full Minnesota Senate.
“The policy language is very narrow to assure that we can prevail under any test of federal pre-emption from the carriers,” said SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “We are emphasizing public safety as we must because that is what this is about. We have set forth that Amtrak and passenger rail operations are included under this legislation.”
“In event any train should run with one person, the second and subsequent fine is for $1,000 for each train.”
In his testimony before the Committee on Judiciary March 19, Qualy said, “Railroads have two persons on all trains. Our S.F. 918 poses no undue burden on commerce. Regarding grade crossing emergency response, for the railroad workers of Minnesota, I submit that we simply cannot leave injured persons lying unattended in the ditches of Minnesota.” Read Qualy’s complete testimony here.
Unfortunately, Qualy said, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far refused to hear companion legislation House File 1166, to date.
“We are sending a letter of appeal to the Republican leadership with the amended Senate language that originated from bipartisan Senate recommendations,” he said.
“We’ve had a good week thus far, but we are far, far away from passing this state legislation into law. The Minnesota Legislative Board thanks all of our members who attended the hearings this week. We also want to thank our good friend, Mr. Larry Mann, who assisted the board and testified in support of this important legislation.”
“The board thanks Minnesota Assistant State Legislative Director Nicholas Katich (1067), Designated Legal Counsel Cortney LeNeave and Ron Barzcak, Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, and most importantly, State Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-Dist. 45), who authored and sponsored this legislation.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports that House File 3172, the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill containing the Minnesota Railroad Yard Lighting Bill, has been passed and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.
“The men and women in Minnesota and around the country that work in yard-switching operations should be able to see where they are walking. This is a great step forward and will become a model for many other states’ consideration,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said.
Added Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem: “Phil Qualy and our Minnesota Legislative Board understand the needs of railroad workers. Congratulations to them on their great work on behalf of their members.”
“The legislative board would be remiss if we did not report to our membership that from the carrier’s testimony before the legislature, it is difficult not to conclude that while the railroads want to talk about safety, they do not want you to have yard lighting,” Qualy said. “We will see how the carriers react to enactment of the Railroad Yard Lighting law. Their actions will reveal management priorities and how corporate financial budgeting will be targeted.”
In summary, the new law puts in place the following provisions:
1.) Sets the AREMA (American Railway Engineering Maintenance of Way Association) policy as a minimum standard and guideline for future lighting of rail yards;
2.) Sets a maintenance standard that malfunctioning lighting must be repaired to Minnesota Electrical Code within 48 hours of first report to the carrier;
3.) Sets forth that annual reports from railroad carriers and railroad labor shall be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Transportation Freight Rail Office by Jan. 15. If there is any discrepancy between carrier and labor reports, MnDOT shall investigate and report the areas in question to the legislature, including what will be necessary to bring yards to the AREMA standard.
4.) Sets a standard for lighting review at locations where cars or locomotives are switched or inspected, or where trains are assembled or disassembled frequently.
5.) Prescribes that at any yard where hazardous material cars are switched, inspected, picked-up or set-out frequently, or 25 hazmat tank cars are placed in trains frequently, or any yard within two miles of a major refinery where hazmat is placed in a train, the yards must be lighted to the AREMA standard by Dec. 31, 2015.
“We can work with this state law,” Qualy said. “This should get our railroad yards in Minnesota lighted going forward in this decade. We deferred to the wisdom of the Minnesota Legislature and railroad labor has prevailed.”
Also contained in H.F. 3172 are statutes naming rail labor as participants in hazmat planning and training, the creation of three positions for MnDOT safety inspectors, and the “Minnesota Oil Spill Defense Act,” that will ensure public first responders are trained and equipped with fire and disaster equipment. MnDOT will also invest resources for grade-crossing improvements along high-density hazmat corridors.
Finally, H.F. 3172 appropriates transportation funding that has been traditionally spent on short-line rehabilitation projects to Class I railroad projects that will divert hazardous material away from population centers in western Minnesota.
House File 2881, the Railroad Crew Van provision, has also been signed into law and will strengthen our current crew-van statutes, Qualy said.
“With our second Railroad Crew Van law passed in Minnesota in four years, H.F. 2881 will raise standards for driver qualifications, carrier reporting of total hours of service, vehicle equipment standards and vehicle inspection requirements,” Qualy said. “We maintain our $5-million liability and $1-million uninsured and underinsured motorist provisions.”
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers’ Minnesota Legislative Director Dave Brown had been the primary advocate for H.F. 2881 – the Crew Van law. “It was good to work the BLET Director Brown as we remained focused on passage of these laws to the final day of the 2014 session. On behalf of our membership, I also want to thank Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, who was instrumental in finding a compromise for our yard-lighting legislation with an entrenched, obstinate, railroad lobby,” Qualy said.
The SMART TD Minnesota Legislative Board also, on the last day of the legislative session, worked with State Rep. Jason Metsa on the introduction of House File 3394, which would increase fines on carriers that intentionally block grade crossings. Qualy said train crews have reported that CN Railway train dispatchers continue to order train crews to not cut or open grade crossings. “Hopefully, they will discontinue these illegal directives,” Qualy added.
“The Minnesota Legislative Board extends its appreciation to all SMART-TD officers who testified before the legislature, our SMART TD National Legislative Office, SMART TD’s Iowa and North Dakota Legislative Boards, the officers of our BNSF, CN, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific general committees of adjustment, our political consultant Dean Mitchell of DFM Group, and our SMART TD designated legal counsel – along with Larry Mann – all of whom really stepped-up to assist us in these efforts. We are also grateful to all of our members who made telephone calls to assist in this effort.
“As SMART Transportation Division-represented employees, we are also Minnesotans first,” Qualy added. “With the close of this two-year legislative cycle, our SMART TD and Minnesota AFL-CIO Working Family Agenda has moved the safety and security of our membership forward in a positive and productive manner. Our state of Minnesota is doing well and we look forward to the election season with optimism.
“Please contribute to your Minnesota UTU PAC. Your political voice is an essential investment in your future. Each member’s small contribution makes one large voice for transportation labor. UTU PAC does not cost, it pays.”
The individuals above attended legislative hearings for, testified about, or worked in support of the passage of H.F. 3172, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy said. They are, from left, retired former Assistant State Legislative Director Dan Paradise (1614), Local President George Armstrong (650), Local Chairperson Randy Raskin (650), Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, Qualy, Local Legislative Rep. Wayne Newton (1000) and Local Legislative Rep. Matt LaBine (650). (Not pictured are member Mike Heffernan (650) and Political Consultant Dean Mitchell, DFM Research Group).
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday (Feb. 6) proposed initiatives to enhance railroad safety on the same day that rail workers protested Canadian Pacific’s safety practices by picketing its U.S. headquarters in Minneapolis. The governor announced through his press secretary that he will urge legislative leaders to hold hearings on the United Transportation Union’s reports of deteriorating safety conditions at Canadian Pacific – allegations the company flatly denied. Read the complete story at the Star Tribune.
The SMART Transportation Division’s Minnesota State Legislative Board is sponsoring an open house June 17 for all active and retired members from all carrier properties.
This free educational experience will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Roseville Radisson Hotel at 2540 N. Cleveland Ave. in Roseville, Minn., State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports.
UTUIA Field Supervisor Ron Tokach will be available to review your insurance needs and update any policies you may currently hold and UTU designated legal counsel will be present to provide legal services updates.
Qualy will be available to discuss a variety of issues and will be ready to assist anyone wishing to contribute to the UTU PAC fund. All members signing new PAC pledges will be eligible for a July 4 UTU PAC gift raffle.
Retired members who are not already UTU Alumni Association members can enroll in the program and also enjoy video archives of UTU labor actions over the past 30 years.
Free food and beverages will be available throughout the day. All members who are not working on that day are encouraged to attend.
Print this flyer for display at your current crew location.