WASHINGTON – SMART Transportation Division organized rallies in multiple locations Dec. 13 to bring attention to rail-related issues, including maintaining the current safe level of a minimum two-person crew in the cabs of locomotives, paid sick leave for workers and an end to the carriers’ Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) scheme.

A solidarity rally took place at Capitol Hill days after the Dec. 2 federal imposition of a national rail contract on the SMART-TD and three other unions, drawing support from the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, multiple unions from inside and apart from the rail industry, a bipartisan contingent of U.S. representatives and senators and others.

“Every single day in this nation, a life is saved because of the actions of a two-person crew. When a train whistle is blown and a kid gets out of the way – that is a life that is saved in a moment. But you never hear about it because the railroads are not required to report it,” SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity told the crowd of supporters at Capitol Hill. “PSR is a deadly animal to this entire nation. Public safety is under threat because of cuts for profit that the railroads are trying to make. They want to keep cutting. They want to keep taking crew members off trains — they’re going to do whatever they can do to keep making another dollar. We have got to put an end to it, but the only way we do that is that we all fight together and keep going.

“Keep talking to your brothers and sisters. Let them know that the fight continues — the only way that we win this battle is if everybody is out, everybody is fighting and everybody is loud and everybody is doing their part to make sure our job, our union, our solidarity is being fought for. You’ve got to be the leader at home. You’ve got to let your people know that the time is here, the time is now. We’re all in this fight together.

“When we leave here today, do not go home and think that you did your part. You have not done enough yet. We have not done enough yet. No one has done enough yet,” Cassity said. “We will get strong. We will get louder. We have got to continue.”

The rally at the Capitol was one of a series that took place in multiple states, including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah and Wyoming.

“These reforms aren’t going to happen on their own. We’re going to keep pushing to make them happen so we can deliver for railroad workers. At a minimum, every single railroad worker deserves paid sick leave and the guarantee of a two-person crew. These reforms will create a safer and better freight system for everyone,” said TTD President Greg Regan, who introduced a number of the speakers from Congress.

While Congress stopped a nationwide rail strike by imposing a contract on workers earlier this month, the devastating workplace conditions perpetuated by major rail corporations continue to prevail.

More than a dozen members of Congress addressed the rally, including: U.S. Reps. Donald Payne (D-N.J., Dist.10), Andy Levin (D-Mich., Dist. 9), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa., Dist. 1), Don Bacon (R-Neb., Dist. 2), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y., Dist. 16), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill., Dist. 4), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y., Dist. 14), John Garamendi (D-Calif., Dist. 3), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J., Dist. 12), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash., Dist. 7), Cori Bush (D-Mo., Dist. 1), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif., Dist. 34), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich., Dist. 13) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn., Dist. 5) and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at the Capitol Hill labor solidarity rally on Dec. 13.

“What you have shown the country is how outrageous this level of corporate greed is and how we have it in the rail industry and in other industries across this country,” said Sanders. “Tell the people that own this country that we are going to put an end to their greed.”

Sanders railed at the carriers’ refusal to meet workers’ demands for paid sick leave in the industry during the contract negotiations that concluded with the federal government imposing a contract on a majority of rail workers.

“The truth of the matter is, that if we had any justice in this country, we wouldn’t have to make that demand because this country would do what virtually every other major country on Earth does and guarantee paid family and medical leave.”

He also told workers that PSR will be in Congress’s crosshairs:

“You guys now have to do more with less. That’s their ideology — how do we work people to the bone so we can make $20 million a year? And that is why we have to put an end to Precision Scheduled Railroading,” Sanders said. “We’re going to bring not only the rail unions together, we’re going to bring the workers together to bring the justice that is long overdue.”

The D.C. rally was streamed live by the Rails, Tails and Trails podcast.

The rallies coincided with a hearing led by the Surface Transportation Board to examine Union Pacific’s service performance failures that have harmed the supply chain and preceded the public hearing before the Federal Railroad Administration regarding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding two-person freight crews.


Colorado

Members of SMART-TD rally at the overpass above BNSF’s Denver roundhouse and yards Dec. 13. (Photo courtesy Colorado SLD Carl Smith.)
Union members mobilize before their rally.
Members hold a banner at their rally Dec. 13.


Illinois

Members rally in the rain in Galesburg, Ill.

TSPR coverage of the event
WQAD


Michigan

Workers and supporters at a rally in Royal Oak, Mich.

WXYZ coverage


Minnesota

Northern News Now

Duluth News Tribune


Nevada

Nevada Globe

This is Reno

2 News


New Mexico


Ohio

Labor supporters rallied outside the Ohio statehouse on Dec. 13.

Wyoming

People turning out in Cheyenne in 15-degree temperatures with 25+mph winds and a -22-degree wind chill. “Huge shout out to Tammy Johnson, Wyoming AFL-CIO Executive Secretary, who helped me and did so much of the organizing,” said Wyoming SLD April Ford.

K2 Radio

The CEO of the National Association of Chemical Distributors seems to understand how to fix the railroads better than the carriers do.

Supply Chain Dive published an opinion article Oct. 17 by Eric R. Byer, who leads the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), in which he laid out some basic blueprints to rebuilding the American railroad industry.

NACD’s Eric Byer

Written from the perspective of heavily rail-dependent customers, Byer does a great job of laying out an overhead shot of the current state of the rail industry, and then poses the question, “Why are we in this predicament?”

Refreshingly, his answer is, “Because the freight rail companies put us here.”

As his column puts it, the root of the labor dispute and poor service to the customers spawn from the same source. The advent and spread of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has enticed carriers to indulge in a buffet of greed and railroad labor, the nation’s supply chain and the railroads’ captive customers are paying the price for carriers’ short-sighted indiscretions.

The article points out another victim of the carrier’s overreach may well turn out to be the American economy. As Byer points out and as the Association of American Railroads put out to the media back in September, a rail labor stoppage will cost the country $2 billion daily

From the perspective of the rail customers, Byer points out the obvious. The fact is that manpower issues on the railroad are making it difficult for rail-dependent companies to function, meet supply deadlines and be profitable. This is not a new thought, but Byer’s angle on how to address the problem is very different from the traditional one taken by railroad executives. 

Byer thinks the solution is to add more horses to the plow team rather than giving the farmer more whips. That is to say, creating a satisfied, fully staffed and not habitually broken workforce is a better fix than squeezing every minute carriers can legally get out those who are still working for them. 

He also discusses that, in addition to PSR, quality-of-life concerns led to the manpower shortage. He references the fact that our members are highly skilled professionals with extensive training who are subject to working standards that don’t meet the criteria of unskilled full-time workers.

It is good to know that there’s at least one CEO out there in Byer who can connect the dots between what he calls a “woefully inadequate” sick leave policy for workers, and American products not reaching the market, the subject of Surface Transportation Board and U.S. House hearings earlier this year.

Read Byer’s open column on supplychaindive.com

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.


Video recap of the damning testimony on rail carrier policies.

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’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

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.

Brother Burkart’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

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.”

Brother Groat’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

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?”

Brother Bond’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

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.

Members of the SMART Transportation Division and other unionized rail workers came together for a day of protest May 10 outside the North American Rail Shippers (NARS) annual meeting.

Early in the day, SMART TD Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, New Mexico State Legislative Director Don Gallegos, TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller and many other union members, spouses and supporters spent hours outside and around the Kansas City Marriott Downtown in Kansas City, Mo., to draw attention to Class I carriers’ Precision Scheduled Railroading scheme, BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” attendance policy and the fact that National Rail Contract negotiations are approaching a third year.

“We had people joining in just walking by, people honking showing support as they drove by,” Dragoo said. “We had people from many different Class 1 railroads there, not just BNSF.”

Some of the protesters outside the North American Rail Shipper conference hold signs May 10 in Kansas City. (Photo courtesy Kansas SLD Ty Dragoo)

Dragoo thanked many of the lead organizers of the event, including SMART-TD National Safety Team Alternate Director — East and Kansas State Legislative Secretary Dan Bonawitz (Local 1409, Kansas City, Kan.), Kansas State Alternate Legislative Secretary Mike Scheerer (Local 94, Kansas City, Kan.), Legislative Representative Tim Alexander (Local 1532, Kansas City, Kan.) and Local 1532 Trustee Matt Collins, as well as 1532 member Jason Bluett and member Rodney Sparks of Local 5 (Kansas City, Mo.).

“Dan Bonawitz and his team have done a tremendous job getting the word out. These events are crucial as we wage the war of public opinion in legislatures across the country and congress,” Dragoo said. “Citizens need to know that their communities are in danger not only by reducing crews from a public safety standpoint, but the economic impact that has on communities when good union jobs leave. We will keep the fight up and we won’t back down!”

The demonstration outside the NARS gathering, which was attended by C-suite-level executives from many of the Class I freight railroads, was not the only coordinated demonstration that has taken place.

More than 100 people took part in informational pickets in Guernsey and Gillette, Wyo., Local 465 Chairman Kevin Knutson told the Platte County Record Times.

“The goal of this informational picket was to raise awareness with the public of the BNSF Railway policies that are not only degrading our workforce and harming our families but directly impacting our communities and increasing the cost of goods for all Americans,” he told newspaper reporter Mark DeLap. “The informational picket was also an effort to spotlight how BNSF Railway is directly at fault for the regressive policies causing these hardships.

“We, as families, friends, employees and retirees, have never experienced such an antagonistic approach to a workforce and their employees before,” Knutson said.

SMART TD Local 445 was in attendance at the May 15 rally in Ft. Madison Iowa.

A protest coordinated by TD officers, the SMART TD Auxiliary and other rail labor groups also occurred April 30 at BNSF parent company Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting.

Another rally was hosted by the Lee County Labor Chapter on Sunday, May 15 in Ft. Madison, Iowa. Dozens showed up at the informational protest and a news crew from ABC-affiliate WQAD8 was on hand to interview the protestors about their dissatisfaction with the Class I carriers.

There are two more informational protests scheduled in the greater Chicago area on May 25 and 26.

The first protest will be at the CN Glass Palace on Wednesday, May 25 at 5:30 a.m. Those attending should meet up on the corner of Ashland Ave. and Maple Rd.; or 1657 Maple Rd., Homewood, IL 60430. For more information see the first picture at the end of this post.

The second protest will be Thursday, May 26 at 5:30 a.m. at the Union Pacific Proviso Yard at 5050 W. Lake St., Melrose Park, IL 60160. For more information, see the second picture below.

Additional events will continue to be organized at all levels in order to inform the public and other groups about the concerns of rail workers.



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

A DAY IN HONOR OF RAILROAD WORKERS.

Amit Bose

Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose last week addressed a shippers’ conference and said that part of his agency’s rationale in approaching a minimum crew size rulemaking will be taking into consideration the carriers’ use of longer trains, Trains Magazine reported April 8.

“We think having a consistent standard for crew size across the country benefits the rail industry, benefits safety, and gives certainty on the regulatory environment when it comes to train safety,” Bose told the North East Association of Rail Shippers. “Also, coupled with that, don’t forget: The trains are running longer. The length of trains is growing.”

In 2014, FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on a minimum size for freight rail crews. Public comment was sought, thousands of Americans responded, including fire chiefs, police chiefs and emergency responders, with the vast majority of those submitted in favor of establishing a standard of at least a certified conductor and certified engineer present in the cab.

However, the NPRM was shelved by the Trump administration and former rail CEO Ron Batory in May 2019, who argued that there was no safety data to support the rule and tried to wipe out legislation passed by nine states that had ensured safe rail operations by establishing minimum freight crew sizes of two on a crew. Batory’s overreach was later struck down by a federal appeals court, and the NPRM was returned to FRA for consideration.

The agency has not relaunched the NPRM process for the minimum freight crew size rule, but when it does, Bose says FRA will be actively seeking comments from labor, the public and the carriers.

Read the full article from Trains Magazine.

Class I railroad officials have a two-day-long hearing before the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to prepare for later this month.

Reports from shippers to STB regarding poor service — the latest being a letter directly from the National Grain and Feed Association, a group representing more than 8,000 facilities — as well as a letter from Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson regarding precision scheduled railroading (PSR) and the self-inflicted worker shortages that have come with it have led up to the April 26 and 27 hearing.

The board, an independent and bipartisan federal agency charged with the economic regulation of various modes of surface transportation, primarily freight rail, announced the meeting April 7 in the light of indications of poor performance data.

“Rail network reliability is essential to the Nation’s economy and is a foremost priority of the Board. In recent weeks, the Board has heard informally from a broad range of stakeholders about inconsistent and unreliable rail service. The Board has also received reports from the Secretary of Agriculture and other stakeholders about the serious impact of these service trends on rail users, particularly with respect to shippers of agricultural and energy products. These reports have been validated by the Board’s weekly rail service performance data.”

Board Chairman Martin Oberman went into additional detail about how job cuts in particular have hampered the carriers.

“I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers.  Part of that strategy has involved cutting their work force to the bare bones in order to reduce costs,” he said. “Over the last six years, the Class Is collectively have reduced their work force by 29% – that is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls.

“In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees.”

Carriers summoned to appear include BNSF Railway Company, CSX Transportation, Inc., Norfolk Southern Railway Company, and Union Pacific Railroad Company. Executive-level officials from the other three Class Is also were invited to attend, as were labor organizations and shippers.

The hearing will take place at the Board’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., with each session beginning at 9:30 a.m.

CLEVELAND (April 6) — Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take action on a 2008 Congressional mandate to address rail worker fatigue at Class I carriers, with a specific reference to attendance policies such as those imposed at CSX, Union Pacific, and BNSF.

In an April 6 joint letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, along with Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, remind the FRA Administrator of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which established a law requiring railroads to implement fatigue management and reduction plans.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio

“The Congressional mandate to mitigate fatigue among crewmembers and other safety-related workers is now a decade late,” Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne wrote. “Crewmembers and other craft workers have raised their concerns about being excessively exhausted at work, which is worsened by PSR. These workers cannot wait any longer, and neither can the communities through which trains travel. To mitigate attendance policies that contribute to fatigue and help ensure all safety-related workers are rested and prepared to do the job safely, we respectfully urge your agency to issue the fatigue risk management program final rule without delay, require its swift implementation, and meaningfully enforce it to ensure that the 2008 bipartisan Congressional mandate is met.”

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.

In the letter, Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne lay the cause of fatigue at the feet of the nation’s Class I railroads. The industry’s self-inflicted problems, such as inaccurate train lineups and the implementation of harsh attendance policies, contribute greatly to rail worker fatigue.

“We believe that attendance policies that not only contribute to fatigue but also penalize workers for taking off when fatigued or ill simply cannot co-exist with any serious fatigue risk management program,” the Representatives wrote. “Rather, these policies could incentivize employees to show up to work fatigued in order to avoid reprimand or termination. They also ignore the unfortunate reality that crewmembers already have unpredictable and unreliable schedules, which makes this line of work difficult for many, even before policies that further restrict their lives and abilities to obtain proper rest.”

Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne are also highly critical of the industry’s implementation of the so-called precision scheduled railroading (PSR) business operating model.

“Class I carriers have substantially reduced the size of their workforces since implementing precision scheduled railroading (PSR) at the behest of Wall Street investors. Unions representing railroad workers and individual workers have sounded the alarm on rail worker fatigue, which they believe is worsened by the deployment of PSR and the resulting push to do more work with nearly one-third fewer people on the job.”

Leaders of the nation’s two largest railroad unions, which represent the nation’s train operating crews, applauded the April 6 letter.

“We want to make it clear that we are fighting attendance policies at all Class I carriers. Fatigue has long been a problem at CSX, UP, BNSF, NS and other rail carriers, but it has been made much worse because of extreme job cuts resulting from the implementation of PSR coupled with the industry’s determination to force harsh attendance policies upon the remaining workforce,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce. “SMART-TD and the BLET have also put the issue on the table in our national negotiations, currently in mediation, demanding that all imposed attendance policies be rescinded with negotiated attendance contract rules to take their place. On behalf of our members, we thank Representative DeFazio and Representative Payne for shining a light on this pressing issue in our industry and being vocal leaders for rail worker safety.”

Read the representatives’ letter (PDF)

###

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 (April 6, 2022) — The nation’s two largest railroad unions continue to gather allies and momentum as they oppose the imposition of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) tactics by Class I carriers that put safety and the health and lives of working people at risk.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, President of the Air Line Pilots Association Capt. Joe DePete and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce meet April 4 at the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Committee session in Washington, D.C.

At the April 4 Executive Committee meeting of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (AFL-CIO TTD), a pair of airline unions pledged to support rail labor in the fight against unfair PSR-related practices such as BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” attendance policy, which requires rail workers to be available to work 29 of 30 days or risk being penalized. Additionally, the AFL-CIO TTD adopted language in its legislative agenda that encourages railroads to work together with rail labor to reconsider overly punitive attendance policies.

Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, pledged to support rail labor in opposing egregious attendance policies. The airline union leaders also vowed to stand by rail labor in the current round of national contract negotiations. Railroad and airline unions are governed by the Railway Labor Act.

Despite record fiscal returns in 2021 and lip service on the part of Class I carriers showing appreciation for the “essential” job that rail workers performed to move goods and services 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the railroads have chosen to not treat their employees with dignity and fairness during negotiations.

“Supply-chain issues were highlighted in the news at the end of 2021, but the shelves were stocked. It’s not thanks to PSR — that’s resulted in the rail industry doing less with less while making more profit,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce stated. “Employees’ rewards for their work through COVID-19 are that they are being subjected to degrading attendance policies at the expense of their health and family lives.

“These carriers have cut past the bone and are well through the marrow. Now they are scrambling to get people to run their trains,” the presidents said. “What is the incentive for our members who do not have scheduled time off — instead only hours when they cannot be called back into work? What’s the incentive for our members who get punished when life events happen? Thus far our members have been the recipients of nothing but insulting offers at the bargaining table.”

These practices have drawn the attention of media outlets such as Vice Magazine and UK’s The Guardian, as well as transportation labor at large. AFL-CIO TTD’s legislative agenda adopted April 4 states the following:

“Hi-Viz and similar policies serve to do nothing more than increase demands of an already exhausted workforce. For the dignity of these rail workers, their quality of life, and the safety of our nation’s freight railroad network, they must be abandoned and reconsidered.”

The leaders of SMART-TD and BLET will continue to work for intervention on the federal level, including at the Surface Transportation Board, Federal Railroad Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, Congress and in the White House itself, to stop in its tracks the dangerous and reckless nature of the path that the Class I rail carriers have chosen to take.

Also at the April 4 TTD Executive Council meeting, it was announced that five Republication U.S. representatives have contacted the BNSF Railway and encouraged its CEO to reengage with its operating unions to alter the highly-restrictive and punitive Hi-Viz attendance policy.

Read the TTD’s priority statement on rail attendance policies.

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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.

On Friday, April 1, the SMART Transportation Division sought Surface Transportation Board Administrator Martin Oberman’s intervention in ending the precision scheduled railroading (PSR) onslaught that has caused continual havoc in the United States’ supply chain and gutted the rail workforce.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson detailed the anti-worker attendance policies implemented by the nation’s largest freight rail carriers while echoing concerns expressed March 24 by the head of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), a group representing more than 8,000 facilities and firms that provide goods and services to the nation’s grain, feed, and processing industries.

“We believe intervention from the STB is critically warranted and necessary to right the ship,” Ferguson wrote. “Simply put, the railroads cannot sustain the same level of production they had to prior to the advent of PSR given the number of drastic cuts they’ve made across their systems.”

Railroads have cut thousands of workers since the onset of PSR in 2017, placed thousands of locomotives in storage and have been running longer and slower trains to drive down their operating ratios (OR). NGFA President Mike Seyfert said this has led to “significant service disruptions,” for its represented companies served by BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern, in particular.

“The service issues that our member companies are raising indicate that the problem is a network problem affecting entire regions of the country,” Seyfert said. “NGFA members have done as much as possible to keep animals fed, but the ability to stretch resources is exhausted.”

Rail carriers such as the Warren Buffett-owned BNSF, the Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern enjoyed record profits in 2021, even as rail traffic and carloads fell short of previous high marks. A main source of this revenue has been through tens of thousands of workforce cuts implemented well before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the service difficulties reported by NGFA, rail carriers have been doing less with less and reaping higher rewards at the expense of customers and workers.

“Not only has morale dropped to an all-time low, but employees are leaving the industry in unprecedented numbers,” Ferguson wrote to Oberman. “The freight rail network is at a breaking point. It cannot sustain any more reductions. Substantial changes must be made and they must be made quickly.”

According to union-collected data, Ferguson wrote, more than 500 employees have quit the industry since BNSF implemented a points-based policy Feb. 1. The “Hi-Viz” policy requires workers to be available to work 29 out of 30 days a month in order to avoid punitive deductions on their attendance records that eventually would lead to suspension and dismissal.

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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.