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 26 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.



SMART-TD, BLET protest outside of BNSF shareholder meeting in Omaha

The five highlighted areas are where protestors were allowed to congregate outside of the CHI Health Center where the BNSF shareholder’s meeting was being held.

While Berkshire Hathaway shareholders sat April 30 in comfort and national cable-news networks live-streamed and deified wealth hoarder Warren Buffett and his executive cronies at the company’s annual meeting, BNSF railroad workers, as always, were out in the elements doing the hard things – this time protesting.

Protesters gathered in the early-morning hours – some as early as 4 a.m. when the parking garages opened – to split up evenly to protest in five different areas outside of the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Neb. Doors opened to the shareholder meeting at 7 a.m., and the picketers wanted to be outside as the shareholders arrived. They were joined by two LED video billboard trucks slamming Buffett and BNSF CEO Katie Farmer for their Hi-Viz attendance policy.

LED video billboard trucks joined in the protest by driving in a loop around the health center to help gain attention for the picketers.

Carrying signs saying “They use us and abuse us,” “Fair wages, fair treatment,” and “Railroaders’ lives matter,” outside of the site of the so-called “Woodstock for Capitalists,” as members of the SMART Transportation Division, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), their respective auxiliaries and other members of rail labor mobilized in the rain outside CHI Health Center.

SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller holds up signs outside of the meeting.

“We had a great turnout despite the weather. We were able to cross paths with I’d say around 90% of the participants that were walking into the building,” Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity said of the around 60 protestors present.

“The crowd was fired up – it was divide and conquer. A very lively crowd,” said Vice President Chad Adams who joined in the two-hour protest.

Vice President Joe Lopez, Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders, Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, Missouri State Legislative Director Jason Hayden and New Mexico State Legislative Director Don Gallegos joined Adams, Cassity and SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller at the protest.

Mobilizing our members as well were General Chairpersons Mike LaPresta (GO 001); Scott Swiatek (GO 009); and Luke Edington (GO 953).

“It was great seeing spouses and family involved in today’s protest showing their support,” Seegmiller said. “We want change and won’t be going away or backing down.”

Cassity echoed this sentiment saying, “It was great to see labor standing in solidarity, members shoulder-to-shoulder and fighting for what’s right for the membership. We’re taking the fight to the railroads and we’re not going to back down. The shareholders that were present at the meeting were there discussing the progress that they have made off of the backs of our members and it’s important that they understand that we won’t back down and we won’t go away until the right thing has been done.”

According to the Informational Protest – Omaha NE 2022 Facebook page, the picketers were regrouping and being joined by more supporters who could not make the morning session in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m.

Adams said that today’s movement is just the beginning.

“The group was talking about getting back together at the UP shareholders meeting next month – one thing builds another, just keep the pressure on and that’s what we can do,” he said.

According to the Facebook page, the group is in the early stages of planning another protest outside of the North American Rail Shippers Association annual meeting on May 9 – 11 in Kansas City, Mo., where CEOs from CP, BNSF and CSX are featured speakers.

Top left: A large crowd of SMART-TD and BLET members and their supporters gathered in solidarity. Top middle: Missouri SLD Jason Hayden (left) and National Safety Team Assistant Director Dan Bonawitz join in the protest. Top right: SMART-TD members come together in solidarity to picket. Middle left: Rallying speeches were made by leadership. Middle right: Picketers stand in the rain trying to get their message across to BNSF shareholders and the public. Bottom left: The rain did not deter picketers from getting their message across. Bottom middle: SMART-TD Vice President Chad Adams (left) and Texas SLD Kamron Saunders (second left) picket with SMART-TD members. Bottom right: BLET member Megan Lundy, BLET Vice President Rachel Pharris and SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller band together for the first time to protest BNSF’s Hi-Viz attendance policy. Photos courtesy of VP Chad Adams and Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller.

A senior Ohio Democrat promises that if Republicans there are successful in passing legislation to revoke collective bargaining rights for public employees, a ballot initiative would be drafted to repeal the law in the next general election, reports the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

In Wisconsin, Democrats Feb. 22 remained absent from the state, leaving Republicans without a lawful quorum to pass similar legislation revoking collective-bargaining rights for public employees. Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the legislature.

The South Central Wisconsin Federation of Labor, representing 45,000 union members in the Wisconsin capital of Madison, said Feb. 22 it is considering a “general strike” if the bill becomes law.

Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, said, “In one fell swoop, Gov. Walker is trying to institute a sweeping radical and dangerous notion that will return Wisconsin to the days when land barons and railroad tycoons controlled the political elites in Madison.”

In Indiana, state House Democrats are boycotting a legislative session considering similar legislation (HB 1468), vowing to remain away and prevent a quorum until they have assurances from Republicans that the bill will not be brought forward when they return, according to the Indianapolis Star newspaper. Republicans hold a majority in both legislative chambers.

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who supports the legislation, told the newspaper he would not send state police to “round up” the Democrats because they have every right to deny Republicans a quorum to do business.”

In Ohio, the Senate Labor Committee is considering legislation — SB 5 — to revoke collective bargaining rights for public employees amid growing protests against the bill. Some 15,000 demonstrated in Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, Feb. 22, as the Republican-controlled Labor Committee heard testimony on the bill.

Because Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the Ohio legislature, and because of the size of the Republican majority, Ohio Democrats cannot prevent a quorum by boycotting the legislative session. No date has been set for a vote on SB 5.

Should the legislation pass in Ohio, Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern told the Columbus Dispatch, “We will repeal it at the ballot box, and that will happen. That is the great fear the Republican Party has right now, because of the overreach they’re playing out right now.”

Also speaking out was JoAnn Johntony, president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, who told the Columbus Dispatch, “I believe Gov. Kasich decided he wants to squash unions and found a creative way to do it, but he has to realize that we’ve fought this battle before and he will not stop us because we will fight to the very end.”

An Ohio Senate Republican, Timothy J. Grendell, also sounded a warning over the legislation. The Columbus Dispatch reported Grendell said the bill could end up costing the state money and should scare conservatives worried about private contracting rights.

“You’re opening up a Pandora’s Box to the principle that government can interfere with private contract rights when it suits government’s purpose,” Grendell told the newspaper. “If you’re a conservative or a Tea Party person, you should be greatly concerned about that concept because today’s collective bargaining agreement could be tomorrow’s private business contract. I guarantee you litigation will be more expensive than collective bargaining.”

Back to Wisconsin, the Capitol Times newspaper said in an editorial that Gov. Scott Walker, the architect of legislation to outlaw collective bargaining by public employees, “is making political choices, and they are designed not to balance budgets, but to improve his political position and that of his [Republican] party.”

 

UTU protest pickets in Madison, Wisc. Pictured, from left, are retired Local 590 member Dan Stanley; Ben Deneen, GO 261 General Chairperson James Nelson; Local 590 Vice Chairperson Leath Sheppard; and Wisconsin State Legislative Director Tim Deneen and wife, Susan.

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

The Bush Administration did it again.

Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters extended the right of foreign-operated trucking and transit companies to operate across the U.S. border without requiring them to even have a minimum of safeguards for U.S. citizens on U.S. roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires U.S. licensed drivers to be tested, certified and comply with numerous laws and rules.

Yet foreign drivers do not have to abide by any of these requirements.

Equipment inspection, certification of ability to operate equipment, drug testing and hours of service requirements have made our roads safer.

The UTU has protested loudly and has a commitment from Rep. Jim Oberstar (D.-Minn.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, to overturn Ms. Peters’ action. We are committed to our members and the riding public to keep the roads safe for them and their families.

The UTU Bus and Legislative Departments continue to fight the mandated changes to drug testing (observed testing).

We have joined with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO to make a concerted effort to protect our members’ personal rights.

To contact me, call the UTU International headquarters at (216) 228-9400, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., EDT.

Send e-mail to me at v_baffoni@utu.org