Brothers and Sisters,
It’s no secret that Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has devastated this industry. And it’s no secret that safety and service have suffered, but now the most vulnerable among us are being threatened. In the carriers’ pursuit to remove themselves from the limelight of regulatory authorities and neglected shippers, they are now blindly rushing new-hire trainees through unilaterally expedited training courses that have slashed educational curriculums in the hopes of being able to reflect an inflated headcount to remove the proverbial wolves from off their backs.
Today, in far too many Class I training courses, newly hired employees are receiving less than half of the standard training times that existed little more than a year ago. Without so much as an improved educational mechanism, the railroads are falsely claiming the ability to train in less time with less on-the-job experience. The material has not changed. The way in which the education is delivered has not changed. The only thing different is the abbreviated time frame, which is unacceptable and a danger to us all.
Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the railroads are not adequately staffed for on-the-job training. Currently, a concerning number of complaints have been received by our National Legislative Office pertaining to trainees being trained by newly promoted conductors. This practice is reckless, irresponsible, and a violation of the applicable regulations. A carrier should never task a recently promoted conductor with the training of another new hire employee unless it has received explicit approval from the union, and only in very limited circumstances. Permitting an employee with less than 12 months of service to train a new hire employee is not only a violation of the regulations, but it has resulted in injuries and fatalities in the past and we cannot allow it to continue.
Additionally, accidents and incidents involving newly promoted conductors (those which have graduated from these shortened training programs) are occurring. It is critical that we be made aware of these mishaps so that we can follow-up with the employee to offer assistance, where needed, and to ascertain that the carriers are reporting in compliance with the regulations and/or their internal operating rules and procedures. As you are aware, the FRA relies on the carriers to self-report or self-police, so it is vitally important that we can verify their compliance in order to ensure proper accountability.
Lastly, we are asking you to please be on the lookout for your new brothers and sisters. Keep a watchful eye over them, but also encourage them to report the concerns and shortcomings they have experienced both in the classroom and in the field to the Unsafe Condition Report on our website or the SMART-TD app. Let them know that it is OK to bring these issues to us, and that their reports will be kept confidential. If you see a wrongdoing, please let us know. For example, if they are assigned to an employee with less than 12 months of service, or if they are involved in an incident that could serve as an indicator for a lack of training, please report that to your local representative as soon as possible.
Local officers, if you receive a report of this nature, please promptly pass it up to your General Chairperson and State Legislative Director for further handling. We are all in this together, and we have to have each other’s back, but we also have to hold the carriers accountable and to ensure they meet their mandate to provide a safe working environment.
Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division