By UTU International President Mike Futhey

The recent tragic, senseless and violent murder in New Orleans of CSX conductor Fred Gibbs, and wounding of the train’s engineer (a potential witness whose name is being withheld), accelerates an already urgent need for better workplace safety and security measures for rail, transit and motor coach facilities and operations.

Gibbs and the engineer were shot by a lone gunman (a suspect is in police custody) inside the cab of their intermodal train parked on a dark and isolated stretch of track as it awaited dispatcher clearance to enter a yard in New Orleans. The motive appears to have been robbery of the crew, but the train could have contained a cargo of chlorine gas or other deadly hazmat, and the shooter could have been a terrorist or delusional individual with knowledge of locomotive operations.

Indeed, prior to 9/11, few, if any, envisioned terrorists capable of hijacking and piloting multiple sophisticated passenger aircraft and flying them into high-profile targets; or of terrorists in Madrid, Spain, who coordinated four separate rush-hour bombings aboard packed commuter trains in March 2004.

Many of our members noted immediately after the New Orleans shooting that federal regulations do not require bullet-proof glass in locomotives, tamper-proof and functioning locomotive door locks, “keyed” or electronic safeguards that limit locomotive operation to licensed train and engine workers, or train scheduling and dispatching that restricts the stopping of trains to well-lighted and protected areas.

Certainly these are logical responses to the New Orleans shooting.

But without more expert study and collaboration among experts at the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, law enforcement agencies, carriers and labor organizations representing rail, transit and bus employees, we could be overlooking other effective safeguards.

Transportation labor long has been ahead of the curve in calling for greater collaboration among stakeholders, which includes front-line employee training to recognize threats and learn how best to report concerns to dispatchers and law enforcement.

In fact, Amtrak and the UTU recently agreed to a joint project that, in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, directs almost $300,000 in federal funding to the UTU to devise and implement a training program for conductors, assistant conductors, engineers, on-board service personnel and yard employees to enhance their abilities to recognize behavioral traits of individuals intending to engage in terrorist-like activity.

The UTU is now reaching out to build on this program to effectuate workplace safety as it pertains to terrorist and delusional activities.

We are seeking collaboration among other concerned labor organizations, federal safety and homeland security agencies, and carriers to create an incubator for effective ideas on a comprehensive security action plan, including employee training, that can be presented to Congress for fast-track federal funding.

We are heartened by word from CSX that it has begun a cooperative security venture with other carriers and law enforcement agencies to increase security around interchanges and loops in New Orleans.

The potential threat, however, is nationwide; and as train and engine employees, and bus drivers, are constantly in the cross-hairs of danger as well as being the eyes and ears best and first able to recognize threats, it is essential that transportation labor organizations be an integral part of any effort to improve rail, transit and bus security.

Historically, transportation labor and the carriers have been most successful in achieving policy goals when they act in concert. Where carriers or labor act separately — and often at odds with each other — success often is elusive or falls short of goals.

For any action plan to be effective, all parties with accountability and responsibility must collaborate in the creation and implementation of that plan.

We will be reporting more on this effort in the near future.

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

What should have been a joyous holiday season ended all too tragically Dec. 29 with the death of 44-year-old UTU Local 1000 member Samuel Lundy in a switching accident in Minneapolis. He leaves behind a loving wife and three children.

Brother Lundy was the eighth UTU member killed in the line of duty during 2009. We grieve for each of them, and I am inspired by the somber words of Local 1000 President John Haggarty, who observed — and this applies to each of our fallen brothers — “If this could have happened to him, it could happen to any of us.”

Railroaders work in one of the most — if not the most — dangerous industries in America, where accidents, rather than resulting in sprains and broken bones, too often result in career-ending injuries and death.

Death and dismemberment stalk operating crews every moment of their working hours, and there is no greater priority — none! — than returning home to our families in one piece.

Worker safety is the number-one priority of every labor union, and the UTU works closely with every labor organization in this effort. There is no stronger bond among labor organizations, and the working men and women in America, than the joint objective of improving workplace safety.

Within the UTU, we have three separate safety initiatives in place. This is in addition to our efforts at the negotiating table; our joint initiatives with other labor organizations; our communications and meetings with federal regulatory agencies, Congress and state legislatures; and our Designated Legal Counsel program.

Progress is being made, but we cannot, should not, and will not retreat from this fight. It is the most vital duty we owe our membership.

Our most recent safety initiative was the creation, earlier this year, of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, whose mission is to identify and communicate best practices and techniques to improve situational awareness and keep situational awareness at its highest level.

Additionally, the UTU participates with other labor organizations and rail management in the Federal Railroad Administration sponsored Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group, whose mission is to develop recommendations for reducing fatalities in switching operations. The SOFA group has developed best practices for yard workers to help ensure their safety.

The UTU also has a 13-member Transportation Safety Team that assists National Transportation Safety Board investigators in on-the-scene determination of facts in rail-related accidents. Members of this team are selected based on their knowledge of operating rules and understanding of general railroad operations, train movements and dispatching. Team members also receive special training in NTSB procedures. A team member was on the scene within hours of Brother Lundy’s death to assist the NTSB in its investigation.

In Washington, the UTU National Legislative Office spends a considerable portion of each workday in meetings with FRA, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and Federal Aviation Administration safety officials; the NTSB; other labor organizations, academics, and key congressional staff discussing and pushing for improved workplace safety improvements.

Our state legislative directors similarly are involved, on a daily basis, in investigating member concerns and working with state officials and lawmakers on workplace safety issues. These efforts include gaining state regulations requiring safer walkways alongside yard tracks, improved sanitation and crew facilities, and protecting bus operators from unruly passengers.

Within hours of Brother Lundy’s fatal accident, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy called on “all railroad management teams voluntarily to clear our walkways of snow and ice, to rebuild and maintain the walkways at yard, industry, and mainline alike, and help us advance safety and service in this industry.”

Finally, our Designated Legal Counsel are an essential component of our workplace safety efforts. These attorneys are uniquely qualified in bringing civil actions against railroads under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which is one of the best friends railroaders have in pressuring railroads to improve workplace safety.

Please visit the various safety-related pages on the UTU Web site to keep informed and stay up to date on best practices designed to bring you home safely to your family.

And when you do spot a workplace safety problem, immediately inform the carrier, and also inform your local legislative representative and your state legislative director at your earliest opportunity, providing as many facts as you are able regarding location and the nature of the safety problem.

I pledge to each of you that workplace safety will remain the UTU’s single highest priority.

The 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have proven the most deadly for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other.

With the holiday season upon us, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep the season joyous and free from needless sorrow. Safety is a gift we keep giving our families.

Returning home to our families in one piece requires more than simply saying, “Be careful out there.”

Since 1998, the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — has devoted itself to bringing railroaders home to their families in one piece.

SOFA’s five lifesaving tips can save yours, as they have saved countless other railroaders from death and career-ending injuries:

  1. Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  2. Protect employees against moving equipment.
  3. Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  4. Communicate before action is taken.
  5. Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group also warns of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

UTU members participating in the SOFA working group are Louisiana State Legislative Director Gary Devall, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and Kansas Assistant State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.

In the 17 years since 1992, only four have been fatality free, and almost 12 percent of all on-duty employee fatalities have occurred during the 24 days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14.

Staying vigilant and heightening your situational awareness — by following the SOFA working groups life-saving tips, by being aware of special switching hazards, and by encouraging increased communication among crew members, limiting task overload and focusing on the task at hand — is the most effective way to return home to your families in one piece.

And remember: almost as many injuries and deaths involve employees with many years of seniority as new hires.

Let’s not permit ourselves to drift into mental vacations. As the SOFA working group says, warnings “can be viewed as numbers on a page, but the loss of a railroad employee is real, and brings sadness to their family, co-employees and friends.”

The UTU Rail Safety Task Force extends a happy holiday greeting to all members and their families.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, click below:

http://utu.org/utu-rail-safety-task-force/

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU Arizona state legislative director

Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director

Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director

As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) works toward having effective safety regulations in place for the operation of positive train control prior to its 2015 congressionally mandated implementation, the agency is reaching out for feedback to its early proposals. In fact, many PTC operations likely will commence prior to 2015 mandatory date.

In response to specific questions asked by the FRA at a recent public hearing, the UTU and five other rail labor organizations jointly responded with regard to permissible use of certain locomotives, required enforcement of PTC’s ability to correct train overspeed, permissible use of non-PTC equipped or functional trains on PTC-required track, and use of unequipped trains and failed PTC trains.

  • The location of PTC-equipped locomotives in the engine consist: The FRA asked how a railroad is to handle a situation where an engine that is PTC-equipped is positioned with long hood forward or has a broken air conditioning unit. 

Responsible operating personnel recognize that operating a North American cab locomotive in the long hood forward position is patently unsafe and should only be permitted for short distances and then only in emergency situations, said the labor organizations.

Operating trains with the long hood forward presents safety concerns because the engineer has a limited view of the railroad with that configuration. 

The value of detailed documentation can never be overstated.

UTU members have been empowered to address the issue of harassment and intimidation though federal whistleblower protection that is written into law.

This protection already has had a positive impact. Recently, an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which followed information from a whistleblower, resulted in $300,000 in multiple punitive damage awards against commuter railroad Metro North

The UTU Safety Task Force has received many complaints about harassment and intimidation.

Some of the carriers have made a relentless practice of harassment for the sake of productivity, with little or no regard for our members’ safety. With your detailed documentation, this will change.

In addition to reporting all dangerous safety conditions to your respective carriers, your report should be made to your local legislative representative and state legislative director, with copies to your local chairperson and other local officers.

Your report should contain pertinent information, such as:

  1. Date and time with job/train ID
  2. Location
  3. Name of carrier official who instructed you to make an unsafe act or safety violation.
  4. Statement of the alleged safety violation, including threats, harassment, intimidation or unsafe events directly attributing to this situation.

By your paper trail of documentation, your LRs and SLDs can take the appropriate actions.

The UTU Safety Task Force suggests you familiarize yourself with these procedures in order that we all share a safer workplace.

A summary of whistleblower protection under the law follows:

The Law and its Protections:

(a) In General. — A railroad carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, a contractor or a subcontractor of such a railroad carrier, or an officer or employee of such a railroad carrier, may not discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way discriminate against an employee if such discrimination is due, in whole or in part, to the employee’s lawful, good faith act done, or perceived by the employer to have been done or about to be done—

(1) to provide information, directly cause information to be provided, or otherwise directly assist in any investigation regarding any conduct which the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or gross fraud, waste, or abuse of Federal grants or other public funds intended to be used for railroad safety or security, if the information or assistance is provided to or an investigation stemming from the provided information is conducted by—

 (A) a Federal, State, or local regulatory or law enforcement agency (including an office of the Inspector General under the Inspector General Act of 1978.

 (B) any Member of Congress, any committee of Congress, or the Government Accountability Office; or

 (C) a person with supervisory authority over the employee or such other person who has the authority to investigate, discover, or terminate the misconduct;

 (2) to refuse to violate or assist in the violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security;

 (3) to file a complaint, or directly cause to be brought a proceeding related to the enforcement of this part or, as applicable to railroad safety or security, chapter 51 or 57 of this title, or to testify in that proceeding;

 (4) to notify, or attempt to notify, the railroad carrier or the Secretary of Transportation of a work-related personal injury or work-related illness of an employee;

 (5) to cooperate with a safety or security investigation by the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the National Transportation Safety Board;

 (6) to furnish information to the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Transportation Safety Board, or any Federal, State, or local regulatory or law enforcement agency as to the facts relating to any accident or incident resulting in injury or death to an individual or damage to property occurring in connection with railroad transportation;

 (7) to accurately report hours on duty.

 In addition,

(8) A railroad or person shall not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical or first aid treatment of an injured employee. If transportation to a hospital is requested by an injured employee, the railroad shall promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest medically appropriate hospital. A railroad shall not discipline, or threaten discipline to an employee seeking medical treatment, or for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician. Provided, however, it will not be a violation if the refusal by the railroad is pursuant to the FRA’s medical standards regs. or a carrier’s medical standards for fitness for duty.

Remedies:

(1) In general.— An employee prevailing in any action shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.

(2) Damages.— Relief shall include—

(A) reinstatement with the same seniority status that the employee would have had, but for the discrimination;

(B) any backpay, with interest; and

(C) compensatory damages, including compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorney fees.

(3) Possible relief.— Relief in any action may include punitive damages in an amount not to exceed $250,000.

(e) Election of Remedies.— An employee may not seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the railroad carrier.

 (The UTU Safety Task Force was created by UTU International President Mike Futhey in response to a sharp spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

(Members of the task force are: Arizona Assistant State Legislative Director Greg Hynes, chairman; Arkansas State Legislative Director Steve Evans; Michigan State Legislative Director Jerry Gibson; and Arizona State Legislative Director Scott Olson.)

View the Safety Task Force interactive Web page at:

http://utu.org/utu-rail-safety-task-force/

August 17, 2009

Career-ending personal injuries and fatalities have continued to increase in the rail industry.

To educate members on the circumstances of these incidents, and in attempts to avoid them in the future, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, appointed by International President Mike Futhey, urges that each of you continue to look out for each other and forward your ideas and concerns about workplace safety to them so they may address them.

Interactive communication and “looking out for each other” is imperative to bringing us all home from work in one piece.

To ensure we all go home to our families in one piece, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force asks for a 100 percent commitment to rules compliance and to the following eight activities:

  1. Job briefings: Ensure all crew members are present for job briefings, and focus on risk assessment.
  2. Situational awareness: Constantly be aware of your surroundings and maintain situational awareness to avoid risks associated with the required tasks and work within the limits of your capabilities.
  3. On/off standing equipment: Keep hands free of other objects and maintain three point contact, always being vigilant for equipment movement.
  4. Avoid slips, trips and falls: Keep your eyes on the footpath and report any unsafe walking conditions to your local legislative representative for handling.
  5. Radio communications: Always use proper identification, provide car counts when shoving, do not engage in excessive chatter; use “over and out.”
  6. Put safety first: Performing a task safety is more important than the time it takes to complete it. The only “good move” is one done 100 percent by the rules.
  7. Ask questions: If any uncertainty arises, take the time to ask questions. Do not take risks or assume anything.
  8. Be in charge of your own safety: Do not let others set YOUR level of safety. Report harassment and intimidation.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, visit the task force’s interactive Web page by clicking:

this link

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force
Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

This is the second in a series of safety alerts issued by the UTU Rail Safety Task Force.

The task force was appointed by International President Mike Futhey in response to a spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

This safety alert focuses on the job of protecting the point while riding rail cars.

In such situations, here are facts to consider and questions to ask yourself as part of assuring you return home to your family in one piece:

  • Are you controlling the movement to really allow stopping within half the range of vision? Are you really protecting yourself?
  • Have you considered walking as a safer alternative in some cases?
  • From how far away can you see a one-inch gap in switch points? In daylight, it’s about 130 feet, at most. And the average railroad issued lantern casts light for approximately 70 feet
  • Do you know how many feet per second are you moving at 10 mph? The answer is 15-feet per SECOND; and at 8 mph, it is about 12-feet per second.
  • Now contemplate that you are protecting the point during daylight, with a single engine shoving 10 loaded lumber cars on flat grade at 15 mph. Now, you see a gapped switch. It will take you 8.6 seconds to stop.
  • If you are shoving too fast,, are you rolling the dice?
  • Now contemplate what would happen if the shoving movement at 15 mph were a crossover lined into a cut of cars, or a car left out to foul.
  • In such a situation should you consider stopping the movement and walking ahead to inspect and protect?
  • There have, recently, been a great number of shoving-related fatalities and career ending injuries in our industry. Please be careful. Always maintain situational awareness. It’s very dangerous out there, and your family wants you back home in one piece.

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, visit the task force’s interactive Web page by clicking:

http://utu.org/utu-rail-safety-task-force/

July 3, 2009

By International President Mike Futhey

Compromise is the art of successful negotiations. But when one party goes to the negotiating table unwilling to compromise, the results can be unpleasant for both, and produce a result that might not be the best choice.

Such was the case with the Rail Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress last fall.

Repeatedly, rail labor told the carriers that if we don’t jointly reach a negotiated agreement on employee fatigue, limbo time, availability policies and arbitrary discipline, that a major rail accident would force Congress to write legislation that neither the carriers nor labor would like.

The UTU and the other rail unions, whose members are subject to hours-of-service regulations, had three objectives:

  1. An end to limbo time, with a short phase-out period.
  2. Advance notice of start times, or a minimum of a 10-hour call.
  3. An end to arbitrary discipline tied to unreasonable availability policies.

The carriers refused to accept rail labor’s objectives. So, when a series of severe and headline-grabbing rail accidents occurred, it became clear that Congress was going to act on its own.

The fatigue mitigation piece of the Rail Safety Improvement Act had been on Congress’s agenda for 15 years. The fatal accident in Chatsworth, Calif., involving a commuter train, was the ice breaker.

Rail labor’s position was consistent throughout the process.

The result was not all that rail labor or the carriers wanted in a rail safety bill. The 10-hour call principle was included only as a pilot project, and 10 hours of rest between each shift was mandated.

Had the carriers negotiated with us in good faith, the result could have been a joint recommendation to Congress that maximum flexibility be afforded carriers and rail labor to craft solutions based on the reality of local situations.

The best legislation always starts with an agreement in principle with the involved parties, but the railroads would not agree to any change in the application of unlimited limbo time, to accurate lineups, or an absenteeism policy that would force safety-critical employees to work when they were fatigued.

Instead, lawmakers took the one-size-fits-all approach because of the railroads’ refusal to discuss fatigue solutions.

We are now working to find local flexibility options to fine-tune the principles contained in the Rail Safety Improvement Act.

We are not optimistic that this can be achieved in so short a time frame, even though the carriers similarly want more flexibility in the law.

What we may be able to achieve is permission from the FRA for an FRA-monitored pilot project that permits flexible approaches instead of one-size-fits-all regulations.

The UTU and other rail operating unions are committed to do everything in their power to achieve more flexible regulations that recognize that situations are not equivalent across all railroads, all operating districts or all rail yards.

We will keep you informed.

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

For more years than I care to count, we having been telling the carriers that if we couldn’t come up with a mutually acceptable solution at the bargaining table to the problem of availability policies and train-crew fatigue that we were going to ask Congress to impose a solution.

And still the carriers dithered, placing profits ahead of safety and ignoring the quality of life and safety threats of 30-day availability policies, seemingly never-ending limbo time, rolling the dice on circadian rhythms with wild swings in start times, and assuming human beings could maintain situational awareness as their cumulative sleep deficits mounted.

We provided the carriers with exhaustive evidence of train crews being called to work in a fatigued condition; and reminded the carriers that sleep scientists have concluded that going to work fatigued is equivalent to going to work drunk.

Even in the face of horrific accidents involving deadly hazmat releases and NTSB findings with regard to crew fatigue, the carriers continued to ignore our pleas to negotiate a solution to the fatigue problem. The carriers refused to negotiate.

So we went to Congress in the fall of 2008 which enacted the most far-reaching rail safety bill in decades. It was our only relief. The law didn’t give us everything we wanted, but it is a good, overdue and necessary law.

Most troubling now is that even with the new safety law’s changes in hours of service and limbo time elimination, the carriers continue to resist providing train and engine service employees with predictable starting times.

How can it be that an industry so fully computerized can’t provide its operating crews with predictable starting times?

The fact is, the railroad industry can.

In fact, on Canadian National, which Wall Street analysts say is the most efficient North American railroad, senior management is committed to train scheduling. CN CEO Hunter Harrison considers this good business, safe business and appropriate labor-management policy.

We are now negotiating with CN in hopes we can reach agreement permitting CN and the UTU jointly to petition the Federal Railroad Administration for a pilot project — under provisions of the new safety law — to demonstrate every railroad can efficiently provide train and engine-service employees with start and stop times within a predictable range of hours.

We stand willing to negotiate with any carrier a similar joint petition to the FRA for such a pilot project if that carrier is agreeable to structured start times.

Our objective is a changed culture that reduces employee fatigue, fully eliminates limbo time, assures situational awareness of all crew members, improves our members’ quality of life, boosts customer service, and contributes positively to each carrier’s bottom line.

It is high time to bring the railroad industry into the 21st century. This pilot project has the potential to do just that.

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