SMART-TD Brothers and Sisters,

Due to an alarming amount of misinformation, I would like to provide answers to some of the questions and concerns that I have been receiving over the past few weeks, as well as provide an update on where we are in the process regarding the tentative agreement (TA).

The question and answer (Q&A) period for the general chairpersons is still underway as per our constitution. The deadline for submissions is October 7th. Once the questions have been submitted, they will be checked for duplication and wording, which is estimated to take three to four days. A final single document will then be submitted to the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), with whom we will meet to reach an agreement on the final answers. A meeting will promptly follow so our target date for the ballots to be sent to you, the members, can be achieved. The final Q&A will be part of the tentative agreement and will be included in its entirety for members to review before voting.  

Several topics have also arisen that we would like to respond to regarding the upcoming vote every member will hopefully be casting regarding the tentative agreement:

  • Ballot and voting information for SMART-TD has not been put out. Per the SMART-TD Constitution, Article 21(B), Section 91, ballots and instructions cannot be sent out in any capacity until the Q&A stage of the agreement process has been met. Anyone claiming or posting on social media that they have received a ballot and instructions should be taken with caution as nothing has been authorized by my office. I will never submit material to the membership instructing them to vote YES or NO. I will only provide only the facts and let you decide.
  • Contrary to certain groups and social media rumors, the SMART-TD Constitution does not allow for a non-vote to be counted as a YES vote. This protection means that EVERY vote is important. Every member of the union needs to make sure their vote is submitted, regardless of voting yes or no. The SMART Constitution clearly states: “A majority of the members voting of each of the crafts to be covered or affected by the terms of the proposed agreement shall be required to ratify the offer of settlement.” Voting is your most sacred and powerful right as a union member. Please encourage your fellow brothers and sisters to take part in the upcoming vote.
  • A recent accusation is circulating that if the majority of the membership votes not to ratify the tentative agreement, SMART-TD will override the NO vote and force the tentative agreement on the membership. This is materially FALSE. Your International leadership does NOT have the ability under the SMART Constitution to overturn a vote. In the event that the majority votes no, we would go back to the table until a resolution is either forced on us by Congress or a resolution that the SMART-TD membership would ratify is presented.

I would ask that you consider the source of information that is projecting this reckless and materially false information.  Social media posts, news and blog articles from other sources and discussions around the yards are contributing to a large amount of misinformation being spread. These sources do not have the “inside information” as they claim. The information posted on the SMART union website and its official social media pages is THE source for completely accurate content regarding the Tentative Agreement.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

Fraternally,

Jeremy R. Ferguson

President, Transportation Division

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) would like to take a few moments to update the thousands of essential rail workers whom we proudly represent, the rail shippers and customers, as well as the public at large on the real status of labor negotiations and about the serious factual misrepresentations that the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and railroad representatives are stating as “FACT” surrounding the “railroad labor negotiations and the need to avert a network shutdown.” Their claims are simply not true.

Let me be clear, rail labor is NOT looking to strike or shut down the nation’s economy at the expense of everyone. We want and deserve a fair agreement for our members. We strongly believe that a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) will help us to garner that without the necessity of a strike. This does not mean that we will not do what’s necessary to get a fair agreement, but rather we expect the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to do its job as it has in the past so that it does not come to that. We are fully prepared to act if the provisions of the RLA get to the point of self-help or strike.

I was present and testified with a full team of experts in front of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on April 26th and 27th in Washington D.C., concerning the massive network disruptions, the negative effects of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), and the pending supply chain collapse due to railroad mismanagement of their networks. Shippers don’t know when they will be serviced, and the workforce doesn’t know when we will be going to work. I was proud to testify to make it known that we fully support our customers’ efforts to have the reliable and consistent service that they not only deserve, but also contracted with the railroad(s) for. I made it clear then, and now do so once again, that we stand ready to do everything within our power to keep freight moving and to support this country’s supply chain and economy.

Much like the testimony delivered by the railroads and AAR at the STB hearings, again there’s a steady stream of lip service, half-truths and misleading innuendo trying to skew the truth about the status of negotiations. I would also note that, to date, the AAR has not put forth any data supporting the “fair” percentage wage increases they are proposing and “provide well-deserved compensation increases to our essential employees and are consistent with labor market benchmarks.” What they are purporting as fair is only fair in their eyes and obviously not seen as “fair” by their essential employees who are quitting their jobs in record numbers. I have been at the negotiating table. I have yet to see any fair proposals put forth by the carriers in three years of negotiations. The benchmarks they are using at the negotiating table were established well before the pandemic and inflation occurred. I would also cite the fact that due to the PSR scheme worker productivity is running at such a high level that it is literally about to snap like an overstretched cable or chain.

Assuredly, a 16% wage increase over five years is not acceptable by today’s benchmarks. The railroads’ plans to increase the employees’ share of healthcare costs to such a point that the raises become net-zero is not reflective of rail carriers’ record profits or of their desire to keep their “valued freight rail customers,” isolated from further network disruptions caused by lack of manpower. The proposed five-year increases also come below all standard cost of living metrics. The railroads these days are having a very difficult time attracting potential new employees because of their refusal to bargain in conjunction with today’s benchmarks, much in the same way that they refuse to acknowledge shippers’ need to have sufficient and reliable service in accordance with their common carrier obligations.

On multiple occasions, SMART-TD has stood up for shippers, while carriers lacked any interest in fixing the current shipping problems that worsen by the day. PSR is the reason. Everyone knows it. Legislation may be needed for a permanent fix to the problem, and I think that day is coming soon. The quickest fix is to stop the railroads from running such ridiculously long trains, which the current infrastructure can’t handle, and get back to basics now! Instead, they cajole shippers to help them save a few dollars of their record profits, wanting to tip the scales against the very people who do the work and who are chiefly responsible for getting the railroads their profits. This is appalling. By hanging the fear of service disruptions in front of the shippers, it would almost be comical if the current state of the supply chain situation were not so dire.

Meanwhile, the tales told by the mouthpieces of the carriers keep getting bigger and bigger. One such fish tale dangled in front of people mentions that labor seeks a 47% wage increase. Even the head of the National Railway Labor Conference can’t provide the evidence to document this whopper. The truth is the three biggest railroads at the negotiating table don’t want to part with ANY of their record profits, nor do they wish to reward the workers who have busted their asses for the last three years without a raise, to get them those record profits. The shareholders were rewarded with record buybacks of $10 billion. Where is the reward for the employees who are actually doing the back-breaking work to make those buybacks possible? With a stale contract that has been in effect since prior to inflation taking hold, the workers have nothing to show for their blood, sweat and tears, as well as the sacrifices they and their families have made.

Pouring on the risk and absurdity, the big 3 claim they wish to get a deal done given those “fair” proposals they’ve allegedly made. What they’re not telling everyone is that instead of negotiating with labor at the national table to get this deal done, they are instead more concerned with keeping up their mediation meetings in an attempt to get a crew-consist agreement completed to further reduce the rail workforce, thanks to the allegedly “fair” arbitrator selection process out of the previous National Mediation Board (NMB). Carriers again are attempting to go to one person occupying the cab of a freight train. (Their ultimate stated goal is zero crewmembers on trains frequently carrying hazardous freight.) Such a measure would put the safety of our communities at serious risk and the supply chain in dire jeopardy, more so than it is right now. Were carriers so concerned about a fair national agreement to stop service disruptions, one would think they would concentrate on the goal of a national agreement. Instead, carrier execs and their cronies are off for two weeks at a time trying to find a way to get rid of more employees rather than trying to come up with a fair and equitable agreement to keep the ones they now have. UNBELIEVEABLE, but not surprising!

Class 1 railroads are not just servicing their own greed and that of Wall Street, they are working against serving their own customers, their own workforce, the families of their employees, the communities they serve and the American economy. This strategy will net them those short-term monetary gains they desire at the expense of the long-term viability of the American supply chain, our national security and the long-term health of the national economy.

Lastly, I find it very offensive that the railroads, via the AAR, would reach out to the shippers to assist their efforts in advocating for so-called “fair-minded” arbitrators with rail industry experience to the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to help facilitate what they perceive to be a reasonable agreement and avoid network disruptions. We all know that getting a good contract for the workforce will not only stop the bleeding, but it will also help employee morale and keep the supply chain moving. Absent an enticing contract, the current workforce will continue to shrink and worsen the situation more than any other factors possibly could. I can’t stop my members from leaving the industry, but the railroads can by offering a truly fair and equitable agreement with wage increases, no changes to healthcare costs and predictable scheduling, among other asks.

To the rail customers: I urge you to respond to the AAR’s request by telling them that you support SMART-TD and labor as we have supported you. We have faith that the Railway Labor Act process will work just fine, much like it always has since 1934, and you should too. Don’t let yourselves “get railroaded” by the AAR. America’s Class 1 railroads are attempting to “railroad” customers, railroad employees, their families, and the American public, as a whole, and “attention must be paid.” Don’t listen to their propaganda. Do your research and look at the facts for what they are. I can assure you, if the carriers get what they are proposing, things will only get worse and it will be their own fault.

Sincerely,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson is scheduled to be a featured witness testifying next week in a hearing before the U.S. House Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson

The hearing on freight rail safety is scheduled 10 a.m. June 14 at the 2167 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C.

“I have great anticipation to again proudly represent the members of SMART Transportation Division and to state the truth about what rail labor is encountering, as we did before the Surface Transportation Board,” President Ferguson said. “The profiteering and safety-averse business operations carriers have adopted since starting Precision Scheduled Railroading have not improved service, safety or conditions for workers. In fact, all three of these areas have deteriorated. I look forward to addressing the representatives, giving specific examples of what is happening on the ground and stating the truth before the subcommittee.”

President Ferguson will have five minutes allocated to deliver testimony and then will answer any questions to him posed by subcommittee members.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose is also expected to testify on rail safety-related topics including train length, inspection procedures and other areas.

The session will be available to stream on the U.S. House website and links will be posted on our social media accounts for members to follow the hearing live.

Brothers and Sisters,

Today we reflect on and honor the sacrifices made by all the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Without their protection, we would not be the country we are today, nor would we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

SMART-TD members honor the memory of veterans by placing flags on their graves.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army, I view this holiday with great respect and solemnity. As such, this union takes seriously the duty and obligation that we must show appreciation to members of the military — those on active duty, those who have retired and those who are no longer with us. We must remember and show gratitude for all they have done to defend our country, our nation’s constitution and our people as a whole. Their sacrifices must not go unnoticed nor be forgotten.

So as we all celebrate this Memorial Day, please take a moment to reflect on what this holiday really means. Remember to take the time to reflect on the memory of those whom we have lost in defense of our country and for those who currently serve.

As a reminder, our union has many resources for veterans available — please see the links below. As we continue into June, which is PTSD awareness month (National PTSD Awareness Day is June 27), be sure to take care of yourselves and seek out help or support if you need it. More information about PTSD and treatment options are available here.

Thank you, God bless, and stay safe!

Fraternally,

Jeremy R. Ferguson

President, Transportation Division


Links:

More about Memorial Day

SMART-TD Veteran Services page

Update your military status via the Member Portal


If you are suffering from PTSD and think you may hurt yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Attention all SMART-TD and BLET members! Tonight at 7:00 p.m. central standard time (8:00 p.m. EST), SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce will be airing a joint interview on the Rails Tails & Trails YouTube channel, which can be viewed at the following link: https://youtu.be/6N9r6QIGqA8.

Presidents Ferguson and Pierce will be providing updates on recent developments with BNSF’s HiViz attendance policy, commentary on our national rail contract negotiations, and discussion of other important issues affecting members of both Unions. 

As additional information, beginning at 6:00 p.m. CST (7:00 p.m. EST), Rails Tails & Trails host Jon Chaffin will be doing a giveaway for supporters of his channel. All members are encouraged to tune in, subscribe to the channel, and leave your feedback in the comments section. We are looking forward to finding out if you think the interview is informational, and if you would like the presidents to join a future episode on the Rails Tails & Trails podcast. If so, please comment on which issues you would like to see them discuss. 

We thank you for your continued support as we work diligently to keep all members informed!

Ferguson

Recently, Amtrak, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern announced that they will require their employees, including those represented by SMART Transportation Division, to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. It is anticipated that many of the remaining, if not all Class I rail carriers, will eventually implement similar policies, citing their status as government contractors and federal mandates as their reasons. In accordance with current guidelines, the deadline for Amtrak employees to be fully vaccinated is November 22, while the deadline for Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern employees is set for December 8. In order to be considered fully vaccinated, a 14-day period must transpire following the administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Under certain circumstances, some carriers are allowing regular testing as an alternative to vaccination, although federal law, guidelines and most collective bargaining agreements do not require them to do so. SMART-TD has taken the position that beyond the applicable deadlines, all carriers should allow unvaccinated employees to provide proof of regular testing as an acceptable alternative.
In every instance to date, the carriers implemented their policies without first meeting with SMART-TD to bargain over the provisions of their mandates. In attempts to correct and address these exclusions, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson advised all SMART-TD general committees of adjustment to schedule meetings with the carriers to discuss the implementation of any new, planned or existing policies. In his letter, he also noted that federal law provides exemptions for certain circumstances where individuals have religious objections or medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Based on initial conversations, it was determined that additional methods of appeal would be required.
Due to the unilateral actions of Union Pacific, on October 15, 2021, SMART-TD filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, challenging the carrier’s attempt to avoid its obligation under the Railway Labor Act to bargain over terms and conditions of employment. While this action at Union Pacific is likely to set precedent for other carriers, it does not prevent SMART-TD from taking similar action against other like-minded carriers, including Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. While each policy will have nuances that the affected organizations will have to navigate, respond to, and appeal on an individual basis, SMART-TD has made it clear that any attempt by the carriers to circumvent their obligations under the Railway Labor Act will be met with strong resistance.
“While vaccinations are not a collective bargaining issue, as they have not been negotiated into our agreements, we still believe that the carriers must engage with us about these policies prior to any implementation and we, in an effort of good faith, will continue our attempts to do so. We believe this is the best approach,” said President Ferguson. “We are going to let the outcome of those meetings and the advice of our general chairpersons guide our next steps. However, when these conversations with the carriers prove to be unsuccessful, then we must appeal our issues to the courts.”
President Ferguson also stated “SMART-TD is a very diversified union, encompassing members of different ethnicity, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation and viewpoints. We are proud of that diversity and represent all members regardless of these distinctions. We lead from the front, keeping emotions in check while evaluating every issue and concern along the way. We also must research the potential outcome of these actions prior to making any formal decisions. With that being said, I will continue to encourage our members to get vaccinated, however, I respect those who have pointed out that it is a personal choice. Whatever your beliefs or vaccine status is, I want to make it clear to our members that you will be represented to the fullest extent of our authority.”
As additional information becomes available and this situation continues to evolve, SMART-TD will continue to evaluate and assess its position on these issues. Updates will continue to be posted to the SMART-TD website at smart-union.org/td.