Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART Transportation Division and Dennis Pierce, President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Teamsters Rail Conference, on move announced by the nation’s largest railroads to further abuse shippers and gridlock the supply chain in order to extort a contract settlement from rail unions:

CLEVELAND — Late on Friday, September 9, the nation’s largest railroads began warning major shippers that they are declaring an embargo on certain types of new shipments five days in advance of the end of the federally mandated cooling-off period at 12:00 AM EDT September 16. They further advised that all rail shippers could be blocked from making any rail shipments well in advance of next Friday’s deadline for a lockout or strike. This completely unnecessary attack on rail shippers by these highly profitable Class I railroads is no more than corporate extortion.

Our Unions remain at the bargaining table and have given the rail carriers a proposal that we would be willing to submit to our members for ratification, but it is the rail carriers that refuse to reach an acceptable agreement. In fact, it was abundantly clear from our negotiations over the past few days that the railroads show no intentions of reaching an agreement with our Unions, but they cannot legally lock out our members until the end of the cooling-off period. Instead, they are locking out their customers beginning on Monday and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action.

The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them. Our Unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.

Rather than gridlock the supply chain by denying shipments and potentially locking our members out next Friday, the railroads should work towards a fair settlement that our members, their employees, would ratify. For that to happen, we must make improvements to the working conditions that have been on the bargaining table since negotiations began. Penalizing engineers and conductors for getting sick or going to a doctor’s visit with termination must be stopped as part of this contract settlement. Let us repeat that, our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of a worldwide pandemic.

No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit. Sadly, the Presidential Emergency Board recommendation got it wrong on this issue. As we have said from the day that they were implemented, these policies are destroying the lives of our members, who are the backbone of the railroad industry.

These employment policies have forced thousands of employees out of the industry and make it all but impossible to recruit new workers. With understaffed operations, these railroads abuse their best customers by refusing to provide deliveries consistent with their legal obligations. These self-appointed titans of industry complain constantly about government regulation and interference — except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees. It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEO’s who are running the nation’s railroads into the ground that enough is enough. Congress should stay out of the rail dispute and tell the railroads to do what other business leaders do — sit down and bargain a contract that your employees will accept.

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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.

The following is a statement from SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce.

CLEVELAND, (September 2) — As we approach Labor Day 2022, our Unions stand at a crossroads. While our normal messages heading into one of the most important days for Organized Labor would be about Labor’s proud history of improving the lives of working-class Americans, we are embroiled in the ongoing effort to obtain a National Freight Agreement worthy of our members’ consideration.

We know there are vastly different opinions amongst our collective memberships on what should happen next, and the democratic principles that drive our Unions give each member the right to their own opinion. Although current opinions may vary, there are other things that apply equally to us all.

It has become clear in our post-Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”) negotiations with the rail carriers that they are counting on the Federal Government to come to their aid if we are unable to reach a Tentative Agreement, and so far, we have not reached an Agreement. The same rail carriers that complain about government intervention when the Federal Railroad Administration proposes a rulemaking on crew size, and also shudder at the thought of the Surface Transportation Board issuing regulations that would help shippers, now all but hide behind Congress, refusing so far to negotiate terms our members would accept and ratify. While there are no guarantees for either side as to what Congress might do if they are involved, there is no doubt that the rail carriers expect Congress to intervene to save them from dealing fairly with their employees if there is a job action; Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz so much as publicly said that earlier in the week.

It is also clear that SMART-TD and BLET have been carved out from the rest of Rail Labor as we were the only Unions that the carriers insisted upon work rule changes from throughout the PEB hearing. Our Unions’ members have also borne the brunt of inept crew management, life-changing attendance policies, and working conditions over the past years that are making it all but impossible for rail carriers to hire and retain operating employees. As such, SMART-TD and BLET members are situated differently at this stage of the negotiations than the members of most of the other Rail Unions.

Knowing that, we should not fault the Unions who have decided to allow their members the right to decide their own fate through a ratification vote. As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Act negotiating process, all of our contracts will soon be settled, one way or the other. Allowing the membership to decide how that happens is at the very core of the labor movement, and our Unions will not interfere in the decision by other Rail Unions to vote upon a Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB’s recommendations.

Instead, we will continue to concentrate our efforts on obtaining Tentative Agreements for our members that are worthy of their consideration. Our goal is to reach an agreement that could be ratified because SMART-TD and BLET members also have the right to control their own futures through the democratic principles that give them the right to vote on and approve contracts.

One thing is now certain, obtaining such an agreement would be much more likely if Congress took a long Labor Day break and allowed the parties to work out their issues without intervention from the Federal Government. While we know that many SMART-TD and BLET members would like to strike their carriers for any number of reasons, it should not take a job action to reach an agreement worthy of their consideration. We call on Congress to stay out of our dispute, and if you do, we are confident that the rail carriers will move from their current positions and settle with their employees in a fashion that could be ratified.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy Labor Day,

President Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD

President Dennis Pierce, BLET

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 7, 2022) — In conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) urge all members to engage in a petition drive to bring attention to the draconian and punitive attendance policies that have forced rail workers to live in constant fatigue.

This effort comes simultaneously with a letter by AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan to the federal Departments of Labor and Transportation in support of both unions’ request in late January for an investigation into all rail carrier attendance policies, not just BNSF’s recently imposed “Hi-Viz” policy that has sparked outrage among all affected employees.

The petition is available here.

“We speak with one voice, shoulder-to-shoulder, in saying enough is enough. Congress must act to end these unsafe and life-sapping policies that punish workers with job loss. These severe and excessively harsh policies also penalize families by taking away what precious little time they have with their loved ones, leaving them dead tired and drained,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce said. “We thank TTD President Regan as our organizations continue to oppose draconian carrier attendance policies, such as the BNSF ‘Hi-Viz’ policy. These policies are clearly designed to further maximize carrier profits at the workers’ expense. Our unions will work jointly with TTD to raise awareness of these issues; they have gone unchallenged by our legislators and regulatory agencies for much too long.”

A case in point— according to a report in Business Insider published on March 4, five Democratic political leaders want an investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into Amazon’s attendance policies, and we have one question for them:

When do railroad workers get their turn?

Warren Buffett, while not as rich as Jeff Bezos, was crowing about BNSF’s record 2021 profits. It just so happens that his railroad, which happens to be the largest in the nation, imposed the draconian and punitive “Hi-Viz” policy that is absolutely in line with what Amazon is doing — points, permanent records and punishment for people if life gets in the way of work. Other Class I railroads have similar attendance policies. All of these need to be examined closely so that all workers receive the stable work-life balance that they DESERVE.

We’ve seen members’ posts on the internet, we have taken the calls and we have read and responded to the emails from our memberships. This is a top priority for SMART Transportation Division and BLET leaders. We need to work together and unite for a positive change instead of directing anger and discontent inward. As we continue to work with our elected leaders for the same help and support, it stands to reason that we will be reminding Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Richard Blumenthal as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker and Cori Bush that they should push for answers from BNSF and other railroads with the same energy and focus that they are placing on Amazon.

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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.