Brother Arin Johnson of SMART Local 194 (Elkhart, Indiana) kicked off his series of coalition building meetings in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday, May 3rd. Johnson’s vision of bringing members from multiple carriers together to discuss best practices and form a clear idea of what is and isn’t working in the railroad industry was a tall order, but after the first meeting last week, he is off to a great start.
This meeting brought roughly 80 men and women from SMART Transportation Division together and featured three State Legislative Directors, three General Chairmen, members from seven states and four railroads. SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson was in attendance and spoke to the crowd along with other representatives from the International.
There was also an effort to reach out to the attendees of the meeting from two Ohio government leaders. The first was a recorded video message from Ohio State Senator Nickie Antonio, who sits as the ranking member of the Ohio Senate’s Transportation Committee, as well as the Ohio Select Committee on Rail Safety. The second was from United States Senator Sherrod Brown, who could not attend but sent a letter to the group that can be seen here. Both Senators Brown and Antonio emphasized in their messages that they share SMART-TD’s commitment to rail safety and that they are using their roles as legislators to bring about two-person crew minimums, regulations surrounding the use of wayside defect detectors and several other rail safety improvements.
President Ferguson’s message largely focused on continuing SMART’s current momentum. He started off by thanking Brother Johnson for putting the meeting together.
“It feels good to be on offense!” he added. “We are winning in Washington, DC. We are winning in state houses. We are kicking ass. Our members, local officers and general chairs are winning claims, you’re winning appeals, and you’re winning the confidence of our members.”
Before opening the floor to questions, Ferguson used the moment to emphasize the role that SMART-TD’s training curriculum plays in maintaining our momentum. “These training opportunities get our newer officers ready to properly conduct hearings and put together their appeals.”
He asked all the brothers in sisters in the room to use the training tools at their disposal: “Let’s get prepared to represent these guys right! Please take advantage of our Regional Training Seminars. Please jump on the website and use the SMART University to keep your skills sharp and up to date. These tools are important, and we owe it to every one of our members to get everything out of them that we possibly can.”
Following President Ferguson, SMART-TD’s Alternate Legislative Director Jared Cassity broke down the need for members of all rail carriers to put the pedal down on filling out Unsafe Conditions Reports and Technology Failure Reports. He emphasized the importance of this “ammunition” when he takes our fight to the halls of Congress and to each state’s legislators.
Following Brother Cassity, State Legislative Directors from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio took the floor, providing a detailed update on the advancements made in their state legislatures and their plans for what comes next in their states. Michigan SLD Don Roach and Indiana SLD Ken Edwards were wonderful examples of Brother Johnson’s vision for the sharing of best practices. Roach has recently played a large role in the successful overturning of the so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law in his state. Edwards and other members of the Indiana labor community are in the process of taking that same fight to the state house in Indianapolis.
The conversations between these two SLDs was a great testimony to how effective this series of coalition-building meetings can be as Brother Johnson takes them across the country. Ohio SLD Clyde Whitaker discussed SMART-TD’s recent success in getting two-person crew legislation passed in the Buckeye State and what went into his approach for getting first-of-its-kind regulations put into Ohio law surrounding the regulation of wayside defect detectors. The outline of Brother Whitaker’s talking points are available here and may prove helpful to LR’s and SLD’s nationwide.
Many other topics were brought up by members who came to Cleveland. Among them was the decline in training programs being offered by the rail carriers, the delay in some carriers honoring their back pay obligations that came with the new contract Congress imposed in December, the utility position and crew consist agreements Union Pacific members are grappling with, and the universal question of how we are going to get attendance policies under control across all railroads.
Attendees of this kickoff meeting represented the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and North Dakota and included members working on CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific, and BNSF railroads. The diversity as well as the commonality of the experiences in the room made the meeting a huge success. SMART-TD owes a debt of gratitude to Brother Johnson, and we hope the rest of the meetings in your series are as productive as this one proved to be.