CLEVELAND — Chairperson Robert Primus and Vice Chairperson Karen Hedlund of the Surface Transportation Board opened the second day of the SMART-TD National Training Seminar on Wednesday, July 10.  They outlined the vital role labor organizations like SMART-TD play in overseeing the freight rail and bus industries.

Both officials took part in the board hearings under now-retired STB Chair Martin Oberman, where they confronted the nation’s railroads for their part in the post-lockdown supply chain meltdown.

Recap of the 2022 STB hearings on the railroad supply chain meltdown

“We’ve never had a board that has gone to battle for what the workers and shippers were going through like that board did,” SMART-TD union President Jeremy Ferguson said.

Primus: Labor brings critical issues into the light

STB Chairman Robert Primus shared that a void was filled by SMART Transportation Division leadership. Prior to 2021, rail labor did not have a voice with the STB committees overseeing freight and passenger rail.

Surface Transportation Board Chairman Robert Primus, center, speaks with Local Chairperson Nathan Hatton (LCA-769A), left, and General Chairperson/Organizer Justin Wolters (GCA-449).

“We really didn’t hear from labor, and that’s a shame because I think that’s one of the reasons why we are where we are today,” Primus said. “But those things changed. Marty Oberman did something crazy right around 2021… saying let’s bring the folks who run the railroads into the room with us.”

That opportunity allowed the priorities of rail labor to be heard, amplified and to give regulators a clear picture of the situation on the ground. Organizations like SMART-TD brough service issues, massive layoffs, and quality-of-life issues including draconian attendance policies and the lack of paid sick leave to light, Primus said.

“All the corporate types, they all started waking up, and we were able to really start to move the needle on some of these issues,” he said. “What Marty started has brought a powerful partnership between STB and labor. The result is, we’re stronger moving forward. That’s the big thing.

“All the things that they were doing in the dark were brought into the light. The good news is we’re going to be going forward together.”

SMART-TD railroad and transit union leaders sit on STB committees

Two of our leaders, SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy and President Ferguson, now sit on the STB advisory committees that oversee passenger and freight rail, respectively.

“For me, that’s important. You’re part of the equation. You’re part of the solution,” he said.

Primus also acknowledged the role unions had in helping him succeed Oberman.

“Labor stepped up first before anybody else,” Primus said. “I wouldn’t be here without the support of you in this room. I want to say thank you for letting me represent you.

“We’ll make people realize that the people who run the railroad are in the room right now.”

Hedlund: STB can help initiate rail growth

STB Vice Chairperson Karen Hedlund then recounted some of the work done during Oberman’s tenure and some things that may come regarding rail service.

STB Vice Chairperson Karen Hedlund

She’s familiar with our union, crossing paths earlier in her career with former FRA Administrator Joe Szabo, a TD Alumni member and former Illinois State Legislative Director.

She began by tamping down concerns about the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning the Chevron decision, which is feared to weaken federal oversight of private industry.

“I don’t think it means that the courts are necessarily going to be second-guessing everything,” Hedlund said. “They first have to find some ambiguity in the statute. Our statutes are pretty clear. There are some things that could use a little bit more elaboration, but if your statutes are clear and your precedents are clear, hopefully you can get through that.”

Another point she made was that the railroads, already a critical and efficient part of our infrastructure, need to expand. Only 30 percent of goods are transported by rail, she said.

“They have failed to grow their carloads over the past 20 years,” Hedlund said. “Over the last two decades, all rail transportation sectors except intermodal have shown significant negative growth.”

The latest forecast by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that rail’s market share is forecast to shrink compared with trucking in the future.

 STB can potentially prevent railroads from doing less with less via the common-carrier obligation, while supporting competition and abiding by STB’s reciprocal switching ruling.

The Staggers Act, passed in the early 1980s, ushered in an era of consolidation in the rail industry. This led to the current duopolistic structure of Class I railroads — only two in the east, two in the west and two running north-south — that restricts competition.

“Maybe it’s time for the statutory pendulum to swing the other way,” she said. “We have to start this conversation about what we need to find things to strengthen us to help the railroads and to help the employees. To help the economy and to help the environment. And we’re going to look to our advisory committees to work on that.”

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department coalition, of which the SMART-MD and SMART-TD are part, sent the following letter to Congress in conjunction with rail industry representatives on May 21:

The Honorable Robert Aderholt
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies 
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations 
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Tammy Baldwin
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Shelley Moore Capito
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chair Aderholt, Ranking Member DeLauro, Chair Baldwin, and Ranking Member Capito:

On behalf of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), we write to express our strong support for the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB’s) Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) request for $172.331 million in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. 

Over the last several years, RRB has faced many challenges, including a severe staffing shortage and an ongoing, complex Information Technology (IT) modernization effort, while navigating the high demand for benefits and assistance during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges have been exacerbated by the $2 million cut in funding Congress passed last year in the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) Labor-HHS appropriations bill. The impact of these budget cuts is already being seen. For example, 25 percent of RRB’s current employees will be eligible for retirement within the next year, but due to limited funding, RRB has been unable to replace those employees. These shortages have led to major backlogs in work and decreases in service to railroad retirees and workers. 

We have appreciated Congress’ past support for RRB’s efforts to modernize IT programs and improve the Board’s ability to pay benefits and maintain program integrity.  Unfortunately, this dedicated funding will be depleted by the end of FY24, though more work remains.  

For these reasons, RRB has requested $172.331 million in funding for FY25, $38.331 million above the President’s FY25 request. Of that funding, $28.331 million would be used to hire and retain the 880 full-time employees necessary to sustain operations and meet the Board’s core mission of paying the right benefits to the right people in the right amount at the right time. The remaining $10 million would allow RRB to continue making progress on its IT modernization effort, which Congress has supported in the past to improve program integrity. A more detailed explanation of RRB’s request is attached to this letter. 

It is important to note that RRB’s funding structure is unique in that railroad employer and employee contributions are held in trust funds not only to pay railroad benefits, but also to support RRB operations. Enacted appropriations language simply authorizes the RRB to access their own available funds in the railroad retirement trust fund system for the agency’s administrative budget, rather than drawing from the general pot of taxpayer funds. In effect, rail labor and management are funding the agency’s operations. They pay into the trust so that when their earned benefits are needed, the RRB is there to timely process applications and provide the customer service they deserve. We ask that you allow the agency to receive the funding it requests so that it can fully meet the needs of the railroad community.

We urge you to fund RRB at the requested $172.331 million to allow the agency to hire and retain the necessary employees and continue essential IT modernization. This funding level will ensure the Board continues to effectively serve the over 560,000 railroad employees and retirees and their families who rely on these benefits. 


Ian Jefferies
President and CEO
Association of American Railroads

Chuck Baker
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

Greg Regan
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Railroad history was made the first week of April 2024. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule stating that freight trains in this country cannot be safely run with fewer than two certified railroaders in a locomotive cab.

History could not have been made without you. SMART-TD has been leading this fight for more than two decades. The FRA received over 13,000 public comments on this rule. Only 64 of those were against it. That is an amazing, concerted effort on the part of our members and allies that shows the power of solidarity. YOU beat the railroad executives and their deep pockets. It wasn’t even close.

The rule was announced by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose on behalf of the Biden administration. SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson then spoke of the efforts of rail families, concerned members of the public and, most importantly, the experiences of our union members inside the rail cab.

The quality of what you wrote, not just the raw number of responses, is what truly moved the needle. Your personal experiences opened the eyes of the FRA to the lives that were saved and the potential disasters averted by the presence of a second person in the cab. Your experiences could not be denied. Thank you, from your union brothers and sisters, and on behalf of every American who lives, works or plays near a set of tracks.

We also would like to thank Wes Ekstedt, out of Local 445 in Galesburg, Illinois, who formed the “Fight For 2-Person Crews” Facebook page and website. Justin Wolters, from Local 1381 and general chairperson of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, and Nick Greficz, local chairperson from Local 278, were among the leaders of a page called “We the Union” that helped coalesce union efforts.

These leaders never missed an opportunity to advocate to the public and protect safety. They helped create a movement.

It is no secret that the 2PC effort helped unite all 12 rail labor organizations under the umbrella of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The message was also echoed by our friends in other labor unions outside of the rail industry. The rule announcement was introduced by David Hoagland, President of the District of Columbia Fire Fighters Association. Experienced first responders know who to rely on when there is a rail-related accident. The International Association of Fire Fighters strongly advocated for this ruling, and we express gratitude for their assistance.

Thanks also to The National League of Cities who provided unwavering support and advocacy for safe rail operations in our country.

SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller and Secretary and Treasurer Denise “Niki” Wallace do amazing work advocating for this and many other legislative movements. On the issue of 2PC, they raised awareness and coordinated action through many routes, including text message campaigns to members to bolster both national level and state legislation.

It would be remiss not to thank the state legislative directors in every state who have pushed for 2PC legislation. As we all know and have celebrated, 12 states achieved the governor’s signature on legislation or had regulations on minimum crew size on the books before the FRA’s historic announcement. Unquestionably, whether a bill passed or not, the efforts made in the state houses were instrumental in the national push.  Every time one of our SLDs presented legislation on the matter, it created public discussion and awareness of the critical role conductors play in protecting their communities. For all the state directors who fought the good fight for rail safety, we thank you and congratulate you on winning the war.

All in all, there are too many people to thank to have any hope of mentioning everyone. Our union is stronger than ever, the community we have built around us is active and engaged, and together we put the rail bosses on notice.  We are watching, and we will use our collective strength to protect public and worker safety however inconvenient that becomes for the profit-at-all-cost railroads and their owners.

We thank all of our members and advocates for everything they did to bring the fight this far.  Your efforts have been seen, and we have seen the results, but there is work left to do. Every new administration brings the risk of new regulations. We need to protect the progress that we have made. Now that the FRA’s 2PC rule is a reality it is time to focus on passing the Railway Safety Act.

Phone: (216) 228-9400

Fax: (216) 228-0411

Department Email:

“I would like to start off by saying that this decision by President Biden’s administration is historic for SMART-TD members and all rail labor. Today’s ruling codifying the two-person freight crew not only demonstrates this administration’s dedication to the safety of this country and our workforce, but it also shows their respect and acknowledgment of our men and women and the work they do. They see our value to this nation’s economy and security. Every railroad professional should take pride in this accomplishment and recognition. We are too often undervalued. Today is a day we should all remember. When this rule came open for public comments, SMART members stood up and spoke with over 13,000 responses to the FRA. Today, we all celebrate the result and the essential proof of the value of the labor of the people aboard the nation’s freight trains. This effort defines what it is to be a union and the power of workers to stand as one. We did it together as a SMART-TD family, and I am unbelievably proud to be the president of this union in what is a defining moment for our industry where safety finally and deservedly came first.”

— SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (April 2, 2024) — After a multi-year effort by SMART-TD members and leadership, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced today that there will be a minimum of TWO certified rail crew members assigned to the cab of freight trains in the nation. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ruling on the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) finally puts safety first for our industry. With this action, President Joe Biden’s Department of Transportation (DOT) delivered on a promise made in 2020, which supports our ongoing struggle to force railroads to responsibly operate their trains. 

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson speaks during the announcement of the FRA’s two-person crew regulation on April 2.

Today’s announcement solidifies the role of freight conductors in this country. It comes after a long fight between SMART-TD and the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the railroad companies it represents and the hedge fund operators who own many of the nation’s railroads. SMART’s members participated by sending 13,000 comments to the FRA on the regulation. TD President Jeremy Ferguson and our union’s national and state legislative officers relentlessly pushed lawmakers and government officials to understand the safety ramifications of a nation with single-person freight train crews. President Ferguson attended and testified at the FRA’s public hearing on this regulation in December 2022 and delivered 20 minutes of firsthand accounts to FRA officials demanding they take this step to protect the country from the railroad companies’ greed.

Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose speaks as SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg listen in Washington D.C. on April 2.

National Legislative Director Greg Hynes and Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity orchestrated outreach to every state in the U.S., mobilizing our members to stand up and take part in the public comment period, resulting in our record-setting number of submissions.

Cassity had this to say: “It is no secret that the railroads in this country have been relentlessly pursuing a way to cut our rail crews down to one person. They have poured millions of dollars into pursuing technology that allows them to do this. These corporations are open with the fact they see more value in the trajectory of their stock prices than the safety of this country or the well-being of the conductors and engineers who are the bedrock of our economy. This fight raged for years and, as a union family, we stood toe to toe with the railroads. I want to thank our members for staying engaged in this fight.”

The announcement of this new regulation comes as a relief to all rail workers and to all concerned with rail safety in America. SMART-TD National Legislative Director Greg Hynes gives credit for this win to the collective effort of railroad workers and the state legislative committees throughout SMART’s organization.

“This announcement didn’t come out of thin air. It came from the hard work and dedication of SMART-TD’s men and women!” Hynes said. “Two-person crew regulations have been discussed for years through multiple presidencies and even more sessions of Congress. The men and women of this union have never relented or allowed this issue to get pushed to the side. Our state legislative directors have taken up this fight state after state. Our members have made their voices heard from coast to coast on this issue. Today we reach a place where our vigilance and persistence have paid off. This administration got it done.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announces FRA’s two-person crew ruling on April 2 in Washington, D.C.

The regulation, often mired in partisan struggles, was not a certainty. SMART-TD state legislative committees worked relentlessly to get a dozen states to set a minimum crew size. Our work would continue should the regulation change under a future administration.

Cassity continues, “We have every right to celebrate today’s ruling from the Biden administration, but we cannot for one second think this fight is over. We must stay informed, involved, and on offense. These railroads aren’t used to losing. They will come out swinging to argue against the reality that our people matter, and we have got to be ready for it. SMART-TD remains vigilant, and we ask you to continue to stand with us.”

Read the FRA’s rule.

Attendees at the announcement of the two-person crew freight regulation take a group photo April 2, 2024.


If you’re interested in speaking more about the ruling on two-person freight rail crews, we’d be happy to connect you with:

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.

President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Ferguson headed the 2019 national rail negotiations for the union.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019.

Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007-2014.

In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards.

Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the United Transportation Union’s Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity, a member of Local 1377 (Russell, Ky.), was elected to the office of alternate national legislative director at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in August 2019 and became director of the union’s National Safety Team in June 2021.

Cassity started his railroad career with CSX in September 2005 and was promoted to engineer in 2008.

In addition to his elected roles, he has been a member of the National Safety Team since 2014, where he was subsequently elected to the position of Alternate Director (East) for the NST in 2016. Likewise, he was elected by his fellow peers of state directors to serve as the directors’ representative on the CSX Safety Model Executive Board in 2013.

Investigative journalist Topher Sanders released a report on ProPublica today where he reveals how multiple injuries and fatalities were swept under the rug by Class I carriers BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern. The article goes into detail on stories common to us in the industry. Jared Cassity, SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director, helped shine a public spotlight on this critical issue.

Read What’s Missing From Railroad Safety Data? Dead Workers and Severed Limbs on ProPublica

Brother Cassity is a nationally recognized expert on railroad safety and a leader of SMART-TD’s National Safety Team (NST). He does not sugarcoat his responses, especially when it comes to the well-being of our members.

“The system is rigged, especially when it comes to injuries. You see what they want you to see,” Cassity said in the article. ProPublica found that carriers pick and choose what injuries they report so that they can boast about their safety records.

As the largest rail union in the nation, SMART-TD is an established authority for rail-related issues. Brother Cassity’s efforts reflect our union’s commitment to safeguard members, have our hardships recognized and to force the railroads to improve conditions for those who keep our economy moving.

Please take a moment to read this article and share it with friends and family on your social media accounts. Widespread understanding of the industry’s culture of corruption is the best weapon we all have to combat it.

For decades, Warren Buffett has reigned as one of the most-recognizable brands in American business. He leads BNSF’s parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and his decisions play a large role in the direction of the rail industry.

Buffett and Berkshire’s reach extends into industries all over the globe. It influences many common U.S. business sectors, from insurance, real estate, and the energy sector down to jewelry stores and the groceries we buy labeled Kraft or Heinz.

It is easy to understand why the alleged “Oracle of Omaha” and his annual letter to investors is widely read. His words are embraced by the owning class, who dream of hoarding even a fraction of Buffett’s great fortune. This year, Buffett complained in great detail about BNSF as well as railroading in general.

First and foremost, Buffett expressed his disappointment that BNSF’s revenue and profits fell last year. He also noted that our new contract provided raises that were “far beyond the country’s inflation goals.”

Nobody in the SMART Transportation Division is regularly found in Forbes or Fortune magazine. Still, our interpretation of his letter is that, in his billionaire opinion, the raises our members earned in the 2022 National Agreement were “too much” and that what it did to Berkshire Hathaway’s stockholders was “disappointing” because they — the ownership — deserved more.

Let’s be crystal clear, his statement never stated that BNSF lost money. His disappointment is that an overdue raise for the people who actually do the work cut into the obscene amount of profit they wanted to make. The 92-year-old billionaire, sadly, did not make as much off workers’ backs as predicted.

SMART-TD will not apologize to Buffett or anyone else on Wall Street for our men and women getting paid what they have rightfully earned while keeping this nation’s economy humming.

He went on to describe how BNSF’s profit margins have fallen relative to the other Class I railroads and promised that these “margin comparisons can and should improve.”

Maybe that’s why he decided to have BNSF cut the jobs of maintenance workers, pipe fitters and other unionized workers across the railroad. These men and women many with mouths to feed, were shown the door the VERY WEEK after his public-facing letter.

Our union hears this loud and clear. If the profits being returned to the stockholders are disappointing, the answer for Berkshire Hathaway and BNSF obviously isn’t for the company to try harder to grow, to earn new business, or expand its relationship with the customers they have; it is to increase the operating (Profit) ratios. The easiest and most-expedient way to do that is to start handing out pink slips and furloughs because the executives and shareholders MUST get theirs first and foremost.

We know what it looks like when railroad-owning hedge funds start managing railroads based on operating ratios and profit margins. Safety goes out the window, trains get longer, brake inspections get rushed, extra boards get smaller, PO days get canceled, maintenance workers are axed. Life gets harder at home and more hazardous for those on the job.

If Berkshire Hathaway’s profit isn’t growing fast enough, the executive perspective is it’s far cheaper to buy additional whips than to add more horses to the team. This is the same mentality used by Wall Street to run our industry into the ground since 2017.

Buffett went on to discuss the work conditions that our members/his employees face. He discussed how he works in an “always-comfortable office” while railroaders are doing their work in harsh winter conditions that are both “tiring and dangerous.” If these are actual concerns he holds, SMART-TD and our General Chairpersons would be happy to discuss more structured rest schedules, the end to BNSF’s ridiculous “Hi-Viz” attendance policy, as well as the implementation of the many safety protocols and redundancies our union has long advocated.

Additionally, if Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s upper management are truthfully concerned with the level of danger for their employees, they could follow Norfolk Southern’s lead and join the Confidential Close Call Reporting (C3RS) program as the FRA, NASA, and the Department of Transportation have been suggesting. This way, they can enable the safety benefits for their employees that other railroads have realized by participating in this program. It’d be preferable to going down the dangerous path of crew-size reductions and automation.

Along those same lines, another change Buffett and BNSF CEO Katie Farmer could make for safety is not to follow through on the planned job cuts for workers in the nation’s heartland.

Cutting 362 jobs in crafts charged with inspections, safety compliance, and making pivotal repairs to the tracks and rolling stock does not square with any concern expressed for worker safety. It does line up roughly 100% with the OTHER comments made about easing the “disappointment” of Berkshire’s stockholders. Buffett’s letter also laments that “a growing percentage of Americans are not looking for the difficult, and often lonely employment conditions inherent in some rail operations.”

Why would Buffett help fund the fight against two-person crew regulations if he is so worried about this aspect of our lives?

Until Buffett and the machine at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., as well as the rest of the rail executives and their all-important stockholders, are ready to address workers’ issues in a serious, thoughtful way, the hard-working people represented by SMART-TD would appreciate it if they didn’t use the crosses we bear to shield themselves in their “always-comfortable offices.”

It is inappropriate to hide behind the dangers and hardships we endure on your behalf; hardships we tolerate for the good of our families, to gain wiggle room with stockholders who aren’t happy with the size of your dividend check. As a reminder, you and your fellow shareholders make money because of us, not in spite of us, even though the Association of American Railroads claimed otherwise in 2022 that “Labor Does Not Contribute to Profits.”

We are exploited enough in our day-to-day duties at BNSF and the other big railroads with inflexible attendance policies and a desire to place profitability over safety and humanity. You have no right to use our hardships to justify anything to the stockholders. You have no right to twist the worst aspects of our lives into a justification for a recommitment to longer trains, more grueling schedules, and a diminished commitment to appropriate staffing and safety. We resent the manipulation of your backhanded compliments on our toughness and ability to overcome our job conditions despite your lack of actual assistance.

Mr. Buffett, you have done nothing in this letter but show that the owning class believes in its own story that what they do in the comfort of their own office matters more than what happens where the boots hit the ballast, at all hours of the day and night and types of weather.

How can you justify telling the world that an overdue pay raise is problematic for stock dividends while you also use our lifestyle to hijack any empathy the public has for us to benefit you and your multi-billion-dollar conglomerate?

Railroaders are used to having their primary meal for the day come off the roller grill at a gas station, but even we can’t swallow this much hot garbage.

SMART-TD is not a publicly traded, market-driven organization. We don’t pretend to understand the motivations that led to this addition to your “Letter to Investors,” although we can speculate. We do, however, know railroading. One phrase you hear when conflicts arise in crew rooms that might be good advice — “Keep my name out of your mouth.”

Until Berkshire Hathaway, BNSF, and Buffett are willing to address the core quality-of-life issues on their railroad and put the people who do the work first, rather than using them as corporate propaganda, it would be wise to adhere to this invaluable wisdom.

CALIFORNIA – Today, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA), which oversees the largest high-speed rail project under construction in North America, announced a ground-breaking agreement with 13 rail unions to utilize rail workers covered by federal railroad labor laws in critical jobs once trains begin to operate. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) ensures that highly skilled rail workers will perform all traditional railroad work such as operating trains, engineering work, maintenance of equipment, dispatching, on-board service and clerical work.

“We are proud that this agreement guarantees our right to organize workers, including reasonable access to the jobsite for union organizing, and establishes a pathway to voluntary employer recognition of the union. Further, the agreement ensures that workers will be covered by bedrock federal rail labor laws, including the Railway Labor Act, the Railroad Retirement Act and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act,” said the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition, which consists of 13 rail unions representing more than 160,000 freight, regional, commuter, and passenger railroad workers. “California is the birthplace of high-speed rail in America. Despite the robust support of the citizens of California, CAHSRA has faced many obstacles since the project’s initial launch. We commend CAHSRA for overcoming these challenges and achieving substantial progress, including today’s momentous agreement, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

This agreement follows an existing Project Labor Agreement between CAHSRA and building trades unions to utilize union workers on the construction side, furthering the project’s commitment to employing highly skilled union workers and maintaining fair labor standards. The project is already responsible for the creation of over 11,000 jobs, including high-skilled construction jobs and other industry-related work, and this agreement brings hundreds of additional good union jobs to the California Central Valley.

“The Authority is proud to continue its tradition of working with labor unions and we are pleased to have reached this important agreement that ensures we have the highest quality working conditions for our highly trained and qualified workers,” said Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “This is essential to ensuring that California’s high-speed rail system will be operated with the safest and highest quality of service for our passengers,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of the CAHSRA.

Phase 1 of the project will cover 500 miles and run service from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Basin in under three hours. Upon full completion, the project will stretch 800 miles, extending to Sacramento and San Diego. The zero-emission trains will be 100% powered by renewable energy, reaching speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

“As the nation’s largest transportation labor union federation, we are proud to support monumental projects like the California High-Speed Rail Project, which will deliver a modern, efficient, and green transit system while putting skilled union members to work,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

In the midst of the largest expansion of transportation and infrastructure in our country’s history, including a record level of federal investment in passenger rail transportation, today’s agreement establishes a precedent for future high-speed rail agreements between public entities and rail unions. As it works to deliver high-speed rail to the American public, CAHSRA simultaneously will set the standard for high-quality work and labor practices.

The High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition includes the following 13 rail labor unions: the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART-MD), National Conference of Firemen and Oilers 32BJ/SEIU (NCFO), Transportation Communications Union (TCU), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The following letter was submitted by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division and Mechanical Division are members, on behalf of SMART and a number of other labor unions to President Joe Biden earlier this week.

November 12, 2023

Dear President Biden:

On behalf of the undersigned national rail labor unions, we write to unanimously recommend and support Johnathan D. Bragg to be re-nominated to serve as the Labor Member on the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). He has demonstrated excellent service on the Board for the last four years since his confirmation in early 2019, and we request that he be nominated for another term to serve on the Board.

John Bragg, labor’s member on the Railroad Retirement Board, addresses the Transportation Division session at the SMART Leadership Conference on July 31, 2023.

As you know, employees in the railroad industry are covered under a separate retirement system which is administered by the RRB. This unique system, funded solely by the industry and its employees, provides retirement, unemployment, disability and survivor benefits for millions of rail workers. These benefits and services are essential to the lives of all employees and their families. To help ensure that the system protects the interest of rail workers, Section 7(A) of the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974 dictates that the President must nominate one candidate to the Board based on the “recommendations made by representatives of the employees.” We strongly endorse Johnathan D. Bragg to continue serving as the Labor member for the RRB.

Mr. Bragg has shown great leadership on the Board and successfully represented and advocated for rail workers during one of the most trying times in the rail industry. Like many industries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many hardships for rail workers, including layoffs, illness and even unfortunately death. Congress included provisions in the COVID-19 relief packages to provide temporary additional benefits, such as enhanced rail worker unemployment benefits, that were administered through the RRB; Mr. Bragg and his staff were instrumental in successfully rolling out and implementing those benefits in record time. During his tenure, Mr. Bragg has also advocated for and provided oversight of the long overdue modernization of the RRB’s IT systems that will bring RRB’s 1960’s IT systems into the 21st century and facilitate much-needed improvements, such as allowing workers to file benefit claims online.

In addition to his leadership and service on the Board, Mr. Bragg hails from a long line of railroaders in his family. He began his own rail career 23 years ago as a freight conductor, and later a signalman, and knows the rail worker’s perspective firsthand. As a dedicated rail worker and union member, he climbed the union leadership ranks as a Local Chairman, Grand Lodge Representative, and National Vice-President. He also represented the BRS as a permanent Board Member of the National Railroad Adjustment Board. Mr. Bragg’s long and accomplished career has allowed him to excel in his current role. If granted a second term as the RRB’s Labor Member, Mr. Bragg will continue bringing an invaluable level of experience, knowledge, and understanding of the needs of rail workers, retirees, and their families who rely on the system.

For these reasons, we strongly recommend you re-nominate Johnathan D. Bragg to serve as the Labor member of the RRB as you work to ensure the agency’s full board member capacity.


American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)-IBT
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED)-IBT
Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers (IBB)
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Mechanical Division (SMART-MD)
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU (NCFO)
Transportation Communications International Union (TCU)
Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)

In 2022, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed into law Senate Joint Resolution 86, declaring October 15 “Railroad Workers Day” throughout the Garden State.  

This Sunday, New Jersey will be recognizing Railroad Workers Day for the second time. As Gov. Murphy said about railroaders last fall when he was signing the bill into law, “Their courage, as well as their role as the backbone of our state’s expanding transportation network, must not be overlooked. On October 15th — and every day — we honor the contributions of our workers not just as employees, but as New Jerseyans committed to promoting safety, efficiency, and economic activity in our local communities.”  

SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol

New Jersey’s recognition of our members is a product of SMART-TD’s State Legislative Director Ron Sabol, N.J. State Sen. Patrick J. Diegnan (D), and N.J. Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D). Diegnan was the primary sponsor for the bill.  

Both Sen. Diegnan and Assemblyman Benson serve on the Transportation Committee in the Legislature. In this role, both have been exposed to the realities of New Jersey’s rail crews. This insight led them to push for the creation of Railroad Workers Day.    

SMART-TD is happy to celebrate Railroad Workers Day with our brothers and sisters. We hope that all of you stay safe out there on the ballast, and continue making our issues top of mind for the legislators in Trenton! 

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART-TD and -MD are members, released the following statement on behalf of rail unions regarding next steps in our push forward on reforms to a freight rail industry that is failing its workers and the American people:

“Across this nation, the American people have been awakened to the importance of freight rail workers to the national supply chain and our economy. More importantly, they have learned that the workers who are single-handedly responsible for the success of this industry have been mistreated while they’ve held these companies together through a pandemic and a historic supply chain crisis.

While rail unions successfully secured historic pay increases and other benefits for their workers with the support of President Biden, the railroads and their bought and paid-for allies in Congress refused to meet our demands for the basic human right of paid sick leave in bargaining. However, it should be made clear that the lack of paid sick leave is merely a symptom; so-called “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR) and its cut-to-the-bone business model is the virus plaguing the rail industry and America’s freight commerce network. This virus exists for one reason, and one reason alone: corporate greed.

Let us be clear. The fight to guarantee paid sick leave for rail workers is not over and we will not back down until we win. We are committed to aggressively pursuing further action by both parties in Congress and the President, including the strategic use of legislation and Administration action, such as federal regulations and oversight, that will once and for all hold the rail industry accountable.

We stand united with workers and are grateful to the American people who have heard our call: in one of the most profitable industries in the richest country in the world, there is no excuse for rail workers to go another day without immediate action to correct this glaring injustice. But we must also remain focused on the underlying problems that remain for workers and the industry, which cannot be solved through paid sick leave policies alone.

The American people should know that while this round of collective bargaining is over, the underlying issues facing the workforce and rail customers remain. Over the last seven years, the freight railroad industry has moved to a business model that has cut their workforces to the bone, devastated worker morale by creating unsustainable working conditions across the industry, and put the safety of their workers and the American public at risk. This business model, which the industry termed “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR), is not meant to improve service or reduce costs for shippers and consumers. Instead, it is meant to squeeze, with precision, every last penny of profit out of their operations for the benefit of a handful of ultra-wealthy investors who have contributed nothing themselves to the success of this industry.

Prior to PSR, if an employee needed to call in sick, they were nearly always allowed to “mark off,” and would be replaced by the next person on the roster. However, after cutting 30% of the workforce, there are no backups, and in an effort to keep trains moving, the rail industry needed a “stick” to keep employees in line. Management dusted off their rulebooks and decided to begin disciplining employees for missing work – a right they always retained but never used. If railroad workers spoke up, they risked being targeted. And in an era of mass furloughs, railroaders were rightfully worried that tomorrow would bring a pink slip.

The need for paid sick leave is only greater in this environment of strict discipline enforced by ruthless managers that were told to cut costs by any means. To most railroad managers, the solution was to furlough all possible employees, and rule over those remaining with an iron fist. Forced overtime went from being rare to a routine, multi-day occurrence. In fact, fatigue is now one the most dangerous issues facing employees. That is why the rail industry fought tooth and nail to deny paid sick leave to workers. They know that they cannot sustain their unsafe, greed-driven business model without putting the health and safety of workers on the line. In other words, denying workers sick leave isn’t an oversight but rather a core, intentional feature of the freight railroads’ business model.

In April, the railroads were called before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for a three-day hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service.” The railroads were scolded not just by the STB and rail unions, but by rail customers across the spectrum. From grain shippers to chemical distributors, every witness pinpointed the same issue: that poor rail service is the result of years of irresponsible cost-cutting and the hostile work environment for remaining employees. And despite their public scolding and promises to make improvements, all of these metrics have continued to decline. Six months later, staffing levels are even lower than before, and freight embargoes of shippers are higher than ever.

And it is not just rail workers who are suffering. The freight railroads have created an economic crisis for all Americans by failing to meet the service needs of their customers. They have shamelessly crippled our supply chain, driving up prices for consumers on our most essential goods. What’s more, by forcing sick or fatigued workers to perform their jobs, they are knowingly risking public safety in our communities every single day. All of this for the sake of eking out a few extra dollars to further pad the pockets of their CEOs and Wall Street.

We will share our concerns about the freight rail industry’s behavior in greater detail before the Surface Transportation Board’s public hearing next Tuesday, Dec. 13, regarding Union Pacific’s refusal to accept goods for shipment because they’ve undermined their own capacity to ship them. We also applaud the Federal Railroad Administration for holding a public hearing next Wednesday, Dec. 14, on train crew size safety requirements, which is a fundamental safety issue and another example of the railroads willingly jeopardizing the welfare of their workers and safety to fuel more profits.

Ahead of these public hearings, rail workers will rally in front of the US Capitol on Tuesday, 12/13 from 1 to 3 p.m. to highlight the need to address all of these issues within the freight rail industry. Additional details will follow.

The wins for rail workers that resulted from a Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Biden with further improvements facilitated by the Biden Administration are indeed historic. They include a 24% pay raise with back pay, which is the biggest wage increase in 45 years; a $5,000 bonus for every worker; an increase in travel disbursements for maintenance of way workers; no increase in health insurance copays or deductibles; no changes to two-person crew staffing; and more.

But rail workers, the unions who fight for them, and our partners in government must work together to hold this industry accountable for their actions and reconcile the long-term consequences of their greed. By prioritizing profits over people, they have failed workers, customers, and consumers. We need a freight rail system that works for the entire country. It is time for a reckoning.”

American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen-IBT (BLET)

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division-IBT (BMWED)

Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 19

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB)

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, SEIU (NCFO, SEIU)

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD)

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART TD)

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD)

Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)