On a beautiful Kansas spring day, legislators, their families, and community members gathered for a special train ride hosted by SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Rock Island Railroad.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo speaks at Baldwin train depot before the excursion trip.

The event provided an opportunity for advocacy and education on rail safety legislation, community involvement and the development of industry partnerships.

SMART-TD Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo spoke with the legislators at the historic Baldwin city train depot and a safety briefing by the train crew followed before everyone came aboard.

As the train rolled through the scenic countryside, legislators engaged in discussions with TD representatives, learning about the importance of rail safety and the need for comprehensive legislation. The SMART-TD team shared their firsthand experiences and emphasized the crucial role of rail safety in protecting both workers and the public.

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo speaks with a fellow passenger during the Kansas excursion trip.

The train ride also showcased the strong community involvement in rail safety. Leaders from statewide organizations representing first responders and firefighters attended and demonstrated their readiness to respond to any emergency situation. Their presence highlighted the importance of collaboration between rail workers and emergency services to ensure the safety of everyone involved and the need for common-sense minimum rail safety legislation.

SLD Dragoo gives a passenger an assist.

Key to the event was the partnership between SMART-TD’s Kansas contingent and the Rock Island Railroad in Baldwin City.

“Rock Island provided the historic train and the tracks, creating a unique and memorable experience for all participants,” Dragoo said. “The partnership demonstrated the commitment of both organizations to rail safety community engagement and a shared interest in advancing rail safety legislation.

“It was an awesome event. Special thanks go to the crew members and Robert Riley, CEO of the Rock Island Railroad, for their dedication and hard work in making the legislative train ride a success. Their contributions ensured a safe and enjoyable event for everyone involved.”

Dragoo said that he hopes that the excursion becomes a regular event because it can educate and strengthen understanding among legislators about the industry in a practical way.

Anyone who makes a career out of running the rails or drilling track lists in the yard has qualities that are hard to find in 2024. Rail workers are throwbacks to a time when hard work, dignity, and the ability to improvise and overcome were valued.

Not only are the men and women who make up our State Legislative Boards in touch with the working conditions they want to improve, but they have also made it in the world of railroading. That speaks to the qualities a person has at their core. When they roll into any state house in the country, they bring more than our message with them. They bring our swagger and our ingenuity, too.

One of the best examples is our State Legislative Board in Colorado. This group has been on the cutting edge of this organization and has been taking the state house in Denver by storm.

Carl Smith, SMART-TD’s state legislative director in Colorado, has 12 years of experience in his role and a team of legislative representatives (LRs) around him as hungry for improvements as they are effective.

Gov. Jared Polis signs Colorado’s rail safety bill H.B. 1030 on May 10, 2024.

This win creates oversight that should put safety first

Smith’s team in Colorado pushed their state to become among the first in the country to adopt 2PC, and succeeded for the members of SMART-TD yet again in their fight for the Colorado Rail Safety Act.

The act (H.B. 1030) is a comprehensive rail safety package that will provide protection for our members in the Mile High State and set a precedent for what we can achieve nationwide. It combines policies that proved successful in other states, and reads like a SMART-TD highlight reel:

  • Creates the Colorado Office of Rail Safety monitoring the following throughout Colorado:
    • HazmatTrain lengthRail operationsTrack conditionsMechanicalSignal systems
    • Blocked crossings
  • Doubles the number of rail safety inspectors in the state
  • Reinforces the role of SMART-TD and all rail labor organizations in investigations,
  • Provides for training for first responders,
  • Reinforces whistleblower protections for railroad workers,
  • Regulates the placement and enforcement of wayside defect detectors.

Why we do it

On May 10, 2024, Gov. Jared Polis signed the Colorado RSA into law. When the ink dried on his signature, it cemented yet another win for Smith, Colorado’s Legislative Board, workers’ rights, public safety, and common sense.

SMART-TD wants to thank and congratulate SLD Carl Smith, the Colorado Legislative Board, and, most importantly, our Colorado members. We appreciate your fight for this bill, and your victory will pave the way for a heightened level of safety for thousands of your brothers and sisters far beyond the borders of your state.

This victory was not gift-wrapped for SMART-TD. Railroad lobbyists and the legislators they have in their camp threw more than one curveball at Brother Smith and his legislative board, which we’ll get into in a future article. The professionalism of this group of LRs is an excellent example of what this organization is capable of!

The SMART Transportation Division is gaining momentum in legislatures all over the United States. Some state houses have proven friendlier to our cause of rail safety and quality of life for rail workers. This is evident by the legislative victories our union has achieved in the Northeast corridor and on the West Coast.

As our national and state legislative teams continue to lead the way and outwork the railroads’ corporate lobbyists around the country, our organization has begun to make progress in less labor-friendly states.

SMART-TD crossing safety bill signed into law

On April 19th, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa signed her name to the latest rail safety bill SMART-TD was working toward. This legislation, known as Iowa House Bill 204, has been spearheaded by SMART-TD’s Iowa Legislative Board and its state director, Chris Smith.

H.B. 204’s passage doubled the fine for drivers who roll the dice and ignore crossing gates inside quiet zones. For any railroader who has ever had the misfortune of being involved in a critical incident at a crossing, we know how significant of a win this deterrent is.

Smith and the Iowa Legislative Board fought for this bill not only in the interest of public safety but also for every railroader’s mental and emotional well-being.

Historic support

Our LRs in Iowa orchestrated SMART-TD’s effort in Des Moines well. The results may very well open the door to passing additional bills in Iowa that were previously unimaginable in that state’s political climate.

Iowa State Legislative Director Christopher Smith

Smith and his team of legislative representatives passed H.B. 204 through both chambers of Iowa’s Legislature without one representative or senator voting against it! They received votes of 99-0 and 50-0, respectively, in the House and Senate. 

In addition to the overwhelming bipartisan support Smith and his board pieced together, they were able to pull off a feat that was even harder to believe — they got both Class I railroads in Iowa to support SMART-TD’s legislation!

Job well done!

SMART-TD wants to thank SLD Smith, the nine Iowa State Legislative Board members, and every man and woman who contributed to this great accomplishment. We are excited to see where your momentum carries Iowa and this organization going forward!

Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman joined the STB in 2019, the same year that I became the president of the SMART Transportation Division. In the five years we have been in our positions, many of the battles Marty and I have fought have been the same.

At STB, Oberman has been dedicated to making the rail industry work for the American people and our economy. What made him stand out is that he understands what SMART-TD and rail labor do to make that happen. He has always, very appropriately, seen labor as a partner in the solutions and in the industry.

Ever since he was with Metra working with SMART-TD members to keep Chicago’s passenger rail flowing, Marty has seen value in the experience and wisdom of crews on the front line. When he became a member, then chair of the STB, this mentality came with him — the people on the ground and in the cab are the ones making things work.

Oberman has gone out of his way to give SMART-TD and rail labor a voice in the direction of the industry. This has earned him tremendous respect from this organization’s leadership and from our members.

His no-nonsense, common-sense approach has served this country well, as well as providing many YouTube-worthy quotes and awkward moments for railroad executives who faced his questions. It’s been therapeutic at times to see Oberman demand accountability from rail executives who are so accustomed to dictating the situation to their will.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman addresses the SMART Leadership Conference via video in San Francisco, Calif., in 2022.
STB Chairman Martin Oberman addresses the SMART Leadership Conference via video in San Francisco, Calif., in 2022.

He has been an ally in our fight to get the nation out from under the thumb of Precision Scheduled Railroading. He’s used his clout as chairman to rally against rail carriers’ abuses of shipper embargoes. In recent months, he’s been an outspoken critic of a hedge fund’s hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern.

When given the choice, he’d prefer the industry concentrate on serving shippers and valuing its employees instead of seeing profit and operating ratios as the chief determinants of success. Throughout, he’s seen rail workers as key to this country’s economy, not as enemies of Wall Street investors. This core belief shines through in his time leading the Surface Transportation Board.

Martin Oberman is a friend of the American rail worker. I‘m proud to say that he has become a friend of mine.

When a champion of our cause retires or, as we like to say, “pulls the pin,” it’s a hard pill for the rest of us to swallow. But looking at the structure of the STB today and the watchdog role this board has carved out under Marty’s leadership, it is evident that his legacy will last for decades to come.

I want to personally wish Marty a long and happy retirement with his wife, Bonnie, beginning today. I and every hard-working American in the industry appreciates the fearlessness with which you served the STB and the nation.

Jeremy R. Ferguson,

President, Transportation Division

“This is a good day for the men and women on the ballast line of Norfolk Southern! The attempt by the hedge fund known as Ancora to take over one of this country’s largest railroads could have been catastrophic to our nation’s economy and to the quality of life for thousands of SMART-TD members.

Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman and Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg supported NS’s management team because they recognized the threat the Ancora plan posed to rail workers’ safety and quality of life. These leaders’ support for current leadership’s course was not just an endorsement of the recent changes at NS. It was also a rebuke of the destructiveness of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

With two notable exceptions, rail labor leaders saw this scenario for what it was. The majority of us remained in support of the new course set by Alan Shaw and his board. Those others allowed themselves to be taken in by an empty promise.  Thankfully, today all railroaders can be assured that the progress they have witnessed in their quality of life, and the security they and their families count on from their paychecks are no longer at dire risk. Wall Street’s attempt to go back to the Hunter Harrison playbook has failed.

As the president of the largest union on Norfolk Southern’s properties and the largest in the U.S. rail industry, I look forward to continuing SMART-TD’s work with Alan and his team to improve the lives of our rail workforce and to continue to blaze a trail for all Class I railroads to follow.”

Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART-TD

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (May 9, 2024) — SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson issued the following statement on the results of the Norfolk Southern proxy vote:

“This morning, a rare thing happened with the NS vote. Corporate raiders failed to take the reins of an essential player in the rail industry and veer this nation’s economy back into the bad old days of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

“Ancora’s attempt to railroad the railroad and ‘tear Norfolk Southern down to the studs’ has officially failed. A balanced approach, with particular emphasis on rail safety, will continue there.

“SMART-TD looks forward to continuing the progress we have made with CEO Alan Shaw and his team. They have been establishing a resilient approach to railroading and an improved workplace culture. NS has decided to place the safety of our members and the communities they run through at the forefront, and we are excited to see that this will continue!”

David Philips, SMART-TD General Chairperson for General Committee 680 stated:

“Committee 680 is pleased to hear the outcome of today’s NS proxy vote and plans to continue the progress we have made for our members. Now that the leadership at NS is stable, it strengthens our future negotiations and paves the way to good outcomes for our members.”

###

If you’re interested in speaking more about Norfolk Southern and the impact of today’s shareholder vote, 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 recent national rail negotiations for the Union with the nation’s rail carriers.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President Thomas Gholson

Thomas “Tommy” Gholson, of Local 573 in Danville, Ky., has worked for Norfolk Southern since 1998, first as a brakeman, then as a conductor and as an engineer.

Gholson has served as general chairperson for GO 898 since 2018 and became a SMART-TD alternate vice president in October 2019. He also serves as vice chairperson of the Association of General Chairpersons, District 1.

In conjunction with multiple union officers, Brother Gholson assisted in the negotiation of the national railroad contract talks that opened in 2019. He also served on the Work-Rest Subcommittee and was a driving force behind the work that led to NS joining the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS).

Congressman Eric Burlison, 7th Congressional District in Missouri, is trying to overturn our long-sought and hard-won two-person crew rule. In April, he introduced legislation trying to overturn FRA’s ruling. He is officially AGAINST US.

Let your congressperson know you will be watching to see if they care to protect their constituents. Let them know they should stand with us. They should reject House Joint Resolution 130, which looks to toss out the 2PC rule we have fought for decades to earn.

Railroads financed Burlison’s campaign

SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department looked at Burlison’s current congressional campaign’s financial records. The AAR (American Railroads), ASLRRA, UP, BNSF, CSX and NS, plus short-line operators Genesee & Wyoming and Herzog have all given to his campaign to be re-elected later this year.

These railroads didn’t have to court Burlison all that much to convince him to help them fight against our unions. Politically, Burlison has been working against unions long before he was in the United States House of Representatives.

Burlison: A longtime foe of worker protections

In 2021, Rep. Burlison was a Missouri state senator. One of his bills, SB 118, was a right to work (for less) bill for the “Show Me” state. On his state website, there was a headline of “Sen. Eric Burlison Continues Right-to-Work Fight.” This article went on to say, “JEFFERSON CITY — State Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, presented Senate Bill 118, which establishes right-to-work provisions in Missouri, to the Senate General Laws Committee on Feb. 23. The legislation bars employers from requiring union membership of employees and paying dues or other charges as a condition of employment.”

Speaking of his time in the Missouri Legislature, a quote on his website says “Right-to-work has always been an important issue to myself and my constituents.”

His attempt to end 2PC is a part of Burlison’s larger war against labor.

His short resolution deserves a large response

He is a first-term congressperson, only two years removed from the state Legislature. He is just good enough at his job to write a six-line piece of legislation against rail labor and rail safety with two co-sponsors, which, if we stand up, has zero chance of being signed into law.

Burlison’s press release on his joint resolution featured quotes from Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the big railroads’ lobbying group, and Chuck Baker, president of the short lines’ lobbying group. It’s not a coincidence. For someone determined to fight railroad labor, they’re going to be on the top of the contact list.

Burlison cites flawed research

From his press release: “The only entity this (2PC Ruling) benefits is unions, not consumers or owners of these small businesses.” Burlison also said that an unnamed study was done in 2015 and found no safety difference “whether there is one qualified person or two qualified persons manning a train.” We think he’s referring to the Oliver Wyman crew size “study” that the industry bought and paid for about a decade ago. Of course, everyone benefits from safer trains with full, and fully rested crews. Railroads are not small businesses.

Pave the way for the Railway Safety Act

With your help, Burlison and his co-sponsors, Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Randy Weber (R-Texas), will find out that SMART-TD’s members are the true industry experts on railroad safety, now and in November when they face re-election.

With the Railroad Safety Act of 2023 gaining momentum in the U.S. Senate, it could be sent to the House of Representatives this summer. It’s important our message be heard loud and clear to pave the way for the law that will protect 2PC, no matter what happens this November.

Invenies quid valeam

Help us set the tone here and now. If we can’t band together and defend our hard-fought victory on two-person crews, they will have no reason to listen to us when we are pushing for shorter trains, more-regulated use of defect detectors, and the other aspects of the RSA that will keep us out of harm’s way.

The recent news of Ron Batory’s nomination for the Amtrak Board of Directors has sparked a lot of discussion on social media. Unfortunately, much has been based on misinformation.

The SMART Transportation Division wants to provide some clarity on this topic for our members and everyone at Amtrak or any other railroad.

Amtrak’s board structure

First, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations surrounding the makeup of the Amtrak board. The board has 10 members, with eight of these suggested by both political parties. The other two are the Amtrak CEO and the Secretary of Transportation.

49 U.S. Code § 24302 governs the composition of Amtrak’s board. The Speaker of the House of Representatives (currently a Republican), the minority leader of the House of Representatives (a Democrat), the majority leader of the Senate (a Democrat) and the minority leader of the Senate (a Republican) ALL provide input about who to consider. There are also geographical considerations. The U.S. president then “appoints” the people selected by this group for the Senate to consider.

Donald Trump’s FRA Administrator Ron Batory

Batory was recommended for nomination by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Batory was not chosen by President Joe Biden or his administration, despite how some media outlets and social media discussions have framed it.

Much of the uproar assumes Batory’s seat on the Amtrak board is a done deal. It is not. Once appointed, a Senate committee considers prospective Amtrak board members, who are then approved or rejected by the full U.S. Senate.

A history lesson

Biden’s choice for FRA administrator was Amit Bose, who has spent his three years in this post undoing the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) mess he inherited from Batory, who previously led the FRA. The record speaks for itself, as Bose has worked well with SMART-TD and other rail unions to push back against unsafe and inhumane railroad practices.

Unneeded bluster by keyboard warriors

It’s understandable that some people may be confused or alarmed to see Batory listed as a Biden appointee in press materials and in headlines. The president plays a ceremonial role in transmitting the nominations made by the committee to Congress, as depicted in White House communications. Claiming that the president selected the nominees is a smokescreen designed to outrage people and obscure the truth prior to November.

Batory’s nomination to the Amtrak Board of Directors is not a reflection of the Biden administration’s values or priorities. It’s a partisan political decision set forth by the Senate minority leader. The law ensures that both parties have a meaningful way to decide the makeup of the Amtrak Board.

It is important that American railroad workers understand this reality instead of listening to knee-jerk provocations made by those using surface-level observations of the process.

Read the statement by the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department outlining labor’s stance on the Batory nomination.

CPKC, formed through the merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, is one of only two Class I railroads in the United States that have not negotiated with SMART-TD members for paid sick time. As with other railroads, they have adopted a strict policy to punish absenteeism. As a result, managers can dish out discipline and dismissal even if an employee must take UNPAID time off to recover from a high fever or while contagious.

Nobody wins when sick workers are punished for being sick

The new CPKC policy went into effect on December 1, 2023. They followed in the footsteps of Union Pacific and BNSF, who also want extreme employee availability. All these policies are designed to allow lower headcounts while increasing schedule flexibility for the managers. But, by pushing these policies too far, the railroads wear out their crews. The unions cannot change the policies directly, but we can fight their enforcement.

“The carrier is simply dragging its feet. We’ve had nearly two years for CPKC to come to the table after the uproar over time off during the last national negotiations,” General Chairperson Sam Habjan of GCA-457 (former Kansas City Southern lines). “They were super quick to get their merger done, but when it comes to taking care of the people doing the work, it’s been a slog.”

SMART-TD can reverse bad management decisions

The fact that these policies are both absurd and inhumane explains our high win rate when cases are brought to a hearing. SMART-TD’s success at overturning bad management choices may also explain why the railroads dish out steeper punishments if a railroader exercises their right to a hearing and loses. By raising the stakes, the railroads try to prevent their bad choices from being challenged. We win anyway — SMART-TD protects our members.

How SMART-TD members can get help

If any SMART-TD member is being unfairly targeted by their boss, they should talk to their local chairperson ASAP. The local chairperson can estimate if a hearing will be successful and can pull in the General Committee or additional union support if the situation demands it. SMART-TD wants to fix these policies, which starts with each railroader reporting their manager’s misdeeds. The more evidence we have and the more precedent we use and establish, the easier these cases become.

“The best way to combat these ‘policies’ is to challenge them,” Habjan said. “The union exists expressly to counter this nonsense. Talk to your local chairpersons and engage with your union. They’re trying to put fear in the workers when they know that SMART-TD officers are ready to stand up for our people. They’re afraid of the power of what we can do.”

SMART-TD is negotiating improved sick-day and time-off policies, one carrier and one property at a time, coast to coast. As the largest freight rail union in the United States, we are making progress. The time has come to call CPKC to the table. Respecting our members is in CPKC’s best interest.

Canadian carriers need to do better for their U.S. crews

It’s simple. No one should be forced to work while they are sick. Everyone should have the ability to take a day or two each week to attend to personal business. Rested and alert railroaders do a better job than fatigued ones. Canadian crews are protected by governmentally mandated time-off policies. Americans who work for Canadian companies don’t inherit those protections, which makes them vulnerable.

We show up to do a tough job and we are proud to do it well. But everyone has a physical limit. If we collapse from overwork, CPKC suffers. Experienced workers are safer and more efficient in the field than new hires, even if the fresh faces have learned all the rules.

This is a crisis in the making. CPKC has copied their peers’ punishing unplanned time-off policies. Without negotiating a just attendance and sick leave policy to balance it, CPKC will suffer. So will their customers. Once lost, rebuilding their ability will take years, even after refreshing their headcount.

CPKC’s policy

The CPKC policy includes the following language: “CPKC T&E and Yardmaster employees who book off sick or unpaid personal leave on two or more available workdays in the calendar month will be subject to attendance review for that month. Disciplinary action may result.”

First
Offence
Second OffenceThird OffenceFourth
Offence
Fifth Offence
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• Formal Reprimand

Or:

Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
10 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 10 demerits

Or:

Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
15 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 15 demerits

Or:

Elect a formal
investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
20 demerits
30 demerits, up to and including dismissal
At company
discretion, up to a 30-calendar day suspension or 30 demerits deferred in lieu of dismissal for accumulation of
demerits;
consider continued employment/last chance agreement (Consult with LR)
Any combination thereof, up to and including dismissal
* Admission of Responsibility/ Waiver as provided for in the employee’s Collective Agreement

When a railroad takes a broken-down old yard engine, paints it, reupholsters the interior and, of course, updates it with inward-facing cameras, they tell us it has been refurbished. They act like the yard crews should thank them for a massive improvement!

But that new paint job is no help at all when we’re trying to pull an ore train up a 3% grade. It’s the same POS, just a little shinier.

When the Canadian Pacific absorbed Kansas City Southern, (former) KCS crews hoped that life MIGHT be about to get a little better.

It turns out the “refurb” attendance policy is still that same garbage SD-40 they always knew not to trust.

CPKC: meet with us so we can give this thing the overhaul it deserves.

The Trade Union of Railwaymen and Transport Construction Workers of Ukraine (TURWTC), equivalent to SMART-TD in the United States, needs to find more personal protective equipment for their members. Work clothes and personal hygiene products are also needed.

SMART-TD is asking for locals or individual members to take up collections and send them to our office in Cleveland, Ohio:

  • Gloves (work, insulated, combined, leather, welder’s, cotton, cotton w/ PVC drops, latex coating, rubber (acid proof, acid-alkali resistant, anti-vibration, dielectric)
  • Work boots
  • Winter balaclavas (ski masks)
  • Dialectric boots/galoshes
  • Dielectric mats
  • Respirators (dustproof, gasproof, anti-gas and erosion)
  • Protective eyewear
  • Protective goggles for welders and gas cutters
  • Safety helmets
  • Face shield / welder’s masks
  • Safety shields
  • Earplugs / headphones
  • Safety belts
  • Aprons (tarpaulin, rubberized)

Railroaders before politics

While surrounded by bombings, rolling blackouts, and an ongoing struggle to keep themselves and their families alive, one thing is universal: You don’t get to say no when you’re first out and the railroad calls you to work.

Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters are not only obligated by their company to take that call to work, but they also have the added obligation to keep the country’s supply chain, people, and humanitarian support moving while their country is under attack. It is a heavy moral burden that, hopefully, no SMART-TD member will ever have to know.

SMART-TD leads a team effort

SMART-TD brother Nathan Hatton, local chairperson of Local 168 in Chicago, initially had the idea to reach out to SMART-TD’s counterpart in Ukraine. He and Justin Wolters, general chairperson of GCA 449, made it happen with help from the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. This office was established in Warsaw, Poland, to keep communications flowing to Ukrainian labor unions during the Russian invasion.

The AFL-CIO, in conjunction with an organization known as Union To Union out of Sweden, made this connection possible.  They provided an interpreter for a meeting between TURWTC’s Chairman Oleksiy Semerun and SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity, who led the SMART-TD delegation on the call.

As GC Wolters stated while talking to the Ukrainian delegation, “This is not a political stance being taken by SMART-TD or any of its members. Railroaders help other railroaders and rail families. That is what we are doing here. All of us can get behind that.”

Ukraine has complicated needs

Chairman Semerun categorized the way SMART-TD and our members could help his 260,000 freight, transit, and metro members.

  1. Training
  2. Lobbying our Congress
  3. Humanitarian support

The first two of these categories are complicated. The leaders of our National Legislative Department are doing their part to assist and the aid package that was passed in late April. Humanitarian support is easier to accomplish by contributing what you can from the list of items above or by contributing monetarily.

Ukraine has a very robust rail system as demonstrated by the high number of rail workers represented by the TURWTC.  During the meeting, the Ukrainian delegation made it clear to SMART-TD that they were not interested in a one-sided project. They brought up that they are aware of the rising problem of assaults facing our members in transit and commuter service. Chairman Semerun offered that his union would like to engage in efforts to train our members in crisis management and de-escalation once they are on more solid ground.

Chairman Semerun didn’t need the services of the interpreter to express his gratitude to SMART-TD and our three representatives in this first meeting. Brother Semerun ended the call (in English) by saying, “I’m ready. I’m ready to build a partnership with SMART-TD.”

Please contact Dan Banks in the Cleveland office with any questions about donating at dbanks@smart-union.org or by phone at (216) 227-5450.

Contributions can be mailed to:
SMART-TD (Ukraine assistance)
c/o Dan Banks
6060 Rockside Woods Blvd N., Suite 325
Independence, OH 44131

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is looking into Union Pacific and its management for painting an inaccurate picture about its safety strategy.  SMART Transportation Division members were coerced to paint a rosy picture of their employer.

All SMART-TD members who took part in this survey should get on record with their local chairperson, then call UP’s ethics hotline. That number is (800) 998-2000.

East Palestine raises railroad safety awareness

When Norfolk Southern’s freight train lit up the horizon of East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, it woke up more than the sleeping residents of Southeast Ohio. Federal regulators, legislators, the press and the general public all became instantly aware that dangerous materials were being hauled in mass quantities through their communities.

This prompted the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct a safety culture analysis of Norfolk Southern and all other Class I railroads.

Norfolk Southern and its management team were cooperative. NS CEO Allen Shaw and his board cooperated with FRA and a valid and thorough safety evaluation. 

Union Pacific has chosen a more dangerous approach.

FRA says Union Pacific coached employee responses

On Friday, April 26, FRA served UP’s management team with written notice that it was suspending the assessment, suggesting that things are about to get ugly for the Omaha, Nebraska-based corporation.

The FRA safety evaluation begins with an employee survey to get the perspective of front-line workers.  The administration is looking for unvarnished answers and observations from our members. This creates a baseline for their investigation.

In his letter to Union Pacific, FRA Associate Administrator Karl Alexy shared that he suspects that, instead of allowing employees to speak freely and without fear of retribution, several employees were “coached to provide specific responses to FRA questions if they were approached for a safety culture interview.”

Survey manipulation widespread; workers fear retaliation

Alexy’s letter said that reports of management “coaching” workers “span the UPRR system and railroad crafts,” putting the objectivity of the information in jeopardy.

Workers during the process also expressed reluctance and a “fear of retaliation,” according to FRA.

Workers also had to report to their supervisor if they took part in the data gathering. Data integrity and confidentiality were thus not assured, Alexy wrote. “With widespread evidence that these fundamental elements have been jeopardized, FRA has no choice but to end data collection activities,” he wrote.

Union Pacific appears to violate its own policies

Two things jump out at SMART-TD about this situation. First, the study being conducted by FRA concerns the safety culture at UP. According to the railroad’s propaganda “Safety is Union Pacific’s No. 1 Responsibility.”  The obvious question is, what would CEO Vena and UP have to hide and why would they need to coach its workers if safety was its top responsibility?

Secondly, what happened to UP’s “Statement of Policy on Ethics and Business Conduct,” which is prominently featured in their rule book?

UP’s policy clearly says that “No employee should take advantage of any party through manipulation, concealment, abuse of confidential information, misrepresentation of material facts or any other unfair practice.”

An effort to deceive a federal regulator and threaten/bully its employees into taking part in its scheme appears to violate all of those rules.

Another interesting quote from UP’s Ethics and Business Conduct Policy is that “Communicating this policy and OVERSEEING COMPLIANCE is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer and officers of the Company.”

FRA stopped collecting safety data from the carrier due to its discovery of manipulation, according to Alexy. It may try to restart the process later.

Ramifications

As far as SMART-TD is concerned, if FRA’s allegations are proven to be true, UP CEO Jim Vena and his executive team have violated their own Ethics and Business Conduct Policy. Either he was part of this scheme to mislead FRA or he was derelict in his duty to oversee the compliance of the ethics policy according to his company’s policy. Moreover, such conduct does not show a responsible approach to safety that the company says it adheres to.

No matter how this situation between the FRA and UP plays out, it is in the best interest of all SMART-TD members who have taken part in this survey to get on record with your local chairperson and the carrier’s ethics hotline. That number again is (800) 998-2000.

Your union will keep you informed as this situation progresses.