This page is devoted to news for members belonging to the local unions and general committees under the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department.
SMART Members rally for fair contract in Chicago
On November 12, SMART Mechanical Department members joined with Transportation Division officers and members, as well as other rail unions in downtown Chicago, in a show of solidarity against Metra, a commuter rail company whose lines are serviced by union workers, including those at Local 256. Faced with depressed wages, stalled contract negotiations and a rapidly approaching benefits cliff, workers gathered for a day of speeches and collaborative discussion, elevating the chilly and overcast streets in front of Metra’s headquarters to an exciting new pitch.
The rally highlighted SMART’s strong union solidarity, with turnout from SMART Locals 73, 265 and 484 lending their support to their brothers, sisters and siblings working for Metra. Brother Jeff Hillery, an organizer from Local 73, described feeling “very inspired to see how well organized” it was. “I saw the labor movement alive and well with everyone coming together,” he explained.
As Local 484 Chairperson Mike Gallardo remarked, “To see construction members come out to a railroad rally was heartwarming and showed Metra union solidarity.”
The rally comes after more than two years of stalling by Metra to work towards a new contract, as well as austerity brought on by a pandemic that has lasted almost as long. Members working for Metra have been hit particularly hard by the unclear outlook and often-unsafe conditions presented by COVID-19 and have been adapting and persevering to keep the trains running safely, smoothly and reliably for Chicago-area residents during ebbs and flows in demand.
In September, out of finances previously described to workers as “insolvent”, Metra managed to give a 10% raise to its CEO’s salary, in addition to a splurge on CEO benefits, which effectively raises his total compensation by 21.4%. In January 2022, his salary is expected to rise even further. These increases were voted on and approved by Metra’s Board of Directors, while apparently ignoring the demands of SMART members and other rail workers who work the lines daily.
“The wage gap is getting larger every year — and not in workers’ favor,” stressed Brother Jason Dahlman, president of Local 256. “We showed Metra that unions will not stand for this, every union that stood together stood together as ONE.”
Local 256 Chairperson Charlie Demes echoed this sentiment: “Union solidarity has never been stronger, and the Metra board witnessed that.”
Despite Metra’s maneuvers, the workers in Chicago were successful: On November 23, not long after the rally, a tentative agreement was reached. While the contract still awaits a vote at the time of publishing, it promises a 17% increase to salaries over seven years, applied retroactively starting in 2019, and keeps the current cost-sharing scheme for benefits in place. Just as significantly, this agreement gives form to the power of workers acting together: SMART members know they can always count on their greatest resource — solidarity — in their pursuit of better working conditions and protections. As Brother Rick Flores, Local 256 financial secretary-treasurer, reflected, “To see the way the coalition stuck together is the true definition of union, and it was great to be a part of it.”
Get to know Mark Romine
Local Chairperson, Local 525 (Altoona, Pa.)
Brother Mark Romine is the local chairperson of SM Local 525 in Altoona, Pa. A native of Port Matilda, Pa., Brother Romine has been a SMART member for 17 years, working as a pipefitter for Norfolk Southern Railway at the Juanita Locomotive Shop. He is dedicated to the union and committed to SMART’s values. He is proud to be a member of an organization that supports working men and women all over the country.
Outside of work, Brother Romine is a bladesmith and has made custom knives for 10 years. He also spends a great deal of time outdoors, regularly fly fishing and camping with family and friends. Brother Romine and his wife Kelly also enjoy the quality time they spend with their nieces and nephew.
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