SMART-TD excited to welcome Coaster to its passenger rail/commuter family

June 27, 2024

Ballots have been sent to workers at the Coaster commuter rail service in southern California, and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) is excited for the future opportunity to serve.

A unique opportunity

SMART-TD has been speaking with local workers during the representation campaign that began in April. Since then, our representatives have been laying the groundwork for success.

“Coaster members are looking for a voice that truly understands their unique challenges and can advocate effectively on their behalf,” Vice President James Sandoval said. “At SMART Transportation Division, we will bring them that voice.”

Unionized workers for Coaster have not seen a new contract in over two years and the subsequent boost in benefits a well-negotiated agreement brings. The SMART-TD is looking to step in to do just that once representation is finalized by the National Mediation Board.

Misrepresentation seen through

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is seeking to add Coaster workers and has been doing its best to sway opinion against SMART-TD. President Eddie Hall made a highly publicized statement May 31 stating that workers at Coaster “contacted us due to their continued dissatisfaction with the representation that they have been receiving from SMART-TD.”

A worker at Coaster and former BLE member with nearly 30 years in the rail industry responded to him directly via email to correct that inaccuracy.

“I’m all about transparency and truth. You mentioned that we are dissatisfied with the representation from SMART-TD, that is incorrect… We were previously under SMART, the Sheet Metal, Mechanical side, not the Transportation side. The majority of our members signed a petition that we wanted to be moved to SMART-TD and on April 17 we received confirmation that we were…I am not sure where you received this information that we are not happy with SMART-TD…”

In addition to the response to the false statement concerning SMART-TD’s representation, the worker expressed concerns about that organization’s tactics, saying they haphazardly swooped in the week our union began formal discussions in getting a transition into SMART-TD finalized.

“To me and a lot of others (it) felt like we were ambushed and the way it happened was not transparent,” he wrote. “We are very happy with what SMART-TD had done in the month they have been on property, and we want negotiations to start ASAP.

“Enough is enough and we are tired of all this back and forth. We have a great union now with SMART TD and want to get past this so we can sign a good contract.”

Making necessary adjustments

Once the results of the balloting are known, our union representatives intend to be laser-focused on getting the new members strong local leadership so that discussions on a new contract can begin. General Chairperson Rick Pauli, whose GO 769 represents seven railroads, including five commuter carriers, has been assigned a lead role in negotiating a new agreement.

“We are excited to get the negotiation process started for our brothers and sisters on the Coaster service. This membership has been working without an agreement for over two (2) years now,” Pauli said. “SMART-TD will ensure that the members get what they want and deserve – a great agreement with better working conditions.”

A service-oriented focus moving ahead

In addition to Pauli’s role in negotiations, Sandoval said that the union is excited to step in and serve, with Vice President Gary Crest also assisting.

“Serving our membership is our highest priority. We are committed to ensuring that our Coaster members have the strong, effective representation they deserve, and that starts with establishing solid local leadership and getting the contract they deserve,” Sandoval said.

Represented by the SMART Mechanical Division (SMART-MD) in prior years, SMART-TD has cooperated with the MD to transition and familiarize the unionized workers in the move over this spring. While the MD chiefly represents maintenance workers who make repairs on rail cars, most employees on the Coaster property operate trains and the TD is the largest rail union in the United States, representing operating employees at multiple commuter agencies in major U.S. metropolitan areas.

“We are the best at what we do. Our track record speaks for itself, and we are ready to bring that expertise to our new Coaster family” Sandoval said.

The lines of communication have been open to Coaster workers from the beginning in April and included a June 23 town hall virtual meeting with SMART TD President Jeremy Ferguson.

SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson says that once Coaster workers finalize their relationship with the Transportation Division that they will not be disappointed.

“A situation like this is one that SMART TD excels in,” he said. “We have organized similar underserved properties, improving membership communication, training and representation to a level that membership wants and frankly deserves. It is indicative of the member first, service-oriented mission of this union. That’s what we are here for and that’s what we’ll do. Most importantly, we do it transparently and without false promises, smoke and mirrors.”

The voting period for Coaster to finalize their entrance into SMART-TD takes place 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday through July 31, 2024. The tally will take place at the NMB’s offices 2 p.m. ET July 31.

Coaster is operated by the North County Transit District (NCTD) in northern San Diego County and runs about 40 miles from Oceanside to San Diego, Calif.