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
Chair
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
Chair
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. 

Sincerely, 

Ian Jefferies
President and CEO
Association of American Railroads

Chuck Baker
President
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

Greg Regan
President
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

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.

Sincerely,

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)

The following letter was submitted by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, on behalf of SMART, SMART Transportation Division and a number of other labor unions to the U.S. Department of Transportation and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


November 8, 2023

Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Acting Administrator Carlson,

We write today to reiterate our grave safety concerns about the expanded testing and operation of automated driving system (ADS)-equipped vehicles. Given the recent surge in both the number of cities operating these vehicles on public streets and the number of crashes and safety incidents involving these vehicles, we urge you to take immediate action to bring long overdue federal leadership to this issue. We applaud the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) recent decision to launch an investigation into pedestrian protection practices at General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle division. But we believe that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must take additional actions to end the unsafe operation of ADS-equipped vehicles on our roads.

As robotaxi and other ADS-equipped projects have expanded, workers have faced increasing safety threats on the job. Firefighters and police have been forced to jump out of the path of driverless taxis moving through emergency cordons. Bikeshare workers have been forced to dodge these vehicles abruptly stopping in bike lanes and crosswalks. Transit and sanitation workers have been boxed in, cut off, and trapped inside their vehicles by driverless cars driving erratically. Construction and maintenance workers, who stand in harm’s way every day on our roads, have seen driverless vehicles pull into construction sites. These safety issues are exacerbated by operational chaos as driverless cars are failing to use public roads in safe, predictable ways.

Let us be clear: ADS-equipped vehicle operations are unsafe and untenable in their current form. This industry is in dire need of federal regulation and leadership to restore a modicum of safety and establish a realistic path for these vehicles to operate without threatening other road users – including those represented by these unions. The DOT and NHTSA should immediately take the following actions – consistent with NHTSA’s mission statement to save lives and prevent injuries through safety standards and enforcement –  to restore confidence in the safety of public roadways everywhere:

  • Issue an updated department-wide Automated Vehicle Policy (AV 5.0) which sets firm expectations for these vehicles and aligns with the Department’s Innovation Principles;
  • Open investigations into Waymo, Zoox, and other operators of for-hire driverless vehicles similar to the already-announced Cruise investigation; and,
  • Update NHTSA’s Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for incidents involving ADS to include a broader range of performance indicators such as driving into construction worksites, violations of police and firefighter cordons, pulling into bicycle lanes or pedestrian crossings, near collisions, and other clear safety issues which may not result in crashes.

Background

While Phoenix was the first city to open its doors to for-hire services provided by driverless cars in 2017, California threw the floodgates wide open in June 2021. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulated commercial licenses in the state, began granting licenses to private companies to operate driverless ADS-equipped vehicles within the city limits of San Francisco. Both cities have seen the fleet of driverless vehicles increase exponentially since then, despite the objections of transportation and planning agenciespolice and firefighters, and concerned citizens. The California licenses were expanded in early 2023 to allow Cruise and Waymo to operate for-profit driverless taxi services 24 hours a day across the entirety of San Francisco. The results have been chaotic and dangerous. There have been crashes, injuries, traffic jamsposed hazards to sanitation workersemergency services delayed, law enforcement confusion, blocking access to crime scenes, recalls, and even the death of a pet.

Following a tragic crash in early October of this year where a Cruise robotaxi dragged a pedestrian 20 feet before coming to a stop, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which regulates motor vehicle safety in the state – having already halved the number of vehicles Cruise could have on the road at any one time following a collision between one of their vehicles and a firetruck – suspended the company’s license entirely. The DMV’s investigation not only found that Cruise’s vehicles failed to meet minimum standards for safe operations, but that the company had also intentionally withheld vital information from regulators. After this damning verdict from the DMV, Cruise voluntarily shut down its driverless operations in other states and today issued a software recall for all of its 950 driverless vehicles.

While Cruise is not currently operating any vehicles without human operators, Waymo, Zoox, and other robotaxi operators continue to use public roads as test sites for driverless vehicles. Many cities, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Austin, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Washington, DC and its suburbs, still have driverless cars operating today. The federal government has provided very little oversight of any of these companies and the result has been a disaster for the residents of these cities. That fact was recently echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Bass in a letter to the CPUC, which states, “To date, local jurisdictions like Los Angeles have had little to no input in AV deployment and are already seeing significant harm and disruption.”[1]

The ongoing problems created by these vehicles (a sampling of which is included as an appendix to this letter) offer a stunning glimpse into the challenges that are inherent both to ADS technology and the real-time testing of ADS technology on our streets without rigorous federal oversight. Moreover, it has offered a preview of what may happen if other states adopt the same approach to driverless ADS-equipped vehicle operations without federal or local safeguards in place. The California example and NHTSA’s recent investigation into Cruise show that it is time for the DOT to step up its regulatory authority to ensure these vehicles are being operated responsibly and with the serious oversight they require.

Update Department Wide Automated Vehicle Policy at DOT

Transportation unions have repeatedly called on the DOT to take proactive steps to regulate the safety of ADS vehicle operations through direct correspondences and regulatory filings.[2] Most recently, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters released their “Autonomous Vehicle Federal Policy Principles”, calling for comprehensive federal action. In response to the DOT’s latest request for comments on the topic, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) called on the DOT to reject the Trump Administration’s hands-off approach to regulating automated vehicles (AVs), and develop a safety-focused approach that ensures the well-being of road users and the larger transportation system. As noted in TTD’s regulatory filing:

“Any framework for automated vehicles must lay the groundwork for true regulatory oversight. The [Framework for Automated Driving System Safety] entirely fails to meet this standard; instead it turns over the authority to regulate to the industry itself… In the absence of federal leadership, automated vehicles are operating across the country with very little oversight. The approach is not based on safety; it is based on deregulation and corporate interests.”

Sadly, we are now seeing first-hand the catastrophic results of a failure to take these threats seriously. It is past time that the DOT recognized the deep shortcomings of the current departmental AV policies, and that they develop an updated, comprehensive, safety-focused framework for ADS. That framework must offer clear direction that the era of self-regulation by this industry is over to help combat the dangerous state-by-state patchwork of policies that has emerged in the absence of serious federal oversight. It must also hold true to the vision espoused in the Department’s Innovation Principles, namely by ensuring that safety and job creation are the main goals of ADS development. The first step towards ensuring the safe operation of these vehicles is setting a safe operating standard at the federal level.

In developing an updated policy, the DOT and its sub-agencies should thoroughly review and identify their regulatory and oversight authorities to ensure that driverless ADS-equipped vehicles are operating safely, as well as identify clear steps to hold manufacturers or operators of driverless ADS-equipped vehicles accountable when they operate in unexpected or unsafe ways on public streets. We believe that the DOT has more power in this area than it has previously exercised.

Open Full Investigations into Driverless Vehicle Operators to Ensure the Industry’s Current Practices are Safe and Transparent

While NHTSA’s investigation into incidents involving Cruise vehicles is welcomed, NHTSA must also recognize that vehicles being operated by other manufacturers have been publicly identified in similarly dangerous incidents. Waymo, Zoox, Beep, and other companies that are operating or planning to operate driverless ADS-equipped vehicles present identical performance concerns. Given the widespread, ongoing, and increasing number of incidents caused by ADS-equipped vehicles, NHTSA must initiate an industry-wide investigation to determine the true extent of the safety failures behind the scenes. Put simply, we do not believe that Cruise is the most concerning driverless operator, but rather that current circumstances highlighted their mounting safety failures first.

Furthermore, we are concerned about the lack of safety culture at driverless vehicle companies. As the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has previously identified, the “fail fast, fail hard” approach taken by many technology companies is anathema to safety. This is best exemplified by a recent report that Cruise knew that its robotaxis had problems recognizing children, but still chose to keep them on public roads.[3] The DOT would never tolerate such a philosophy in airline, rail, or transit safety, and it should not tolerate it in a nascent industry utilizing our public roads to test their products. A full investigation of the industry will reveal which operators are honoring the basic trust of the American public when it comes to safety and which are basing key safety decisions on the unmet promises of their own marketing materials.

Finally, while NHTSA continues its investigation of GM/Cruise, it would be contradictory for the agency to simultaneously provide GM/Cruise greater deference and authority by granting a petition to allow the companies to operate an FMVSS-exempted vehicle, the Cruise Origin. Given GM/Cruise’s behavior operating a less advanced vehicle, granting its pending petition would be deeply irresponsible and inappropriate.

Ensure NHTSA has the relevant data necessary to oversee the industry

Lastly, we call on NHTSA to amend the Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for incidents involving ADS and Level 2 ADAS (Standing General Order 2021-01, Second Amended) to require data reporting for incidents that are not strictly limited to crashes. Specifically, the Standing General Order should be amended to require data on any incident in which an automated vehicle encounters any significant deviation from expected performance – including malfunctions, degradations, remote human interventions, clustering and connectivity incidents or reversion to a minimal-risk condition. Reporting requirements should be expanded to include any additional data deemed necessary by NHTSA or the Secretary to more accurately track and analyze the fitness of those vehicles to safely operate on public roads, and the potential for unexpected behavior to result in a crash or to pose serious safety threats to road users, and safety threats or interruption of normal operations to transportation, public service, and emergency response workers.

We align ourselves with the February 28, 2023 letter to NHTSA from Representatives Schakowsky, Castor, and Trahan, which called for further transparency, data, and compliance reforms to the Standing General Order.[4] In particular, we agree that incident data must be standardized and that more information – including incident location and whether the vehicle was operating within its operational design domain – should be made available to the public without redaction. We also agree that incomplete incident reports are unacceptable and must include the factors mentioned above, including roadway condition, speed, and other factors, along with independent analysis including police reports and visual evidence. Lastly, we concur that non-compliance with the Standing General Order must result in NHTSA promptly and decisively exercising its statutory authority to rectify the issue.

It is a troubling fact that social media outlets are currently better informed as to the safety of these vehicles than the federal government. Many unions applauded NHTSA for issuing the Standing General Order two years ago as an essential initial step on data collection, but it must not be the last step on this path. Updating the Order to account for the past two years of experience will ensure safety regulators have a realistic, dispassionate picture of this industry’s record.

The safety of workers and road users remains paramount to labor’s concerns about driverless ADS-equipped vehicles. A federal safety-focused regulatory response to their operation on public roads is long overdue and necessary before NHTSA green lights any type of demonstration project such as the agency has indicated it will do with AV STEP. We urge you to give these recommendations the serious consideration they are due and we look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD)
Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)
International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA)
Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (SUP)
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)
SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P)
Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA)
International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
United Auto Workers (UAW)
Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU)
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
International Association of Ironworkers (IW)
American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)
Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED)
Transportation Communications International Union (TCU)

By Andy Hauck, Wisconsin SMART Transportation Division State Legislative Director

On February 1 in Washington, DC, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held its first meeting of the 118th congressional session, and one member in particular wasted no time in informing rail labor that our truths and issues make him uncomfortable and that we essentially need to sit down and shut up.

Wisconsin SLD Hauck

The meeting was called to address delays and obstacles in the nation’s supply chain and how the money allocated by President Biden and the outgoing Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) should be used to address these problems. President Greg Regan of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) was the only voice of labor in this important conversation. The nation’s hugely profitable rail carriers were represented by Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Representatives from the trucking industry, the port of Houston and a representative for corporate building contractors also took part.

Late in the hearing, Wisconsin Rep. Derrick Van Orden (a Jan. 6th-attendee-turned-U.S.-congressman) used his five minutes to ask softball questions to the industry reps before attempting to intimidate Regan, the sole labor representative.

AFL-CIO TTD President Regan

After being asked if he had any relation to former President Ronald Reagan (note the different spelling), TTD’s Regan chuckled and said, “No. He fired the air traffic controllers, and I have the privilege of representing them.” This light-hearted one-liner was quickly met with a response from Van Orden meant to put all of labor on notice. Van Orden said that he had read the written testimony offered by the AFL-CIO TTD — an umbrella organization representing hundreds of thousands of workers from nearly three dozen unions — and that he had some advice to offer: “Change your tone!”

Van Orden then went on to declare that while he is willing to work with anyone to solve problems, he didn’t appreciate the manner in which Regan stood up for all of us in the rail labor community. He was indicating to Regan and rail labor that he would not be moved by the ugly truths we have to share with him about the realities we face each day as workers in the industry. He was clearly offended by Regan’s audacity to point out in his written statement that rail carriers have been investing less into their own infrastructure since the onset of the job-cutting, profit-at-any-cost Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) operating model – despite their record profits, which could have been used to enhance safety in the railroad industry.

Two days following this committee hearing, on Feb. 3, the world found out that the “tone” of Regan’s written comments was all too warranted. Roughly 52 hours after Rep. Van Orden’s blanket dismissal of Regan and rail labor’s concerns, Norfolk Southern train 32N left the rails in East Palestine, Ohio. Then, on April 27, the reality of Regan’s concerns hit a little closer to home for the first-term congressman.

Rep. Van Orden

In Ferryville, Wisconsin – in Van Orden’s home district – a BNSF train not only derailed, but two intermodal cars fell into the Mississippi River. Thankfully for all involved, this derailment did not result in a fiery hazmat spill like the horrific scene in February on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. Yet the visual of the twisted cars in the water might be enough to give Rep. Van Orden a new perspective. If the cars that cascaded into the river had been among the many on that train that contain dangerous chemicals, it could have contaminated the water supply of communities from southwestern Wisconsin all the way to New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

No one wants to see anything even close to that scale happen, but the drone footage of the derailment in Ferryville demonstrates the validity and well-warranted urgency Regan and all of rail labor possess when it comes to matters of public and worker safety.

When faced with the reality of the rail carriers’ disregard for rail safety, rail labor does not have the luxury of being diplomatic. If our urgency and sense of impending catastrophe is unsettling to those who read it, it is based on reality, not hyperbole, as evidenced by the ongoing concern for the long-term impacts of the East Palestine derailment in Ohio and the surrounding areas. There is no way that President Regan could have given the concerns of his rail members the credence they deserved politely or in a comforting tone. The reality is that such concerns need to be shouted, rather than whispered. If the members of Congress who received Regan’s written statement were startled by what they read, they absolutely should have been. It’s what the situation warrants.

But, with the large number of headline-grabbing rail accidents that have occurred since the committee hearing, including a major derailment in Rep. Van Orden’s backyard, the question becomes: Has the freshman congressman witnessed enough that he can see past the perceived tone of labor’s warnings regarding railroad safety to where he can recognize their merit? Can the freshman congressman appreciate the teamwork and structure (historically similar to the United States Military) that is required to move America forward?

The U.S. Senate currently has the Railway Safety Act of 2023 before it, bipartisan legislation sponsored by the senators of the states affected by the East Palestine derailment. Van Orden’s House of Representatives is also entertaining a companion piece of legislation but with important portions deleted, such as a measure that establishes a minimum two-person crew on freight trains and stops the industry’s attempts to run three-mile-long trains with just one person (or no one) on board.

The SMART Transportation Division, the nation’s largest freight railroad union, hopes that Rep. Van Orden can get on board with the provisions in this legislation and help to advocate for and pass unaltered the bill of Sens. Brown (D-Ohio), Vance (R-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) as they champion safety on America’s railroads. Considering his position on the House Transportation Committee, Van Orden’s support is of great importance.

Perhaps, after Rep. Van Orden heard rail labor’s concerns in February and witnessed the April 27th derailment in Ferryville, seeing will now result in believing for him.

Andy Hauck is a 28-year veteran of the Railroad industry and is the Wisconsin state legislative director for the SMART Transportation Division, a labor union comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel.

The SMART Transportation Division would like to thank all of you for your historic response to the FRA’s Notice of Public Rulemaking (NPRM) on Freight Train Crew Size. In the moment when our livelihood and the safety of all involved was on the line, SMART members, along with their friends and families, answered the bell in a profound way.

For months, we have been requesting your help in submitting comments to the FRA and in a record-setting demonstration of concern and support, you came through with flying colors. The FRA reports Dec. 22 that 13,090 submissions were received in their request for public comments that closed on December 21st. This outpouring of your information and personal reasons for wanting a minimum crew size of two will play a large role in the FRA’s process of determining their final ruling.

The next step in this process is for the FRA to announce its determinations. We at SMART-TD will be sure to keep you all informed as to how that process plays out. We appreciate your partnership with us in this project, and we look forward to continuing the fight as long as needed to keep our members safe and employed.

The Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, as the umbrella organization representing all factions of rail labor, wrote the definitive submission stating our case.

The two unions representing in-cab freight personnel — SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) — submitted a joint statement accentuating the positions of the T&E employees in support of the NPRM. These submissions are linked below.

Once again, your activism and support are vastly appreciated. We thank you profoundly.

AFL-CIO TTD statement

SMART-TD/BLET statement

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)

SAN FRANCISCO — Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO President Greg Regan emphasized that the resurgence of labor unions’ power has been very apparent as he addressed the general session Aug. 9, the second day of the SMART Leadership Conference.

It began as the nation coped with the pandemic and then as the Biden administration set its sights toward accomplishing true action on infrastructure.

“The labor movement drove the response,” Regan said. “We were the ones who delivered for working people every step of the way.”

Among the examples: Investments in the transportation sector through the CARES Act, which put SMART-TD members furloughed by Amtrak back on the job after the pandemic froze the nation’s transportation system, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which outlaid a historic level of funding for Amtrak and public transportation, among others.

“This is the type of legislation that every president since Richard Nixon has been trying to accomplish,” Regan said. “And it happened last year. That doesn’t happen without the strength of the labor movement pushing that legislation.

“This is a rebirth for this country. We have a massive amount of opportunity for infrastructure in this country right here and we cannot skip over that. We might want to go on and move on to the next fight, but we should take a moment to reflect on what a major accomplishment that was.”

Regan mentioned specifically the work of the legislative departments of both SMART and the Transportation Division on Capitol Hill.

Now, as national rail contract negotiations near the end of the line set forth by the Railway Labor Act and comment has opened for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by the Federal Railroad Administration to make a minimum two-person rail crew nationwide, transportation labor has a chance to flex its muscles again.

Regan took part, along with many unionized workers from multiple industries July 30 in Galesburg, Ill., as they stood together to draw attention to carriers’ treatment of rail workers.

“We are not going to buckle. They are not going to be able to split us,” he said. “There is a level of strength and solidarity I see in freight rail right now that is unmatched.”

As for getting the Rule of 2 finalized by the Federal Railroad Administration, Regan said he’s confident that the public and regulators will recognize that it’s a safety issue and non-negotiable, especially as the comment period progresses to its conclusion in late September. “We’re not going to back down. We’re going to stay together, we’re going to fight like hell and we’re going to deliver.”

From left, Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513, Gainesville Texas); Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329, Boone, Iowa); General Chairperson Matt Burkart (GCA-341); SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan wait to deliver their testimony before the Surface Transportation Board on April 26, 2022.


Video recap of the damning testimony on rail carrier policies.

On April 26, SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and three members of the union shed light April 26 on the devastating effects Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has had on customers and labor alike before the Surface Transportation Board (STB).

Their testimony came on the first day of STB’s hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” convened in Washington, D.C.

“As professionals, it’s painful to watch our shippers get bad service or no service at all, much higher rates, destroyed product and equipment, and in some cases having to resort to shipping by truck whenever possible,” President Ferguson said. “I want to make our voice heard that we stand with the shippers who want our professional service to keep the supply chain open and keep this country’s economy moving.”

President Ferguson’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

President Ferguson referred back to the “safest and most productive era” of railroading years ago with more service flexibility, proper maintenance and full extra boards that has now been sacrificed for the higher stock prices sought by Wall Street investors through the implementation of PSR.

“Thousands of men and women have been laid off with reckless abandon while no consideration has been given to the service that has ultimately been forsaken,” he said. “All that is known to us and our members at this point is that the railroads are dead set on achieving the lowest operating ratio attainable at any cost.”

“Railroading, once revered as one of the most-coveted blue-collar jobs in the world, is now hemorrhaging employees at unprecedented rates because of the abusive work environments PSR has created. Truth is, employees are leaving the industry faster than the railroads can hire.”

He referenced the “Hi-Viz” attendance policy that BNSF implemented in February several times, stated that its implementation has led to the departure of 1,000 workers who were forced to choose between trying to attain enough sleep to safely work their next shift or try to spend limited time with family for a undervalued employee that often has only one day off a month.

“Now, because of PSR, two choices exist for rail labor: Work or be fired,” President Ferguson said.

Brother Burkart’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

General Chairperson Matt Burkart (GCA-341), a fourth-generation railroad worker, yardmaster and member of Local 1975 (Kansas City, Mo.), testified that the relative simplicity of railroading over its nearly two centuries in the United States is being violated.

“It takes three things to railroad: Power, crew and rail. That’s it. Something to pull it, somebody to move it and something to run on,” said Burkart, a former member of management. “You give us those three things and we can run all day long. We’re not running all day long right now.”

Burkart mentioned the lengthy trains PSR has brought, many which exceed 10,000 feet when yards and sidings were made to accommodate World War II-era lengths of 3,000 feet. Not only does it take more moves to build or put a train away, it also takes more time, thus burning through the crew base.

Brother Burkart also brought to light our equipment, including the hand-held radios supplied to our members, were not made to accommodate these types of train lengths either, stating that, “the radios do not work with the longer trains, hampering the crew’s ability to communicate when inspecting larger trains” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense, it’s perpetuating manpower issues, it’s dangerous, and it’s not servicing our customers. All of it’s bad,” Burkart said.

And, lastly, BNSF, contrary to belief, has implemented PSR and has imposed its own data-driven metrics based on reducing resources and headcount for years, Burkart said.

He offered a pair of simple solutions looking back a decade and a half:

“It takes planning. It takes common sense,” Burkart said. “Two things can be legislated today: a maximum of 8,000 foot on trains. We don’t need these three-mile-long monsters running around. We need to disincentivize any reason to ever store a locomotive. In Donley Creek we have five miles of engines stored. There’s no reason for a train to sit without power.”

Brother Groat’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

Also testifying was Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329 — Boone, Iowa), a Union Pacific engineer, who mentioned the slower velocity caused by inadequate track maintenance, derailments and mechanical failures caused, in part, by long trains.

“Since the increase in train lengths, I’ve noticed more hard wear,” he said — broken cars split in half, drawbars and knuckles being left on the ground. “These train lengths increase the in-train force that stresses the components that don’t normally fail.”

Travel times for trains also have increased and locomotive use hasn’t been efficient, Groat told the board.

“This is like hooking up a 28-foot camper to a Toyota Prius and trying to drive to Colorado,” he said. “At what time do you expect the engine to fail or a component of the locomotive to fail?”

Brother Bond’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513 — Gainesville, Texas), an engineer, spoke about BNSF’s throttle and power limitations that had been rescinded April 15 after the STB hearing had been announced.

“The carrier has put profit over everything,” Bond said. “Over customer service, over employees, even over safety.”

Hi-Viz also has caused an employee exodus and a personnel shortage at the carrier when there wasn’t one before, Bond said.

“This new policy has employees resigning in record numbers. I have several employees who are facing discipline and possible dismissal right now,” he said, including a single mother who has staggered custody of her child, now facing potential termination as a result of Hi-Viz.

“With BNSF losing people because of resignations and terminations, they’ve attempted to recall furloughed employees that are hearing of the current work environment and choosing not to return,” Bond said. “The new conductor trainees who are hiring on are quitting almost right away.”

The testimony from SMART-TD was preceded by Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan, who recently detailed PSR-related meltdowns that have adversely affected shippers.

“The workers represented by TTD-affiliated unions have been sounding the alarm on the state of the freight-rail industry for years,” he said. “It’s deeply unfortunate but completely predictable that we would find ourselves here today as both railroad employees and customers sit before you to express a shared simple fact — that today’s freight-rail network is not working for anyone other than railroad investors.”

Regan reminded STB members that Class I railroads shrank their workforce well before the pandemic by 29 percent over the last six years — about 45,000 jobs and were making the system less flexible by storing equipment.

“The elimination of jobs across all crafts of the freight rail network has undoubtedly contributed to operational breakdowns and service degradation, including the ability to operate, inspect, maintain and repair every component of a railroad.”

He mentioned service disruptions experienced by customers of BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern in recent months.

“For as long as these railroads continue along their current path, these meltdowns and service degradations will continue,” Regan said.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Vice President Mark L. Wallace also testified on behalf of labor.

WASHINGTON – Greg Regan, President of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and SMART Mechanical Divisions (SMART-MD) are members, released the following statement in response to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order establishing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), which will delay any freight rail work stoppage or strike for 60 days upon taking effect Monday, July 18th. TTD is the nation’s largest transportation labor federation and represents 37 labor unions, including the 13 rail worker unions involved in the ongoing national contract negotiations:

“We commend President Biden for announcing a board of neutral arbitrators to investigate and report its findings and recommendations to help both parties work toward a resolution.

“After nearly three years of bad faith negotiations by the railroads, it is sad but not surprising that we arrived at this point in the bargaining process governed by the Railway Labor Act.

“Our goal from the beginning of this process has been to deliver a contract that freight rail workers could ratify, particularly as the railroads are raking in their highest-ever profits as workloads and work hours have increased exponentially. Throughout this process, the railroads have never made a contract proposal that these workers could reasonably accept.

“Just as they have failed in their responsibility to provide reasonable freight service for their customers and the American people, the railroads have also failed in their responsibility to their workers in their greedy quest to become modern-day robber barons.

“The reality is that these frontline workers are pandemic heroes who move essential cargo and goods through the supply chain, yet they have not received a pay raise in three years and are risking their personal health and safety every day on the job.

“The time has come for the nation’s railroads to be held accountable for their actions, and reconcile the long-term effects of their greed. The seven Class I railroads have raked in $146 billion in profits since 2015 while cutting 45,000 jobs in the same period.

“Quite simply, the facts are on our side and we look forward to the forthcoming recommendations of the presidentially-appointed arbitrators.”

In a joint statement in response to the Executive Order, the 13 rail unions stated: ‘The Rail Unions remain united in their efforts, and are now working together in preparation of a unified case representing the best interests of all rail employees before the Presidential Emergency Board. Our unified case will clearly show that the Unions’ proposals are supported by current economic data and are more than warranted when compared to our memberships’ contribution to the record profits of the rail carriers.‘ “

Background:

Upon the formation of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), the Railway Labor Act (RLA) imposes a 30-day status quo period during which the Board will receive written submissions and hold hearings, and the parties are not permitted to exercise self-help. The Board would be required to issue its report within 30 days of its appointment. Once the Board issues its report, the RLA mandates another 30-day cooling off period as the unions and the carriers attempt to negotiate an agreement based on the PEB’s recommendations. If no agreement is reached at the end of that last 30-day period, then all restrictions on self-help are removed. Therefore, under the RLA, if a PEB is created and no agreement is reached based on its recommendations, the parties could exercise self-help in mid-September. Congress could take action at this point and mandate the Board’s recommendations or extend the cooling-off period.

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The 13 unions involved in the national rail labor contract negotiations are: the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen / Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET); the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); the International Association of Machinists (IAM); the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); the Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU), including TCU’s Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC); and the Transportation Division and Mechanical Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD and SMART-MD, respectively).

Collectively, these Unions represent approximately 140,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise 100% of the workforce who will be impacted by this round of negotiations.