On June 13, Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent a letter to President Joe Biden regarding recent attacks on Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman. The text of the letter is reproduced below.
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden President of the United States The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and the totality of rail labor as represented by our affiliated unions, I write to reaffirm our strong support for Surface Transportation Board (STB or Board) Chair Marty Oberman and Board Member Robert Primus. We vehemently object to the sentiments expressed by Freedom Bloc, Revolving Door Project, and RootsAction (the coalition) in a May 17th letter urging you to relieve Chair Oberman and replace him with Member Primus. We firmly believe that removing Chair Oberman or failing to reappoint him would undermine the significant progress the Board has made during his tenure.
The coalition’s request for Chair Oberman’s removal is in direct response to the Chair’s authorization of a merger between Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCS). The Chair’s vote in favor of the transaction is no reason to remove him from his position or to not re-nominate him. Compared to the four railroads that dominate the U.S. freight rail network, CP and KCS are comparatively minor players. It must be recognized that the merger was literally “end-to-end”; CP and KCS had one point of connection and they did not compete head-to-head for business. There was no compelling evidence of a real decrease in competition. Further, rejection of the transaction would not have enhanced competition or decreased concentration in the industry in any significant way.
The primary issue plaguing the freight rail industry is not corporate concentration, but rather the implementation of an operating business model known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). PSR prioritizes profits above all other goals, including rail safety, reliable freight rail service, and workplace dignity. Recent high-profile derailments like the one in East Palestine, Ohio are a direct consequence of rail operations under the PSR model. Simply put, PSR is well on its way to destroying the freight rail industry and poses a direct threat to the safety of our communities and economic well-being of our country.
Chair Oberman recognizes the scope of these problems and champions real solutions to them. The call for his removal over the CP and KCS merger is not only unjustified but would be counterproductive to creating a safer, more effective freight rail system. To be clear, our objection to replacing Chair Oberman in no way diminishes our support for Board Member Primus. Mr. Primus has been an aggressive critic of the industry’s practices and we fully support his continued service on the Board as well.
The actions and approach of the current Board are a refreshing change from its predecessors, and Chair Oberman is due much credit for that change. We look forward to the Board’s continued attention to freight rail service issues exacerbated by the scourge of PSR.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
FTA has not yet implemented worker safety provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
WASHINGTON – Today, 20 labor organizations representing transit drivers and other transportation workers urged Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Nuria Fernandez to immediately implement the safety provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to protect transit workers from assault.
Four months after the passage of the BIL, the FTA has yet to implement these safety provisions. Meanwhile, transit workers continue to face danger on the job.
Assaults against transit workers have long been a concern but dramatically increased during the last three years of the pandemic, as did assaults on other frontline transportation workers like airline and airport workers.
Labor unions representing frontline transit employees have responded to this crisis over the years through legislative and regulatory measures, most recently securing several provisions in the BIL to protect transit workers.
Because of the BIL, the FTA is now statutorily required to collect accurate data on transit workforce assaults, to reform its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) process to include worker voices and incorporate measures to reduce the risk of assault in every transit system, and to update its national safety plan to address the risk of assault and public health concerns.
The unions wrote: “Our members include bus and rail transit operators, station agents, car cleaners, mechanics and other frontline workers, all of whom are at risk of assault and worse each day they arrive at work. President Biden committed to protecting these workers and that promise was enshrined into law as part of the BIL. Before, and particularly during the COVID19 pandemic, these workers have laid their lives on the line every day to ensure Americans have access to safe, reliable transportation, and we must not turn our backs on them another day.”
Signers of the letter include the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) and the nation’s largest transit unions, including the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division (SMART-TD), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU).
The letter was also signed by the following unions: Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), Association of Flight Attendants–CWA (AFA), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes–IBT (BMWED), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (IOMM&P), International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU (NCFO), Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), and Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS).
The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a proud member, released the following statement on March 1 after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger, president and secretary-treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the below statement in response to President Biden’s first State of the Union (SOTU) address to the nation.
“From the passage of the American Rescue Plan to the biggest investment in infrastructure in our nation’s history, the first year of the Biden Administration was a capstone year of legislative victories for transportation labor unions and working people.
“Chief among these legislative victories is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), a once-in-a-generation investment across every sector of our transportation network — and an unprecedented investment in workers.
“We proudly represent 36 labor unions whose members will be put to work during the implementation of this historic legislation, ushering in a new era of manufacturing, construction, and transportation job creation. We applaud President Biden for putting union job creation and worker empowerment at the center of his governing agenda.
“We welcome the progress of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which recently released a report outlining 70 recommendations to empower workers, including an initiative to increase worker awareness of their federally protected rights to organize and establish a resource center for information on unions and collective bargaining.
“We urge Congress to heed the President’s call to pass the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would help workers collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
“We look forward to continuing to work with President Biden and the Administration to create good union jobs, invest in America’s transportation infrastructure, and expand collective bargaining for every transportation worker in the nation.”
The SMART Transportation Division joins transportation labor leaders nationwide as we mourn the untimely death of AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Larry Willis. “Brother Willis was a tremendous leader who provided determined guidance, measured action and stood undaunted by the multitude of challenges transportation labor in our country faces now and will continue to face going forward,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Along with the other unions that comprise the TTD, we will miss his leadership, tremendous insight and experience. We are filled with sadness for his family and friends at his tragic loss and mourn along with them.” On Nov. 30, TTD Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan issued this statement of mourning and remembrance: “With his wife and daughter by his side, AFL-CIO TTD president Larry Willis, 53, succumbed on Nov. 29 to injuries sustained on November 22 in a tragic biking accident.
“We mourn today the shocking loss of a brother and fierce advocate for working people. “The transportation labor family and the entire workers’ rights community lost a leader, activist, mentor, and friend when Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), passed away yesterday. “For more than 20 years, Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who work on the front lines of our transportation system. In addition to serving as president, a position he was elected to in 2017, Larry also served as secretary-treasurer, chief of staff, general counsel, and legislative counsel and representative at TTD. His mastery of complex legal and regulatory issues set the foundation for TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system. “During his tenure at TTD, Larry faced some of transportation labor’s most daunting challenges. He met those and other crises head on, showing an unwavering dedication to working people and their unions, and a deep-seated desire to help those suffering from circumstances beyond their control. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Larry took on the insurmountable challenge of restoring our transportation industry and balancing the security needs of the country with the due process working people are entitled to, successfully securing protections in our laws that lie at the center of our homeland security regime. During the 2008 financial crisis, he played a pivotal role in shaping the largest economic stimulus package for transportation investments ever passed in the U.S. Even up until the week he left us, Larry continued to push for health care and economic assistance for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and acted as a steady reminder that recovery from this crisis is not possible without the essential functions performed by transportation workers. “Larry’s advocacy style was straightforward and effective: forge meaningful relationships with leaders at all levels of government and across the political spectrum, build power through unity and find ways to work together to lift up all transportation workers. This approach is perhaps best exemplified in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill. Under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, Larry’s leadership led transportation labor to endorse one of the most pro-labor FAA reauthorization bills in U.S. history. “Millions of people have had their lives improved because of the work Larry did, yet most of those people will never know Larry’s name. For Larry, that didn’t matter. He was not motivated by fame or fortune – his end goal was always about doing the most good for the greatest number of people. Though his time with us has been cut short, Larry’s legacy will live on in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached through thoughtful, sophisticated arguments, the colleagues and staff he influenced and mentored, and the working people he dedicated his life to. “Larry graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Political Science and earned a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School. He was an active member of the D.C. Bar. He loved Camp Echo, biking, traveling with his wife, cheering on his daughter at swim competitions, and playing tennis with his father. Larry is survived by his loving wife, Amy, and beloved daughter, Samantha.” Click here for additional details about Larry’s life in this story from the Washington Post. Click here for the official and service details.
Amtrak’s financial situation and the freight rail industry’s continued use of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices were the focus of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing Oct. 21. Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn repeated his plea for almost $5 billion in emergency funding to help the nation’s passenger carrier weather the continued downturn in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The carrier has made drastic long-distance service cuts, going from daily to three trips per week on many routes. Furloughs for almost 2,000 Amtrak employees are scheduled to take effect in November. “Virtually all of the CARES Act money has been spent,” Flynn told the committee. “These workforce adjustments are essential with current financial funding.” A number of legislative actions, including the HEROES Act and the INVEST in America Act, while passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, have been stalled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the GOP-controlled Senate. The emergency funding provided by such legislation would help the carrier rebound, Flynn said. “Once the pandemic eases, Amtrak plans to grow,” he said. A second panel featured a discussion of PSR. Rudy Gordon, CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, expressed concerns from a shipper perspective about the redeployment of furloughed railroad workers, saying that he fears delays in service and shipments on the part of rail carriers when the economy rebounds. PSR has caused “a tipping point” at the expense of customer service, Gordon said, and said that if rail service erodes further at the expense of the carriers obtaining lower operating ratios (ORs) that the Surface Transportation Board should intervene. Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, offered written testimony concerning PSR. “Across the sector, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, threatening both the health and livelihoods of employees,” Willis stated. “At the same time, freight railroads, at the insistence of Wall Street investors and hedge fund managers, have pursued operating practices that undermine basic tenets of rail safety, ask frontline workers to do more with less, and threaten the reliable and efficient customer service that should be the hallmark of this industry.” The lone labor representative invited to testify in person was Dennis Pierce, president of the Teamsters Rail Conference. Other industry stakeholders appearing were:
Paul Tuss, executive director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
Frank Chirumbole, vice president global supply chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
Kent Fountain, chairman, National Cotton Council
Ian Jefferies, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Railroads