By James Stem, UTU National Legislative Director

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) was not all that rail labor wanted in a safety bill, but it was a good start, and contains much of what we have long sought. Work still needs to be done, including an end to limbo time, advance notice of start times, and an end to arbitrary discipline tied to unreasonable availability policies.

We said after passage of the bill that we would work with our friends in Congress to refine and improve the bill.

The process has begun.

In his final days in Congress, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) introduced H.R. 6519, the Railroad Hours of Service Act.

Rail labor and Mr. Oberstar, one of the best friends rail labor has ever had in Congress, knew there was not time in the lame-duck session of Congress for the bill — which includes improvements to hours-of-service provisions of the RSIA — to pass.

Thus, H.R. 6519 was intended as a place-setter — a bill whose provisions already are winning support among UTU lawmaker friends and which will be re-introduced by other friends of the UTU in the new Congress in 2011.

The UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen will be working closely on a new bill with our congressional friends of labor come January and the start of the new Congress.

Provisions of the bill include:

  • An affirmative statement that railroad workers subject to hours-of-service “shall be provided predictable and defined work and rest periods.”
  • A required 10 hours of undisturbed rest be taken immediately prior to going on duty rather than immediately after going off duty. This provision is intended to end the common practice of so-called “paper deadheads” and “dropped turns” with a 10-hour call.
  • All yardmaster — as well as co-mingled service as yardmasters and dispatchers — are to be subject to hours-of-service regulations.
  • Deadheads in excess of a time period shall count will count as job starts.
  • All interim release periods are to require prior notification before going off duty.
  • Limbo time will be restricted to two hours per each tour of duty.

Although some provisions we also want were not included in H.R. 6519, we will be working to have them included in the new bill this next session of Congress.

They include:

  • A provision to cover regular yard assignments with defined start times under provisions that now apply to passenger and commuter rail assignments.
  • A provision that no amount of time at an away-from-home terminal will reset the calendar day clock.
  • A provision requiring that hot, nutritious food be available 24 hours per day at the sleeping quarters.

The UTU also will support additional provisions specific to railroad signalmen as sought by their organization.

The new Congress will include 100 new members, and many were elected with the support of rail labor organizations. We have already begun discussions with those new members and are continuing discussions with our other friends in Congress toward early introduction of the Oberstar place-setter, with the additional provisions included.