Editors are entitled to take liberties with what they put in their columns. This is not new to the editorial pages, and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), the nation’s largest freight rail union, is never shy about expressing its opinion, either. But there is a distinct difference between an intelligent editorial based on facts and an unhinged hit piece on a public figure with different views than your newspaper’s.

On April 24th, the Denver Gazette and owner Phil Anshutez, who also has ownership ties to the Union Pacific Railroad in addition to former ownership of both the Southern Pacific Railway and the DRGW Railroad, crossed that line.

SMART-TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith
SMART-TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith

Omitting the fact that this newspaper is owned by a man who has owned up to 6% of the UP is not a crime. It is noteworthy and shaky from a journalistic and editorial perspective. Mr. Anshutez, like every American, has freedom of speech as given to him by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. This right entitles him to publish whatever he would like without being punished by imprisonment. It does NOT, however, entitle him to publish unfounded, ignorant statements about the SMART Transportation Division’s leaders without receiving a response.

The editorial “Radical bill seeks to regulate trains” targets Colorado House Bill 1030 and, more personally, myself. I serve as SMART-TD’s Colorado State Legislative Director and am the “union boss” referred to. I also have worked on the railroad since 1995.

What has Anshutez angry is that the bill’s goals are to limit train length in a state that famously features the Rocky Mountains as well as to clarify that union representatives have the right to be on-site and involved during investigations of rail accidents. Anshutez and his editorial board said these provisions were “concocted by union bosses, who fund Democratic campaigns to give them more power and control over what they don’t own.”

The first part of this statement and the last part are 100% true. The SMART-TD’s Legislative Board think our crews should not be doubling up five tracks and pulling 14,000-foot trains through mountains on 2% grades. Nobody denies that. And when our members are involved in a derailment, and the company is investigating to determine the cause, you are damn right SMART-TD has a dog in that fight. We believe wholeheartedly that workers have the right to be represented during any investigation to make sure they don’t become the railroad’s scapegoat for management’s failings.

Additionally, Anshutez is correct in saying that we (SMART-TD) don’t own the railroads. If we did, they wouldn’t be the hot mess they are today. Any reasonable railroad worker would not ask another to risk personal safety or that of the communities they travel through to make a few extra dollars for Wall Street investors to pad their dividend. Management, on the other hand, would if it saw a self-serving benefit — similar to an editorial being written at the behest of the owner of the publication.

The rest of the Gazette’s column is both ridiculous and false. There’s a clumsy comparison of our rail safety bill to Jim Crow laws. It concludes with a dire warning about taking free speech away from “wedding artists.” In the midst of the disjointed ramblings, rail labor and HB 1030’s rail safety provisions enter the mix as do pleas to prevent corporate victimhood. The column was long, with no rhyme or reason for how it was built — much like the trains UP and BNSF send to run through the mountains of Colorado with a hope and a prayer that it would stay together and reach a successful conclusion without breaking apart to please the boss and live to work another day.

As for the allegation that this bill is being pushed by “radical legislative Democrats” and that it was “concocted by union bosses, who fund Democratic campaigns,” Anshutez, the railroads’ and the Associations of American Railroads’ agenda come clear.

Labor — the people who do the work — are the driving force behind this legislation. But make no mistake, the people whom this union represents, cannot be confused with radical leftists. This union is very clear that we support candidates on both sides of the aisle. We classify office holders and candidates as “With us” or “Against us,” not Republican or Democrat. W’s and A’s matter. D’s and R’s do not in our organization.

We don’t have time to waste on blanket ideology, and our members are all over the political spectrum. SMART-TD endorsed Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun for the governor’s race in Indiana recently, and we have a higher percentage of our PAC dollars going to Republicans than other unions, even within rail labor.

A bill similar to HB 1030 is gathering momentum in Nebraska as we speak. By the Denver Gazette’s logic, Nebraska must also be run by “radical legislative Democrats!” Either that or, much like Colorado, this bill is what happens when SMART-TD has good leadership in place who push for legislation based on common sense that makes our members safer on the job.

In short, Anshutez and his newspaper have no idea what they are talking about.

HB 1030 has momentum in this session based on being chosen as one of five priority bills by a bipartisan committee made up of both House Representatives and Colorado Senators known as the Transportation Legislation Review Committee (TLRC).

The difference between this Colorado Subcommittee and the owner of the Denver Gazette/railroad shareholder is that the committee is made up of people with years of experience in transportation issues whose goal is to better the lives of the people of the state. The Denver Gazette’s goal is to sell newspapers and ad space to companies. Anshutez wins when railroads such as UP and BNSF.

That editorial moves the ball toward those goals. For the worker, the public and the supply chain at large, not so much.

Carl Smith has been the SMART Transportation Division’s state legislative director for 12 years.