As I prepare for retirement, there are many things on my mind about the future of our industry and transportation workers that I have had the honor to represent during my career.

The most important item on my agenda today, and every day during the past 31 years that I have been a legislative officer, is that our members are treated fairly when decisions are being made concerning safety, job security, health care and pensions.

Looking back on my career that started in 1966, change is the only constant thing I’ve witnessed.

The hours of service law was reduced from 16 hours to the present 12. We went from 48 Class I railroads to the present seven. There has been a dramatic expansion of public transportation around the country, and the best news of all is that there has been a significant reduction in injuries and fatalities of transportation workers.

Our union has worked hard on improving safety and expanding passenger rail and that focus will continue long after I’m gone. Just as there have been constant changes in our industry over the past 31 years, constant changes will continue for the next 31 years and beyond.

The good news is the vast majority of rail and transit workers in America are organized and because they have a union, they can demand that future changes benefit them as well as the CEO and company investors.

Perhaps the most significant advances we have seen in the past decade are that of communications. When I hired out, they hooped up manually-typed train orders to passing trains and you stuck your arm out the locomotive window at 60 mph to grab them.

Today, information is instantaneous and constantly being updated. I’m convinced that as communication and information technology improves, our rail members will all have predictable work schedules and our transit members will have more appropriate work schedules that include frequent bathroom breaks.

With improvements in information technology, there is no excuse for our members to be uninformed about what is taking place in our industry and in our union. But it’s up to you as a member to make some effort at staying informed.

How you and our union react to future changes will directly impact your safety, your work environment and your paychecks. I’m convinced that when our members are involved and work with other members through our union, we are up for the challenge.

The good news is we already have a strong legislative presence in Washington and in every state capital and capable contract-negotiation teams on our general committees and at the national level.

In closing, I believe “knowledge is power.” I urge you all to stay informed and participate in your union by attending meetings and running for elected office. By hanging together and working through our union, you and your co-workers can benefit as well as the CEO and corporate investors when changes do occur.

I’m “pulling the pin” and I’m able to retire because of our union’s efforts to establish and maintain the best pension in America, Railroad Retirement. While I will be retired, I will be paying close attention from the sidelines.

Thanks to all of you who have made my career so enjoyable. Farewell. 

James A. Stem Jr.

National Legislative Director
SMART?Transportation Division

Minnesota_mapSMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports that House File 3172, the Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill containing the Minnesota Railroad Yard Lighting Bill, has been passed and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.

“The men and women in Minnesota and around the country that work in yard-switching operations should be able to see where they are walking. This is a great step forward and will become a model for many other states’ consideration,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said.

Added Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem: “Phil Qualy and our Minnesota Legislative Board understand the needs of railroad workers. Congratulations to them on their great work on behalf of their members.”

“The legislative board would be remiss if we did not report to our membership that from the carrier’s testimony before the legislature, it is difficult not to conclude that while the railroads want to talk about safety, they do not want you to have yard lighting,” Qualy said. “We will see how the carriers react to enactment of the Railroad Yard Lighting law. Their actions will reveal management priorities and how corporate financial budgeting will be targeted.”

In summary, the new law puts in place the following provisions:

1.) Sets the AREMA (American Railway Engineering Maintenance of Way Association) policy as a minimum standard and guideline for future lighting of rail yards;

2.) Sets a maintenance standard that malfunctioning lighting must be repaired to Minnesota Electrical Code within 48 hours of first report to the carrier;

3.) Sets forth that annual reports from railroad carriers and railroad labor shall be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Transportation Freight Rail Office by Jan. 15. If there is any discrepancy between carrier and labor reports, MnDOT shall investigate and report the areas in question to the legislature, including what will be necessary to bring yards to the AREMA standard.

4.) Sets a standard for lighting review at locations where cars or locomotives are switched or inspected, or where trains are assembled or disassembled frequently.

5.) Prescribes that at any yard where hazardous material cars are switched, inspected, picked-up or set-out frequently, or 25 hazmat tank cars are placed in trains frequently, or any yard within two miles of a major refinery where hazmat is placed in a train, the yards must be lighted to the AREMA standard by Dec. 31, 2015.

“We can work with this state law,” Qualy said. “This should get our railroad yards in Minnesota lighted going forward in this decade. We deferred to the wisdom of the Minnesota Legislature and railroad labor has prevailed.”

Also contained in H.F. 3172 are statutes naming rail labor as participants in hazmat planning and training, the creation of three positions for MnDOT safety inspectors, and the “Minnesota Oil Spill Defense Act,” that will ensure public first responders are trained and equipped with fire and disaster equipment. MnDOT will also invest resources for grade-crossing improvements along high-density hazmat corridors.

Finally, H.F. 3172 appropriates transportation funding that has been traditionally spent on short-line rehabilitation projects to Class I railroad projects that will divert hazardous material away from population centers in western Minnesota.

House File 2881, the Railroad Crew Van provision, has also been signed into law and will strengthen our current crew-van statutes, Qualy said.

“With our second Railroad Crew Van law passed in Minnesota in four years, H.F. 2881 will raise standards for driver qualifications, carrier reporting of total hours of service, vehicle equipment standards and vehicle inspection requirements,” Qualy said. “We maintain our $5-million liability and $1-million uninsured and underinsured motorist provisions.”

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers’ Minnesota Legislative Director Dave Brown had been the primary advocate for H.F. 2881 – the Crew Van law. “It was good to work the BLET Director Brown as we remained focused on passage of these laws to the final day of the 2014 session. On behalf of our membership, I also want to thank Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, who was instrumental in finding a compromise for our yard-lighting legislation with an entrenched, obstinate, railroad lobby,” Qualy said.

The SMART TD Minnesota Legislative Board also, on the last day of the legislative session, worked with State Rep. Jason Metsa on the introduction of House File 3394, which would increase fines on carriers that intentionally block grade crossings. Qualy said train crews have reported that CN Railway train dispatchers continue to order train crews to not cut or open grade crossings. “Hopefully, they will discontinue these illegal directives,” Qualy added.

“The Minnesota Legislative Board extends its appreciation to all SMART-TD officers who testified before the legislature, our SMART TD National Legislative Office, SMART TD’s Iowa and North Dakota Legislative Boards, the officers of our BNSF, CN, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific general committees of adjustment, our political consultant Dean Mitchell of DFM Group, and our SMART TD designated legal counsel – along with Larry Mann – all of whom really stepped-up to assist us in these efforts. We are also grateful to all of our members who made telephone calls to assist in this effort.

“As SMART Transportation Division-represented employees, we are also Minnesotans first,” Qualy added. “With the close of this two-year legislative cycle, our SMART TD and Minnesota AFL-CIO Working Family Agenda has moved the safety and security of our membership forward in a positive and productive manner. Our state of Minnesota is doing well and we look forward to the election season with optimism.

“Please contribute to your Minnesota UTU PAC. Your political voice is an essential investment in your future. Each member’s small contribution makes one large voice for transportation labor. UTU PAC does not cost, it pays.”


The individuals above attended legislative hearings for, testified about, or worked in support of the passage of H.F. 3172, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy said. They are, from left, retired former Assistant State Legislative Director Dan Paradise (1614), Local President George Armstrong (650), Local Chairperson Randy Raskin (650), Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, Qualy, Local Legislative Rep. Wayne Newton (1000) and Local Legislative Rep. Matt LaBine (650). (Not pictured are member Mike Heffernan (650) and Political Consultant Dean Mitchell, DFM Research Group).

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem testified March 12 before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

The subcommittee’s hearing was held in regard to Senate Bill S.1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to establish an evaluative framework for chemical risk assessment and management.

Representing thousands of men and women working as railroad employees, who transport thousands of tons of of chemical products each day, Stem offered the subcommittee the union’s assistance in crafting effective, bipartisan reform of the nation’s chemical safety law.

Stem’s complete testimony is below:

“Chairman Shimkus, Ranking Member Tonko and members of the subcommittee:

“Thank you for inviting me to testify at the hearing today on the Chemicals in Commerce Act, the CICA. Currently the CICA is a discussion draft and we appreciate this opportunity to offer input at this stage of the process.

“My name is James Stem. I serve here in Washington as the National Legislative Director of the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation Workers. We were formerly the United Transportation Union before we completed our merger with the Sheet Metal Workers in 2011. We represent the thousands of men and women who are working as railroad employees today. Each day these employees safely move thousands of tons of a variety of chemical products that are requested by local businesses and local government bodies throughout our country.

“I wish to commend the Subcommittee for its work on CICA, which aims to modernize and strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) as you continue to refine this draft. As you know, our union and others have already voiced support for the Senate’s effort to modernize and strengthen TSCA through S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. We commend the balanced, bipartisan approach taken by the Senate, and will support that approach in the House as you work to formally introduce the CICA. We are eager to work with you to help pass bipartisan TSCA reform in 2014. Since this is a discussion draft and not a bill, my testimony will address the needed reforms to the TSCA of 1976, which is the goal of all of us gathered in this room.

“Modernizing TSCA takes on new urgency as our American chemical industry prepares to make major investments in U.S. production facilities in the wake of the natural gas boom. The industry has announced over $100 billion in planned U.S. investments that will not only use domestic natural gas to make products but also put our American people to work. The U.S. chemical industry will generate tens of thousands of new American jobs in manufacturing, construction, energy infrastructure, technology, transportation and additional research and development. The industry already provides 800,000 well paid U.S. jobs and indirectly supports millions more. The substantial tonnage of chemical shipments on the nation’s freight railroads helps to support good railroad jobs. Exporting thousands of tons of chemical products manufactured in this country by American workers is not a dream, but a realistic appraisal of the opportunities on the table today.

“Transporting the needed chemical products that our U.S. manufacturing sector requires from the chemical production facilities to the final destination by rail is the safest form of transportation. Railroads have the capacity and the experienced workforce to move these products safely and efficiently without putting thousands of tanker trucks on our overburdened highways.

“We support reform that will achieve the following goals: (1) strengthen our chemical safety law to protect human health and the environment; (2) restore public confidence about the safety of chemicals in commerce; and (3) help the U.S. chemical industry innovate and grow, so it can provide good jobs. Directly and indirectly, TSCA impacts chemical safety, our economy, and the health and well-being of many workers and families. Americans in every state need to be confident in their homes, workplaces and communities that our nation’s chemical regulations are robust and working to protect them.

“The CICA in its final version will provide improvements to fix significant problems that have been encountered with TSCA:

  • For the first time, EPA will be required to systematically evaluate all chemicals in commerce – including TSCA’s “grandfathered” chemicals – and label them as either “high” or “low” priority based on potential health and environmental risks. Chemicals requiring the most immediate attention from regulators should be successfully identified for action by this process. This ranking system must be carefully crafted as the proposals move forward so that confidence in its dependability is high.
  • High priority chemicals will require EPA to perform a safety-based risk assessment. EPA must determine whether a high priority substance will result in an unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment under its intended condition of use. Low priority chemicals can be reclassified as high priority when necessary.
  • EPA will be able to demand more health and safety information from chemical producers and require more testing by producers.
  • EPA will be able to take timely action against chemicals found to be harmful to human health and the environment, including restrictions and phase outs.
  • EPA will delineate which chemicals are in active use and which are not, ending confusion about the actual number in use.

“These improvements will make TSCA more effective. However, we recognize that the drafting process must address additional significant issues. We support bipartisan cooperation to find solutions to the outstanding issues. For example:

  • All of us here today are aware of the state preemption controversy with regard to reforming TSCA. As a practical matter, we agree that effective national regulation of chemicals in commerce is generally preferable to state by state regulation; at the same time, states must be able to successfully address local issues and concerns in this process. A strong, uniform, and workable national law is preferable to 50 States regulating independently. This aspect will require more work and bipartisan compromise to get the needed support.
  • The need to improve protection of vulnerable populations, provide more definite timelines for action by EPA and chemical manufacturers, and ensure that confidential business information is protected, but not in a way that prevents EPA from acting to fulfill its mission.
  • Finally, as a separate but related matter, EPA must be given the resources needed to carry out the reforms.

“In closing, we thank you again for your work on this important issue and look forward to assisting your efforts to craft effective, bipartisan reform of our nation’s chemical safety law. We look forward to working with the committee to offer additional input as this process continues.”


SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem, third from left, testifies
before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

Labor unions are funneling cash to a super-PAC tied to a former lawmaker that is working to elect centrist Republicans to Congress.

Unions have contributed about $765,000 so far to the Defending Main Street Super-PAC, which is associated with former GOP lawmaker Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), according to Federal Election Commission records.

To view SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem’s comments, read the complete story at The Hill.

WASHINGTON – A federal panel heard comments Wednesday on the adequacy of safety regulations for railroads, during the first of two meetings that will focus on last month’s deadly train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Fatigue is the top safety concern among train crew members, said a representative of one of the major unions for railroad workers.

Read the complete story at The Kennebec Journal.


The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation introduced a positive train control (PTC) extension bill. The bill seeks to extend the statutory deadline for PTC implementation by five years to Dec. 31, 2020, as well as provide another optional two-year extension on 60,000 miles of track across the country. Shortline railroads that operate on PTC-mandated track would receive an extension of five years if approved by the FRA.

Right now, the PTC implementation deadline is Dec. 31, 2015. The bill is based upon findings of the FRA in 2012 that identified several technical and programmatic problems with the implementation of PTC.

Passenger and freight railroads have expressed concern over meeting the current 2015 deadline, claiming they may be forced to stop operations to implement PTC or risk breaking the law by continuing to operate without it.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem testified before the committee June 19 on PTC, as well as other issues.

“If Congress chooses to grant a blanket extension for PTC, the railroads that are behind on their implementation schedule today will further slow their progress, or just stop the process until that new extension expires,” Stem said.

“Any extension for PTC implementation should be on an individual basis, short in duration, six to 12 months, and only after identifying the reasons that the current implementation date is not obtainable.”

Some railroads, including Amtrak, BNSF and Metrolink in California, have announced they will be able to meet the statutory deadline and are continuing the implementation and testing of PTC components.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) introduced the bill.

A runaway oil train that killed scores of people when it slammed into a Quebec town is bringing renewed calls on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border for tougher safety rules for railroads.

Regulators and watchdogs have sought for years improvements to a common tank car design shown to be susceptible to rupture when derailed, while labor unions have pushed for a ban on trains being operated by a single crew member.

Read the complete story at Bloomberg News.


“Every Amtrak employee should be placed in a productive position that supports the needs of customer service and managed growth of operations,” UTU National Legislative Director James Stem told Congress Nov. 28.

“Amtrak operating crews are among the most productive workers in that system and our members are ready and eager to work,” he said in testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Assign us a train and provide for instructions and where to go, and our members will show up for duty and get Amtrak passengers to their destination safely and on time. We in labor are Amtrak’s partners.”

Stem praised Amtrak’s Next Generation Plan that “provides a road map for improved service and identifies the funding requirements. But for us to succeed, Congress must provide Amtrak with consistent and predicable multi-year funding for modernization and capacity upgrades. Amtrak’s Next Generation Plan for the Northeast Corridor will cut the transit time in half between Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and New York’s Penn Station, as well as between New York and Boston.

“What Amtrak really needs is dramatic increases in capital investments,” Stem said. “Capital spending to increase speeds and upgrade Amtrak’s infrastructure is the ticket to transporting American’s in a cost effective and energy efficient manner.”

Stem reminded lawmakers that “Amtrak also plays a central role in financing Railroad Retirement, which is a self-funding pension, unemployment and disability benefit program that covers almost one million active and retired railroad workers. Changes in the financial treatment of Amtrak, such as significant funding cuts or passenger rail privatization, could jeopardize the solvency of the system.

“Americans want a national intercity rail passenger network, and Amtrak is uniquely able to fill that need. Highways and commercial aviation will not alone meet the nation’s future passenger transportation needs and demands. The coordination of air and rail passenger services should be mandated to free more air slots and provide timely rail services for shorter travel distances.”

Stem also made clear labor’s “full support for the expansion of our freight rail capacity. Amtrak and our freight railroads work together as partners and both have capacity needs that can be mutual goals. We support the expansion of Amtrak services and understand that this expansion must also address the capacity needs of our freight rail partners.”

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem, right, testifies before the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee Nov. 28 with Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, left, and Amtrak
Inspector General Theodore Alves.

By National Legislative Director James Stem – You remember Humpty Dumpty, the character created by children’s author Lewis Carroll. Most famously, Humpty Dumpty said, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

Humpty Dumpty may well have written the language for Proposition 32, which goes before California voters on Election Day.

Although Proposition 32 appears to put restrictions on the use of so-called special interest money in elections, its real meaning is to ban unions from collecting payroll deductions for union political action committees (PAC) — to silence the voice of organized labor in politics.

“This attempt to silence the voice of workers in California with Proposition 32 is a national issue, because, if passed, it will set a precedent for other states to follow with legislation,” says UTU National Legislative Director James Stem. “Labor’s struggle in California is for the very right to support or oppose proposed laws and regulations that would impact worker safety issues, taxation issues, voting rights, and the right to work under a union contract. Many issues started in California have spread around the country.”

Adds the secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, “It’s not enough for them to have taken our houses, and it’s not enough for them to make millions off the TARP funding and federal government support for the banks. Now they want even more. They want us to not even have a voice in politics whatsoever.”

Although the California ballot measure appears to ban both corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, the primary impact would be on labor unions, because Proposition 32 exempts business super PACs dominated by corporations and their executives who solicit and bundle money to elect or defeat labor-friendly candidates.

One critic points out that while the measure “sounds balanced, 99 percent of California corporations don’t use payroll deductions for political contributions,” meaning they would not be restricted in using their profits and direct contributions from executives to influence elections.

Thus, if the measure passes, labor unions would be restricted from supporting labor-friendly candidates through PAC contributions and donations, while corporate special interests will have no restrictions on their political contributions to anti-labor candidates.

Says California political columnist Thomas Elias, Proposition 32’s “ban on contributions to candidate-controlled committees is meaningless, merely a cover for another blatant attempt to reduce funds for liberal candidates while letting contributions to conservatives continue unfettered.”
A California labor leader adds, “The measure is a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to fool voters into approving a corporate power grab that will lead to even more corporate influence over our political system. What the backers won’t say publicly is that they’ve written a giant loop hole to allow for unlimited corporate spending on campaigns while furthering their real agenda of silencing the voices of middle-class workers and their unions.”
Who is supporting Proposition 32? Billionaire Charles Munger Jr. contributed $24 million for advertising supporting the measure, out-of-state super PACs funded by those with an anti-labor objective have contributed $15 million in support of Proposition 32, and millions more have been contributed by Wall Street firms and corporate investors and executives, all of whom will be exempt from Proposition 32.

“The fundamental question,” says Stem, “is why the backers of Proposition 32 want to shut working people out of the political process while providing corporations, corporate executives and other anti-union forces an exemption.

“The answer,” says Stem, “is they want to shut off contributions to candidates supporting collective bargaining rights, workplace safety laws and regulations and legislation such as the Family Medical Leave Act that gives workers time off to care for a newborn, elderly parents or ill children without fear of losing their jobs.”

By James Stem, 
UTU National Legislative Director – 

Coal is America’s most abundant source of energy, helping reduce our nation’s dependence on imported oil.

Coal also means jobs, with almost one in every five freight rail jobs dependent on transporting coal. And coal means high-paying jobs for coal miners, power plant workers and the building trades, who build, maintain and update coal-fired generating plants.

Troubling is that coal – and this means American jobs — is under attack within the Environmental Protection Agency and from some in Congress who want to impose such stringent new emissions regulations that as many as one-third of our coal-fired power plants could be closed and no new ones built. That puts thousands of jobs on the line.

This debate will continue until the process is discovered to allow carbon-dioxide gases from coal to be captured and used productively.

Railroads, coal producers, the electric power industry, rail labor and other labor organizations agree there is a better way to improve air quality than regulations so stringent that coal production would plummet and large numbers of coal-related jobs would disappear.

The UTU’s National Legislative Office and state legislative directors are working with these allied interests to educate federal regulators and Congress on the issues, and explain the harm that could come to rail employment, the Railroad Retirement system and other segments of the American economy from stringent new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired generating plants.

A coalition of unions, including the UTU, are members of Union Jobs and the Environment (, working to ensure coal remains an important part of America’s energy mix.

Environmental science is complex. Seldom do solutions proposed by environmental scientists weigh economic considerations, such as the impact on American jobs from limiting the use of coal by electric utilities.

Other environmental scientists propose a more balanced and flexible approach that would achieve comparable reductions in harmful emissions while protecting rail and other coal-related jobs. Our mission is to educate decisions makers and opinion leaders as to the costs of acting without considering economic impacts and alternatives that are equally effective in improving air quality.

We support a new approach by the Obama administration that has awarded federal research funds to nine universities to develop new clean coal technologies that will permit the continued use of American coal. We are disappointed that the amount of research dollars is not significantly greater.

Coal loadings are second only to trailers and containers in the number of carloads hauled by railroads. Some 45 percent of railroad tonnage is represented by coal, which does more than provide low-cost energy and American energy security.

Coal means high-paying jobs with benefits, and the UTU is working diligently with our partners to protect those jobs.