Under ordinary circumstances, SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department relies on National Legislative Director (NLD) Greg Hynes, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity and Legislative Department Chief of Staff Jenny Miller to educate our nation’s lawmakers on rail safety. But on this year’s “Railroad Day on the Hill” — held annually on the legislative calendar — 35 men and women representing 15 different states answered the call, traveling to Washington, DC to advocate for railroaders.

This formidable group of SMART-TD representatives conducted more than 100 meetings with legislators: sharing the gospel of the Railway Safety Act of 2023, shorter trains, increased quality of life and better safety inspections of rolling stock with any Congress member or staffer willing to listen.

In addition to holding this important series of meetings and reaching out to over 100 members of the House and Senate, SMART-TD representatives attended a press conference in support of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he announced the introduction of the Healthy Families Act. This legislation includes provisions ensuring that every company with over 100 employees provides a minimum of 7 paid sick days to its employees. This bill has language in it that speaks directly to railroad companies.

The Healthy Families Act indicates the progress our union made in the 2022 national contract negotiations. In December 2022, Sanders pushed for similar legislation that was strictly aimed at railroaders — and though it won a majority of votes in both the House and Senate, it failed to get the 60 votes needed to carry a filibuster-proof supermajority and make it to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

With the ramifications of this bill’s success weighing heavily on the quality-of-life improvements that SMART-TD continues to seek for our members, Sen. Sanders reached out to SMART’s Legislative Department and made a point of inviting our representatives to his press conference.

Following the successes of the day’s events, NLD Hynes expressed his gratitude to the army of SMART-TD leaders who made the trip.

“These men and women went above and beyond the call of duty to be here today, and because of them, we had a fantastic show of force in the halls of Congress. The validity of our issues speaks for itself, but when leaders from these different states show up to meet with their congressional and senate delegations, it makes an impact on these lawmakers,” he said. “They hear from Jared Cassity and me all the time, but when someone from home comes to meet with them in DC, it puts a face to our issues in a unique way.

“I want to thank each and every one of them for making the effort to come out this year, and with your help, we will deliver on the promise of the Railway Safety Act, the REEF Act, and all the issues that speak to the quality of life our members deserve and the dignity of the work they do each day.”

Congresswoman Craig

SMART’s political advocacy has paid off during recent years, as pro-labor members of Congress voted to invest in our jobs and our industries with the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. International and local union leaders continue to forge political relationships in order to benefit members across the country — and in April, the strength of those relationships was made clear, as congressional leaders from both parties stopped by SMART’s reception during the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Legislative Conference.

SMART members in attendance heard from Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Valerie Hoyle (D-Ore.). Members in each representative’s respective state turned out in force to put those candidates in office; in return, each candidate has acted on our behalf: from introducing legislation to bring labor to the table on workforce training standards, to voting to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

“I’m standing here today because of labor,” Craig said before urging Local 10 (Minnesota) members to leave to watch the Minnesota Wild playoff hockey game. “You knocked so many damn doors, and I promise I will be here for you every damn day.”

Congresswoman Hoyle

“I can guarantee to all of you that I’m never going to stop fighting for you,” Hoyle declared later. The former UNITE HERE member added: “If you come into my office, I’ve got hard hat stickers from SMART, I’ve got my AFL-CIO posters up — you walk into my office, you know it is a union office.”

SMART members also heard from Local 19 (Philadelphia, Pa.) President and Business Manager Gary Masino, who is currently running for city council to represent Northeast Philadelphia. Masino was born and raised in Northeast Philly — he knows from experience that working people need a champion for their interests in office. As councilmember, he vowed to work tirelessly for safer streets, jobs that pay livable wages and to invest in Philadelphia schools.

“I’m going to fight for labor and do everything I can to make Philadelphia a union town again,” Masino said.

An NBC News report released March 7 detailed a nonprofit’s analysis that looked into how America’s largest railroads profited during last year’s supply chain crisis in conjunction with the continued enactment of their Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) scheme.

Nonprofit group Accountable.US delved into the reasons why — namely that the Class Is collected more than $1.1 billion in demurrage fees thanks to supply-chain bottlenecks. The two largest carriers in the western U.S., BNSF and Union Pacific, also reported record profits in 2021 in their end-of-year earnings reports.

“Before the rail industry’s fees set a record during the pandemic, they had already increased by over 30% since 2000, all while railroads’ costs have only increased by 3%,” the Accountable.US report stated. “Railroads have used market power to cut costs — known as lowering their Operating Ratios — spending about $46 billion more on shareholder handouts than on maintenance and equipment since 2010.”

In addition to diving in on the details of the stock buybacks and other components of PSR, the Accountable.US analysis also went into additional details about the extent of the railroads’ lobbying efforts — all told, Class Is spent a combined total of $15.5 million to influence policy on Capitol Hill.