SMART-TD promotes hazardous material response training in Houston

This article was contributed by Johnny Walker, SMART-TD Local 610’s legislative representative.

Rail conductors and all other crafts have a role to play in the event of a derailment or accident. In these situations, conductors are first on the scene. But unfortunately the vast majority of our people have limited, if any, training on how to triage these scenes when hazardous materials are involved. The SMART Transportation Division is engaged in closing this training gap by giving our members the tools they need to make them and their colleagues safer. 

Started in 1990 with funds from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and cooperation by nine rail union affiliates, the Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training program (RWHMT) fills a much-needed gap in hazmat and first-responder training for rail workers nationwide. Since its founding, the RWHMT has trained over 27,000 railroad workers with courses that address the requirements of OSHA 1910.120 and DOT’s hazardous materials regulations (49 CFR, Part 172, Subpart H). Due to its success in 2008, the RWHMT has received additional funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct hazardous material instructor training courses, making it possible for more comprehensive courses and additional opportunities for railroad workers to attend.

Although FRA and OSHA share jurisdiction in regulating railroad worker safety and health conditions on property, railroaders do not have the same access to quality, comprehensive basic health and welfare or hazmat training as workers in many other industries. This is where the RWHMT comes in. 

“Training is vital because we don’t just rise up to the occasion; we fall to our level of training. We need to meet the 40-hour requirement in this limited amount of time to give the participants their certifications with the maximum amount of information and training, and we’re already behind the clock before our class starts.” 

Instructor Chad Yokoyama, SMART-TD Local 113

The course is no typical union convention or employer-mandated training. It is 100% paid for through grants, so there is no out-of-pocket cost to participants and a small stipend for lost work. Program  participants can expect from the moment they arrive in Texas, a week-long intensive course, which includes classroom and field training at the Houston Fire Department Val Jahnke Training Facility. It is also not a pass-fail job-dependent training; it is fun and factual, ensuring participants can return to their terminals with new knowledge and information gained in a comfortable stress-free, open union environment. 

Scenarios based on real events with group training modules determine what class participants know and what they should know when it comes to possible real-life situations they might encounter. As we have seen in East Palestine, Ohio, and other instances, when it hits the fan, it’s not time to come up with a plan. Rail workers need to fall back on our level of training, which the railroads do not always provide. 

After the initial classroom training, participants get the opportunity to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and other more-intensive hazardous materials PPE, performing mock disaster scenarios to obtain a sense of what happens during and after such an incident. 

While participants will not have the opportunity to fight a fire or clean up an actual spill, they do experience some of the same training that fire academy recruits go through by being able to go through an escape house and watching a controlled hazardous materials burn involving a train that hit a school bus. During the controlled burn, instructors demonstrate the actual training for firefighter recruits through the use of controlled propane lines and static field instruction tools that mimick a real-life scenario. Our members will watch this scenario while speaking to real firefighters, creating conversations on how we can protect the community together. Railroaders are reminded that we are the first responders and can help mitigate life-and-death situations through training and knowledge, always reminding everyone not to exceed their level of training. While we are not Johnny Gage from the old show “Emergency!” or superheroes, we do need to ensure our own safety so that others will benefit from our training and knowledge. 

Another benefit of this training is that it is not railroad- or union-specific; a CSX BMWED member can attend it together with a TCU Amtrak member. We see that we all face the same issues and develop new solutions together. As we have seen in the recent coalition bargaining, we have more power in numbers while working together. We get a chance to talk to and ask questions to other crafts without prying company eyes or delaying our jobs. Instructors and guest speakers from various crafts, agencies and unions, along with the training scenarios, provide opportunities to ask other crafts and railroads what the protocol and FRA rules are versus what we may do daily. This way, participants can return with the knowledge to our terminals or crafts to create a better, safer working environment.

Michael Mrazik, of SMART-TD Local 610 in Baltimore, who attended the training with me, said it best: “I attended to gain ammunition for my arsenal of knowledge, and this course did not disappoint.” 

As Local 610’s legislative representative, I was impressed with the training. Many railroads’ in-house trainings might not cover topics as in-depth at these sessions, but the carriers would certainly punish them if they did not know it. 

Participants remarked that before this course, they knew the type of hazardous materials they were hauling, and that was it. They knew it was dangerous but never focused on what the dangers and health risks were. Nor did they realize how often they are around these dangers, even at home. Because of this training, if they ever come across a situation, they will know the dangers, signs, and symptoms and not become another casualty when a possible tragedy unfolds.

Participants receive certificates and an OSHA 10 card proving that they are educated and have the tools to protect our membership and the communities they live and serve in after completing the training. After three years, they have the opportunity to come back to polish their skills and retake the updated course. 

The first time I took this course, I was able to help our members, other workers, and contractors on site when our customer wanted us to follow OSHA standards, which were more stringent than our railroad rules. Because of this course, I knew to look at the safety equipment and ask for the training materials, only to find out these were grossly outdated and unserviceable. Even though the customer was forced to correct these issues, they were happy to update their equipment and implement the OSHA requirements, especially when they tried to no longer hold us to OSHA standards because I found deficiencies. We were happy to oblige, but if we didn’t follow these standards after being informed about the dangers, we would be responsible, and we are not going to put our membership at risk; SMART can’t and will not look the other way. 

Other past participants have remarked that this training has protected and saved members’ jobs because they had the tools and knowledge to hold employers accountable for safety violations. There is no excuse for anyone working in dangerous environments not to have access to the knowledge and proper materials to complete their jobs and come home safely. Many employers say that they train and act accordingly in various situations only to find out when it’s too late that the training and the actions were insufficient. 

While it will always take a joint partnership between the railroads and unions to make our operations safer for the communities in which we live and work, the Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program and our unions continue to work tirelessly to pick up the slack, provide education and fight for legislation with safety in mind.

Johnny Walker is the legislative representative for SMART Transportation Division Local 610 in Baltimore, Md.

SMART-TD members in Maryland mobilized on short notice to serve their community in April, joining a CSX and City Year Service Day spent rehabilitating and sprucing up Curtis Bay Elementary School near Baltimore.

“CSX asked all their employees to be there, and this was really kind of last minute — they hadn’t done these in about two years because of COVID,” said Johnny Walker, SMART-TD Maryland State Legislative Board secretary. “This was an opportunity for us to go ahead and do something in the community.”

Despite the lack of long-term planning, SMART-TD Local 610 discussed the service opportunity at its local union meeting, and six members and their families turned out at Curtis Bay Elementary. Members painted the inside of the school, spread mulch in the outdoor area, cleared brush from the school’s garden area and even helped fix the school parking lot. They also had the chance to meet management on neutral ground, including new CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs.

“Overall it was a great opportunity for all of us to get together, take a break from what we do in transportation and really give back to the community,” Walker added.

To Walker, SMART Army events and other service opportunities are most important because of the role they play in local communities. But they also demonstrate how vital union workers are in cities, towns and neighborhoods across the country — both on and off the job.

“Unions are still here, and we do things more than just get good contracts and good benefits for our workforce,” he explained.

“It’s really important for us to show everybody that we’re more than a sheet metal worker, a train conductor, a bus driver. We really care about the communities that we live and work in.”

That union solidarity will benefit the students and teachers at Curtis Bay Elementary for years to come.

A conductor watches Canton RR locomotive 1906 pull forward on July 3. (Photo courtesy George Pitz of the Canton Railroad Past & Present Facebook group).

SMART Transportation Division represents roughly 100,000 members across the United States. With much of our time and efforts focused on helping large properties that affect thousands of members at a time, it is easy to understand how our brothers and sisters who work for smaller outfits and short line railroads could feel that their accomplishments are overshadowed by the events happening on a more national scale involving the behemoth Class I carriers.

The reality is that SMART-TD is the biggest and best labor union in transportation, and we have the capacity to focus on many issues and areas simultaneously. An example of the commitment this union has to even its smallest groups of members occurred Thursday, July 20 in the Baltimore, Md. area.

The Canton Railroad Co. is a small freight operation outside of Baltimore that services the shipping docks there. SMART-TD represents all the transportation crafts at this property. Under their current contract, these workers were given nothing but 2% annual increases. These “raises” didn’t do much to take the edge off the cost of living in a major metropolitan area on the East Coast.

As these members were up for a new contract, SMART-TD General Chairperson Tommy Gholson (GO-898) went to Baltimore and was enlisted to fight on their behalf.

In his words, when General Chairperson Gholson got to the property, he couldn’t help but notice that for an operation with four front-line employees, it had three executives on the property to negotiate on behalf of the carrier. Not only did this indicate to Brother Gholson that the organization was obviously top-heavy, but it indicated that the Canton Railroad Co. was doing just fine financially. The other crafts on the property had negotiated for 8% raises over the next four years, which was significantly higher than the increase the company was offering our SMART-TD members and had agreed to in the recent past.

Needless to say, when the carrier attempted to explain how they could not afford to agree to higher wage increases because they were in hard times, Brother Gholson did not accept their story.

At the conclusion of the rather one-sided negotiations, Brother Gholson and the SMART-TD Local 610 members had obtained a tentative agreement offering them a 15.83% compounded wage increase over the life of the agreement. In addition, our members also had locked in a cap to their health and welfare costs in their agreement that froze their employee contribution for four years. Not only was this new agreement a massive increase from the historical trend, but it also roughly doubled the pay increases negotiated by other unions for the other crafts working on the Canton Railroad Co.

The tentative agreement was quickly ratified by a unanimous vote.

General Chairperson Gholson wanted to make sure that all Local 610 members appreciated how vital a role their local representatives played in this successful negotiation.

“From starting off with the Section 6 process to the ratification of this agreement, Local Chairperson Rob Levine was instrumental in getting his members a fair deal,” Gholson said. “He wasn’t willing to take ‘no’ for an answer on the issues that meant the most for his crew base. From wages to health and wellness, Brother Levine fought the good fight and knocked it out of the park.”

For his part in this negotiation, Local Chairperson Levine said, “We’re putting our life on the line each and every day. These crews deserve to be compensated for that. You can’t put a price tag on a life, but you can recognize the facts on the ground and compensate the men and women accordingly.”

SMART-TD would like to congratulate the Local 610 members of the Canton Railroad Co., and we would also like to thank General Chairperson Gholson and Local Chairperson Levine for their efforts in making sure that all the hard-working men and women in this organization are well represented!

The SMART Transportation Division and Local 610 out of Baltimore are mourning the loss of a fallen brother who had his life and career ahead of him.

Derek Scott “D.S.” Little, a trainee due to join SMART-TD Local 610, was killed in a rail accident June 26.

Derek Scott “D.S.” Little, 28, was days away from marking up for the first time as a certified conductor with CSX and was slated to begin his career as a SMART-TD member on July 1st. Engaged to be married, he was two weeks away from the due date for his first child.

Derek was at a point in his life when everything was coming together perfectly. Tragically, it was all taken away from him the evening of June 26th while working at Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore.

Brother Little was involved in an accident while riding on equipment. He didn’t survive to see the birth of his son Logan Matthew Little, or to be married to his fiancée, Kaytee Burns. Well-liked in the crew room, he had a promising career ahead of him in Local 610. More importantly, as his obituary states, “Derek was a kindhearted, goofy, lovable young man who never missed a chance to make you laugh. He loved his family and friends and was looking forward to being a dad.” Beyond his love for his family, he also enjoyed learning about Civil War history and playing golf.

Railroaders know the financial significance of Derek having passed away four days before being marked up, and the financial significance to his fiancée and mother of his unborn son that comes with the fact that he passed away prior to them being married. His family will not receive the same level of support from the carrier and the insurance companies as they would have under different circumstances.

For that reason, SMART-TD is asking all who can to close ranks around this young railroad family in their worst moment and show what it means to be part of this union.

We ask that you follow this link to a GoFundMe online fundraiser established by Local 610’s Safety Committee representative to benefit Kaytee and Logan.

Read his obituary.

Former Vice President Robert “Bob” W. Earley, who served our union’s membership for decades, died June 7, 2022, at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, N.Y., after a short illness.

Robert Earley

Brother Earley, a member of Local 610 (Baltimore, Md.), began his railroad career in 1963 starting with the B&O Railroad and became an active member of the United Transportation Union. He became secretary of the B&O General Committee in 1981. As he continued his advance in the UTU, he served as a general chairperson and was elected ninth vice president at the seventh quadrennial convention of the United Transportation Union before his retirement in 1999.

During his railroad career, Brother Earley studied the history of railroad labor at Cornell University and furthered his education at the George Meany Center for Computer Studies and Labor Relations. Following his retirement, he maintained a strong connection with his union by donating to its political action committee and as a member of the SMART-TD Alumni Association.

“He will be remembered for his work ethic, generosity and kindness. He loved life and was young at heart,” his family wrote in his obituary.

Brother Earley was married to the former Ann Campbell, who survives. Also surviving are two daughters; a son; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; a brother; and loving nieces and nephews.

There will be no visitation. A memorial celebration will be held at the convenience of the family at a later date.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Earley’s family, friends and to those who knew him.

Follow this link to read Brother Earley’s official obituary.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to move a lite engine from customer to customer. I like moves like this because they are different from the normal everyday work of a local road switcher. This move was no different from normal railroading, other than this yard bird caught my attention. It was an old U.S. Army EMD SW8 with its original number and livery poking through the faded paint.
My father-in-law is U.S. Army (retired), a bit of a railfan, and he loves this sort of thing. I wrote down the locomotive’s info. and made the move from plant-to-plant. Long after the train was put to bed and I was home, I decided to do a bit of research on this locomotive wondering if it had ties to my father-in-law’s Army career.
To my surprise, I found out this lonely yard bird was a veteran — not just a transportation corps veteran, but a Korean War veteran. This locomotive has been halfway around the world and in a major conflict and is now retired, shifting coal to provide power to southern Maryland, still doing what it was made to do — railroading.
During this health crisis, I look back to my military career as a U.S. Navy Corpsman and also at my current career. Like this yard bird, many railroaders’ paths crossed both in military and railroad service. These two things make us more versatile in the worst of situations, especially in crisis, and more capable to cope with what the railroad throws at us.
Because of this, we can set an example to our fellow railroad workers and our community. Our military backgrounds in discipline, self-reliance and basic medical care are literally life-saving. Our railroad skills of planning, job briefings, safety, situational awareness, and being tasked to fix anything so that the job gets done make us adaptable in any situation. Both careers together make us unstoppable, no matter what life throws at us.
Living in the D.C. area for 20-plus years, I am unfazed by major incidents locally. I’ve been through numerous blizzards, crippling weather and one minor earthquake. Presidential inaugurations, protests and disruptive visits from dignitaries occur frequently. I’ve lived through the D.C. sniper and September 11th attacks — both instances so close that I had shopped at the Home Depot visited by the snipers and had smelled the Pentagon burning 14 miles away.
In all these events, I was essential personnel — tasked to come in both in a medical role and as a conductor. Since 1997, I, like many of us, know that when you are called there is no voicemail or marking off. This coronavirus has caused this to happen again, and it’s now our time to shine.
This crisis may create panic. However, we have what it takes to get through this. We are prepared for long hours, days away from home, and anything thrown at us. We are also nomads who go where the work is. A lot of us are scattered throughout our divisions and stay at different terminals. We can use this to our advantage. You may be able to find needed items that are in short supply at home, in abundance at other locations. They also might be near the terminals or hotels we lay over in.
As union members we can be ahead of the game with our wide network of resources. Members who are coming to another terminal can get with each other and pool resources. If outlying members can get paper towels and home terminal members can get mac and cheese, trade with each other so both benefit. Schools are closing and lots of our loved ones are teleworking now. Helping keep our home fronts happy and safe will take a load off while the carriers are working us harder than ever in this national state of emergency. Getting rest is important, and it’s going to be potentially harder and more stressful. If you live near a fellow member and can help with childcare or other things, let them know. This too will help with a lot of stresses we have. When laying over if you are able to go out and get supplies, go as a crew so you both can get items if your home needs them and there is a limit to get them. Only get what is needed and don’t hoard — this helps no one.
Lastly, if you like hot lunches or get things from the gas station, make sure you’re prepared for those possible closures. Bring non-perishable alternatives so you are not stuck without food at work or away from home.
As always, we are a crew, so look out for each other if you can. Most times we are the only ones who look out for us. We must keep this up by showing unity through this crisis and beyond.
Get to know your local community and your neighbors. They may not know you or your background or even who you are. My neighbors are mostly government workers who only know my odd hours or that I’m the guy who shovels everyone’s walk in a bad snowstorm. With social distancing they know that I’m still working keeping our country moving. I’ve offered to search other stores for provisions that they may need on my way to and from work. Our trash service was delayed, so while having conversations six feet away, I said I was getting in touch with the trash service to plan on an area away from our homes to stage trash if there is a future disruption, remembering my military sanitary training.
As railroaders, we all have this training and these skills. We know when to use them. I had an old timer tell me, “We are not paid for what we do, we are paid for what we know. You must be a proactive conductor, not a reactive conductor.”
Now more than ever I understand what he meant. Use your skills and training to better our workplace and community in this crisis. Be prepared, vigilant and safe. Please look out for each other in this national state of emergency. And absolutely do not put yourself in danger under the guise of a national emergency. We all need to come home the same way we came into work.
With this and all the amazing things I’ve done over my railroading career. I’m really proud that I can provide service to my country once again even if it’s in a small roll like this. This is an amazing time to be a railroader both in great moments and in hardships. We are the nation’s backbone in transportation. We ship more freight in a day than a trucker does in a lifetime. And for over 150 years we have been supplying this nation with its needs. Through two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic and numerous other hardships, railroaders have come through. We will not let our nation or each other down.
Be safe, brothers and sisters. We will overcome this. Nothing stops a determined union member.

Johnny R. Walker,
Secretary, Maryland State Legislative Board and Legislative Representative, Local 610 (Baltimore, Maryland)