The largest railroad union in North America scores another win for their members, this time as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs four bills into law on the final day of the 2024 legislative session.

Minnesota State Legislative Director (SLD) Nick Katich and the State Legislative Board worked tirelessly to provide a 12-hour cap on yardmaster shifts, new insurance requirements and a complaint procedure for crew van services, and a state-run review of wayside detector operations.

“The 2023-24 Minnesota legislative biennium has been quite the ride. We passed 2PC last year and now are bringing more wins to the members,” SLD Katich said.

The SMART Transportation Division’s Minnesota State Legislative Board

Yardmasters protected from double shifts

This groundbreaking law defines new hours-of-service rules (HOS) that limit a yardmaster’s shift to 12 hours. Similar rules already protect conductors and engineers from overwork.

SMART-TD is pursuing this goal in multiple states, with an eye toward a national policy. Hats off to the Minnesota Legislative Board for being the first to get the job done.

This win protects railroaders throughout Minnesota as the yardmaster is at the center of everything that happens in a railyard. Due to investor-lead business practices, yardmasters have been forced to cover multiple yards remotely, and work up to 16 hour shifts. When working conditions become more stressful and include longer shifts, everyone’s job is less safe. This law will allow the overworked yardmasters to gain much needed rest which in turn can potentially save lives.

Double insurance requirements for contracted cab companies

SLD Katich and Minnesota’s legislative board assisted in getting the Crew Van Law passed which doubles the amount of uninsured/underinsured coverage to $2 million. It also creates a complaint process that is sent directly to the Minnesota Department of Transportation Rail Safety Office for crews regarding cabs hired by the railroad. MNDOT will investigate the complaints and enforce any penalties. This law will give our crews more control over their safety while being transported by outside cab companies.

State to examine wayside detectors

A third legislative victory mandates MNDOT to study the technologies and inspection practices of railroad wayside detectors. The study will support future legislation intended to protect all Minnesota residents from derailments and other unsafe railroad operations.

Finally, Minnesota’s legislative board passed legislation that helps railroad police officers uphold the law and investigate accidents without the influence of railroad managers.

Big support from legislators got things done

This was only possible because of the work put in by everyone involved and our friends in the legislature. Sen. Rob Kupec, Rep. Jeff Brand, and Sen. Jennifer McEwen carried our bills and represented our interests with diligence and passion. The chairs of Senate and House transportation committees, Sen. D. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, have been tireless advocates for rail and worker safety, proving their dedication to doing what is right. These legislators are WITH US. The new laws would not have been possible without the work and support of the State Legislative Board and all the members who contacted their legislators.

Katich is ready to recalibrate the board’s focus until lobbying season begins again.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into the local meetings and reconnecting with everyone,” said Katich. “It’s been very hectic, and I am eternally grateful for the unwavering support the membership has shown me.”

Many of us think of the SMART-TD’s Designated Legal Counsel as “The FELA guys” who come to our Local meetings.  Members in Minnesota learned DLC does a lot more for our organization.

The recent two-person crew victory in the state didn’t magically happen. It took many people and many years to pull, push, and drag it over the finish line, says SMART-TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich.

And Designated Legal Counsel law firm Hunegs, LeNeave, and Kvas played a major part by stepping up and making a major contribution, he said.

“We got our bills through House and Senate Transportation committees and the next stops were in Judiciary,” Katich said. “While railroaders can speak to why a two-person crew is necessary, it takes a lawyer to testify before Judiciary and be able to cite case law off the cuff.”

HLK had a representative who, in two separate hearings, volunteered his time, talent and vocation to the betterment of rail labor and a successful outcome for the bill.

“I fear we would not have made it out of committee,” said Katich.  “We all owe a debt of gratitude.”

Please thank your DLC for all they do to support our Union, workplace safety, and worker rights.

SMART-TD Minnesota State Legislative Director (SLD) Nick Katich along with the Minnesota State Legislative Board are proud to announce that the morning of May 24, Gov. Tim Walz has signed HF 2887, and a two-person crew minimum for freight trains is now officially the law of the land in the state. 

The massive transportation omnibus bill was passed by the state Legislature May 21st and, along with the minimum crew size provision mandating a crew of two, has infrastructure dollars to bring many more railroad jobs in passenger service to Minnesota.

“The Minnesota Legislative Board began working on minimum crew size in 2015,” Katich said. “At that time, Phil Qualy was director, and I was his assistant. We passed it in the House once and the Senate once, but never together.” Katich was elected in May 2020 after Qualy’s retirement and continued the fight.

The 2023 legislative session in Minnesota has been very fast-paced and intense. Minimum crew size began as its own bill in the Senate with a companion in the House. It was heard and passed through all committees with the railroads very actively opposing it.

“It was difficult when the railroads were testifying to keep a straight face,” commented Katich. “Some of their claims were so false or misleading it would make you sick. Our job was to help the lawmakers see through the smokescreen and we did just that.”

While the stand-alone bills made it back to the floor of both chambers, time was running out to act on them individually, so the decision was made to include the policy in the omnibus bill.

“Our motto with this legislature has been ‘Take yes for an answer,’” Katich said. “Whatever keeps us moving forward.”

In addition to minimum crew size, rail labor chalked up some other wins too. The Northern Lights Express, Amtrak’s passenger service between Duluth and Minneapolis, has been fully funded at $194.7 million. This allows access to matching funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and means more work opportunities for our members. Two more state rail safety inspectors, additional funding for passenger rail corridor studies and railroad-provided first responder training are also included.

“We all need to thank our bill’s chief authors, Sen. Jen McEwen (Dist. 8) and Rep. Jeff Brand (Dist. 18A), as well as Transportation Committee Chairs Sen. Scott Dibble (Dist. 61) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (Dist. 61A) for guiding our legislation over the finish line. Their fierce advocacy for rail labor will not be forgotten.

“I would like to personally thank the Minnesota Legislative Board for their unwavering support and confidence, the local officers who volunteered to pitch in, and the members and retirees for keeping track and sending encouragement. I would also add that I would like to thank our friends in the Minnesota AFL-CIO. They had our backs and watched for the railroad lobbyists lurking around where they shouldn’t be.”

Minnesota becomes the third state this year to require two on a crew, following Ohio and Kansas.

SMART-TD would like to congratulate SLD Katich and his team on a job very well done, and we would like to point out that this is the first year of this biennium and we are all excited to see what comes out of year two!

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Deputy Administrator Amit Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden to become administrator of FRA was advanced Oct. 20 by the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Along with Bose, the nomination of Meera Joshi to be administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also was advanced to the full U.S. Senate by a 22-6 committee vote. A timetable for the full Senate to consider Bose’s and Joshi’s nominations has not yet been set.
In related news, Bose was a passenger Oct. 13 aboard the Amtrak Wolverine route from Chicago to Detroit with three SMART Transportation Division state legislative directors and also appeared at a news conference at Chicago’s Union Station as the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) unveiled its 40-year Midwest Regional Rail plan.
“Looking all the way through 2055, the plan addresses key corridor and investment priorities, potential funding strategies, and necessary governance structures identified by the states working with MIPRC,” Bose said. “While America’s interstate highway system and commercial aviation industry are vital and indispensable, rail can and does play a key role in our multi-modal transportation system,” Bose said. “Nowhere is that more evident than Chicago, the nation’s rail hub.”
SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, chairman of the commission, as well as Michigan SLD Donald Roach and Minnesota SLD Nick Katich, all spent time with Bose during the trip before MIPRC began its three-day-long meeting.
“It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Deputy Administrator Amit Bose while he was in Chicago and on the train to Detroit as part of the MIPRC annual meeting,” Guy said. “It’s clear that he is very aware of our serious concerns and frustrations with the previous FRA hierarchy, but his openness, communication and availability to our members and our leadership are a testament to his priorities and provides a glimpse into how he values SMART-TD’s input on issues affecting our members.”
Bose also was a guest on the SMART-TD National Legislative Office’s monthly Zoom call Oct. 11 where he discussed concerns brought up by both national and state officers.
A full recap of the wide-ranging discussion that Deputy Administrator Bose had with SMART-TD officers will be published in the next edition of the SMART-TD News.