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!