In 2023, SMART-TD’s state legislative boards and our National Legislative Department made tremendous progress making two-person crews the law of the land in multiple states across the country. Less than a month into 2024, Nebraska and New Mexico are carrying this momentum into this year’s legislative sessions.

Both of these states put bills into play in last year’s sessions, and both saw some success. New Mexico and SLD Don Gallegos were successful not only in getting a 2PC bill through committee on the House side, but as we reported last year, Gallegos and his state legislative board were also able to get the bill passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives on the floor and had the bill sent to the state Senate. Unfortunately, it was met with enough hesitation that the bill stalled.

In Nebraska, their brand-new SLD Andy Foust off of BNSF’s property in Lincoln, saw his state’s 2PC bill get stonewalled in committee where he rallied more support than anticipated, but the bill never received a vote. In the process, Foust and his team made a positive impression on the legislators in Lincoln, and they spent time between legislative cycles fostering those relationships.

This year, the inroads made last year by both Brother Foust and Brother Gallegos are looking to pay off. In the very early stages of both states’ legislative process, there have been distinct signs that legislators have become more familiar with the need to establish a minimum crew size aboard trains.

In Nebraska, last year’s Transportation Committee Chairperson neglected to even put our bill to a vote in committee. This year’s bill was in the same committee and passed with an impressive 6-1 margin with a recommendation of passage by the full Legislature. One of the senators on the eight-member committee was vocal about her opposition to our bill until SMART-TD put out a Legislative Action Email Alert to our members of her district and they responded to it with enthusiasm.

The number of responses Sen. Carolyn Bosn received from our members/her constituents in Nebraska’s 25th District helped her remember that although BNSF and UP might provide campaign dollars there, SMART-TD members and the railroad families there are the ones who do the voting. The response from our members in Nebraska made Bosn think twice, and she ended up declaring “Present, Not Voting” rather than try to explain a “no” vote to Foust and our membership.

With Bosn opting not to vote in committee, the measure passed with a strong 6-1 vote. The rail safety bill, known as SB LB31, is now on its way to the floor of Nebraska’s full Legislature, where it awaits a vote and will hopefully make its way to Gov. Jim Pillen’s desk for a signature.

The bill has more than the impressive two 6-1 committee votes going for it. The bill is noted as a “Priority Legislation,” which means it is being fast-tracked to get a vote of the full Legislature. Along with its primary sponsor, state Sen. Mike Jacobson, Foust is proud to see that an additional 14 of the state’s legislators have signed on as co-sponsors. To say that some good work has been done to get a bill to this point that was not even given the courtesy of a committee vote in the last session is an understatement.

Moving ahead in New Mexico

In New Mexico, SLD Gallegos was successful last session in getting a 2PC freight train bill passed through their House of Representatives, but the clock ran out on the session while the bill was in the state Senate. 2024 is quickly becoming a very different story.

On January 23, Gallegos and SMART-TD’s State Legislative Board in New Mexico used the tracks laid last year to push this year’s version of their 2PC bill through the house at breakneck speed. The next committee hearing for the bill will be January 30 in the House Transportation, Public Works & Capital Improvements Committee where we hope to build on our momentum. For our members (especially LRs) attending the Regional Training Seminar in Albuquerque from March 5th through the 7th, it would be an excellent opportunity to get together with Brother Gallegos and the members of his state board to discuss their recent success and learn from the process they went through to get to this point.

Brothers Gallegos and Foust and the progress of the legislation they’ve been championing show that our organization is off and running to a great start.

Local 200 chairperson, general chairperson and SLD’s combined efforts get opportunity for cut workers to remain in industry

E. Hunter Harrison has been dead since Dec. 16, 2017. His legacy known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is still alive and kicking.  

Some of the railroads have said publicly that they are trying to steer away from PSR. But in an unexpected twist, the specter of Harrison is rearing its ugly head in the lives of all our Union Pacific members with the recent ascension of new CEO Jim Vena.   

Vena is a known student of Harrison. When UP employees, some stockholders and SMART-TD general chairpersons expressed alarm at Vena’s hiring, the carrier put out a well-polished piece of propaganda about how Vena 2.0 was a changed man. 

We were all supposed to be put at ease, that he had learned the hard way that PSR was an unnecessarily disruptive force to the industry, the supply chain and in the personal lives of railroad employees.  

For the record, SMART-TD never bought this idea. The five GCs of our UP General Committees in no uncertain terms informed the carrier that they strongly disagree with Vena’s hiring. In the letter sent to UP’s vice president of labor relations, our GCs said “As COO, Jim Vena enacted policies, practices, and procedures that deliberately destroyed our members’ quality of life for the sake of profit. 

“He orchestrated huge furloughs and cuts to every department in transportation, which resulted in the crew shortages we have yet to recover from,” the GCs wrote. 

This second point came into play almost immediately upon Vena taking over Aug. 14. Less than a week into his reign, Vena proved our GCs to be absolutely correct by announcing UP was going to cut 94 positions across four crafts and 13 terminals.  

These men and women whose jobs were erased through no fault of their own were represented by the IBEW, IAM, NCFO and SMART Mechanical Division. Many of these fellow railroaders worked in remote locations where the UP terminal was the largest employer. As a result, many of them were going to have to uproot their families and pursue new career opportunities. 

SMART-TD Local Chairperson Amanda Snide (Local 200, North Platte, Neb.) didn’t like what she was hearing. She was frustrated and confused why these railroaders, though from different crafts and unions, were being thrown to the wolves while her terminal was desperately looking to find candidates to fill their posted openings for conductor positions.  

Sister Snide took matters into her own hands at that point. She successfully brokered the idea with the local management at the North Platte terminal to offer 11 employees slated to be let go in the mechanical crafts positions as conductors.  

As we approach the Labor Day holiday, there can be no better example of the value of labor movement than what these three accomplished for these fellow railroaders and their families. We thank you for defending our rail labor brothers and sisters against the corporate greed that threatened everything they had worked to build.  

Snide’s results giving the workers affected by Vena’s malicious cuts at her home terminal the chance to preserve their income, health benefits and retirement, impressed Nebraska’s SLD Foust. He took what Snide had started and turned his attention to the 83 other casualties of Vena’s short-sighted greed. Foust contacted General Chairperson Luke Edington from GO-953. Brother Edington, who was already on the record with UP about not being on board with UP’s “new vision,” took it from there. 

Edington took Snide’s plan and Foust’s vision of expanding it straight to UP’s Human Resources Department. SMART-TD is very proud to announce that Brother Edington succeeded in reaching an agreement with UP that at all terminals where they are simultaneously attempting to hire conductors and laying off other craft employees will give the same opportunity to transfer to conductor positions that Snide had enacted in North Platte.  

As of Aug. 30, 50% of the affected employees in eligible terminals had applied for transfers to conductor positions — quite a few salvaged railroad careers.  

SMART-TD is very proud of the initiative taken by Sister Snide, SLD Foust and GO-953 GC Luke Edington to make this happen.  

As we approach the Labor Day holiday, there can be no better example of the value of labor movement than what these three accomplished for these fellow railroaders and their families. We thank you for defending our rail labor brothers and sisters against the corporate greed that threatened everything they had worked to build.  

There has always been and will always be Hunter Harrison and Jim Vena types in the rail industry. What is important is that we commit ourselves as a union and as individuals to make sure we can match them with the wits, fight, solidarity and humanity exhibited by members like Amanda Snide and that the union spirit embodies.