The Associated Press article on railroads’ collective push to reduce freight train crews from two persons to one is informative yet fails to address the very real danger of equipment, mechanical or infrastructure failure.
As a matter of record I am a 40-year railroad conductor and chaired my union’s state safety board for 16 years.
The preceding “letter to the editor” written by retired member Lloyd R. Holman was published by the Herald Review on Jan. 22, 2015. Holman is a member of the UTU Alumni Association and is the former local secretary & treasurer and legislative representative of SMART Transportation Division Local 453 at Clinton, Ill. He also served as chairperson of the union’s Illinois State Legislative Board.
With profit seemingly driving all business decisions, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the country’s major railroad companies are continuing their quest to reduce freight trains crews … to one person. Not surprising, but scary.
The railroad bosses are united in their desire for this change, citing technological advances. Labor groups, those living on rail lines and people interested in common sense are opposed. Rail “crews” are already down to two — an engineer who drives the train and a conductor who oversees the long line of cars, communicates with dispatchers and provides a second set of monitoring eyes.
The preceding editorial was published Dec. 29 by The Herald of Everett, Wash. Read the complete editorial here.
Of 3,679 ballots returned, 3,056 were in opposition to the crew consist agreement. Nearly the same number of ballots cast were in opposition to a wage and rule settlement offered by the carrier.
Under the proposal, engineers would have received a pay boost, and conductors would have been given the opportunity to become engineers. It also called for the creation of a “master conductor,” who would be responsible for supervising multiple trains from a fixed or mobile location.
The railroad was seeking to operate most of its trains with a single engineer on trains equipped with positive train control, a collision-avoidance system mandated by Congress in 2008.
It maintained that trains carrying hazardous materials, including those with large volumes of crude oil or ethanol, would still have operated with two people on board.
Prior to releasing the complete vote count Sept. 29, GO 001 General Chairperson Randy Knutson had acknowledged earlier in September that the proposal had failed.
“Please be advised that we have completed the tabulation of ratification ballots for the tentative crew consist agreement and wage and rule settlement, and neither agreement was ratified. A more complete summary of the vote will be forthcoming in the next several weeks, but we felt it was important to provide our members with immediate notification that these agreements were not ratified,” Knutson said.
“Moving forward, this office will notify BNSF Labor Relations that we remain open to informal conversation regarding these matters, but will oppose any formal attempt by BNSF to serve notice to change our existing crew consist agreements prior to the attrition of all protected employees.”
The proposed agreement generated a lot of discussion from Transportation Division members around the country.
In a statement posted on the SMART Transportation Division’s website prior to the voting deadline, Transportation Division President John Previsich noted that, “Our constitution grants the general committees jurisdiction in this area and this organization has successfully defended that right over the years through litigation and arbitration. There are no grounds for any entity to interfere with that right and there will be no attack on that authority by this office or any subordinate body of this organization.
“Nonetheless, it should surprise no one that the proposed agreement is generating a great deal of discussion due to its potential impact beyond its own territory. This office will not interfere with the rights of all of our members to engage in that discussion.”
WASHINGTON — How many people does it take to safely operate a freight train?
Two, say railroad labor unions, the Federal Railroad Administration and some members of Congress, arguing that having just one person in the cab of a locomotive was unsafe. They cite a series of deadly accidents involving trains with a solo engineer, including last year’s disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed after an oil train jumped the tracks.
One, argues the railroad industry, which counters that there’s no data to prove multiple-person crews are safer.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich has responded to an inquiry from Florida State Legislative Director Andres Trujillo requesting an interpretation related to the role of the SMART Transportation Division Legislative Department in connection with the collective bargaining jurisdiction of SMART’s general committees.
The inquiry relates to a proposed collective bargaining agreement between SMART Transportation Division GO-001 and BNSF Railway and is in regard to crew consist for its affected members.
The text of the letter follows.
“Mr. Andres Trujillo, Chairman National Association of State Directors
“Dear Sir and Brother:
“This is in response to your letter of August 5, 2014, wherein you request an interpretation related to the role of the legislative department in connection with the collective bargaining jurisdiction of our General Committees. Your inquiry stems from questions in connection with a collective bargaining agreement proposed by GO-001 regarding crew consist for its affected members. A number of issues have been raised in connection with that agreement and this response to your inquiry will include clarification of those issues so that all concerned will be fully informed on this matter.
“To begin, the issue of a General Committee’s right to negotiate crew consist for its members is a matter long settled. Our constitution grants the General Committees jurisdiction in this area and this organization has successfully defended that right over the years through litigation and arbitration (see, e.g., United Transp. Union v. Alton & S. Ry. Co., Case No.: 05-190-GPM, 2006 WL 664181 (S.D. Ill. March 10, 2006)). There are no grounds for any entity to interfere with that right and there will be no attack on that authority by this office or any subordinate body of this organization. Nonetheless, it should surprise no one that the proposed agreement is generating a great deal of discussion due to its potential impact beyond its own territory. This office will not interfere with the rights of all of our members to engage in that discussion.
“Next, a question has been raised with respect to the knowledge of the Transportation Division regarding the proposed agreement. Earlier this year, the officers of GO-001 requested a meeting to discuss “a matter of great importance to the committee and its members.” At the meeting this office was informed that GO-001 was negotiating an agreement that may include a provision for engineer-only operation under certain conditions. Included in that meeting was a discussion of general committee autonomy and authority to make crew consist agreements. An actual quote by one of the officers is “I have a file cabinet full of precedent that crew consist is a General Committee issue.” There was a great deal of discussion over the wisdom of making such an agreement and the affect that it would have nationally on other properties and on our legislative effort to require two certified people on every train.
“Some number of months later another meeting was requested, this time to inform this office of the content of the proposed agreement. Again, the wisdom and difficulties of such a proposal were discussed and it was stated by the undersigned that “if a committee is forced to submit to single person operations this outcome isn’t too bad.” In addition, some small errors were noted for correction. The key component of the statement above is “If a committee is forced to submit to single person operations.” Any assertion that such a statement constitutes an endorsement of the agreement is, at best, deliberately misleading and, in fact, the officers in the meeting were told in no uncertain terms that the agreement was in conflict with our national agenda and would not be endorsed by this office.
“Although the proposed agreement is clearly within the authority of the officers of GO-001 to negotiate, there is no doubt that passage of such an agreement would alter our dialogue in the legislative arena. As you are aware, efforts to preserve jobs and safety currently in progress are far reaching and not confined to H.R. 3040. The role of the legislative department is unchanged – we are working in every regulatory and legislative arena to protect our members and the public from the danger of single person operations and those efforts will continue.
“It is worth noting here that all General Committees with crew consist agreements will face expiring moratoriums at some point in the future. It is also important to note that an expired moratorium is where negotiations begin – once expired, notices must be served by the parties to enter into negotiations in accordance with the Railway Labor Act (this is intended to clarify any misinformation that would suggest to the listener that conductors are automatically removed from the train when a moratorium expires).
“Some will say that it is better to act earlier and get something at the cost of current jobs and others will argue it is better to wait while preserving current jobs for some time into the future, allowing legislative, regulatory and safety considerations to play out in the intervening time. Regarding the current proposal, it is up to the members of GO-001 to decide if now is the time for their committee to address single person operations.”
The nation’s top railroad administrator has told the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that he is “shocked” that the company has not adopted a policy of using two-person crews on its trains in the United States.
In a letter to the Maine-based company, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo said he expects the railroad to stop manning trains with one-person crews.