SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson issued the following statement on Feb. 21:
“The greatest threat to the American railroad industry and the communities with which it intersects is Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The changes PSR has brought since its inception in 2017 have only served to make executives and Wall Street shareholders richer, while the risk to employees and the public has become greater.
“The derailment that occurred in East Palestine was predictable and preventable. Unfortunately, financially driven equations, like the operating ratio, have caused rail carriers to abandon fundamentally sound practices for haphazard, inherently dangerous, impetuous movements of freight and locomotives across America’s rail system — all in the pursuit of increasing the bottom line. This is neither responsible nor sustainable, and we are now seeing the reality of this fact coming into fruition.
“Because of PSR, we find ourselves in an era of exponential increases to train length, less consideration to train make-up or construction, the desire to reduce crew size and introduce automation, the reduction in frequency and quality of inspections to equipment and infrastructure, and the permissibility of railroads to self-report and self-police — none of which are consistent with safety.
“Now is not the time to introduce more technology but rather to focus on the fundamental changes needed to reverse railroading’s dangerous trajectory. Now is the time to put an end to PSR.
“While our hearts break for the people of East Palestine, Ohio, we are thankful that our calls for meaningful oversight are finally being heard. We look forward to working with President Biden and the Department of Transportation to get this right. The catastrophe in Ohio and Pennsylvania demands that we get this right.
Today, in far too many Class I training courses, newly hired employees are receiving less than half of the standard training times that existed little more than a year ago. Without so much as an improved educational mechanism, the railroads are falsely claiming the ability to train in less time with less on-the-job experience. The material has not changed. The way in which the education is delivered has not changed. The only thing different is the abbreviated time frame, which is unacceptable and a danger to us all.
Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the railroads are not adequately staffed for on-the-job training. Currently, a concerning number of complaints have been received by our National Legislative Office pertaining to trainees being trained by newly promoted conductors. This practice is reckless, irresponsible, and a violation of the applicable regulations. A carrier should never task a recently promoted conductor with the training of another new hire employee unless it has received explicit approval from the union, and only in very limited circumstances. Permitting an employee with less than 12 months of service to train a new hire employee is not only a violation of the regulations, but it has resulted in injuries and fatalities in the past and we cannot allow it to continue.
Additionally, accidents and incidents involving newly promoted conductors (those which have graduated from these shortened training programs) are occurring. It is critical that we be made aware of these mishaps so that we can follow-up with the employee to offer assistance, where needed, and to ascertain that the carriers are reporting in compliance with the regulations and/or their internal operating rules and procedures. As you are aware, the FRA relies on the carriers to self-report or self-police, so it is vitally important that we can verify their compliance in order to ensure proper accountability.
Lastly, we are asking you to please be on the lookout for your new brothers and sisters. Keep a watchful eye over them, but also encourage them to report the concerns and shortcomings they have experienced both in the classroom and in the field to the Unsafe Condition Report on our website or the SMART-TD app. Let them know that it is OK to bring these issues to us, and that their reports will be kept confidential. If you see a wrongdoing, please let us know. For example, if they are assigned to an employee with less than 12 months of service, or if they are involved in an incident that could serve as an indicator for a lack of training, please report that to your local representative as soon as possible.
Local officers, if you receive a report of this nature, please promptly pass it up to your General Chairperson and State Legislative Director for further handling. We are all in this together, and we have to have each other’s back, but we also have to hold the carriers accountable and to ensure they meet their mandate to provide a safe working environment.
In solidarity, Jeremy R. Ferguson President, Transportation Division
In April 2021, we met with Steve Dodd and Greg Hynes to talk about the first 100 days of the Biden administration. We have brought them back for this Talking SMART episode to talk about the first year of the administration and, more specifically, its impact on SMART members.
Brother Dodd is SMART’s Director of Governmental Affairs. He spoke with us about the many actions the Biden administration has already taken to support working families, including positive impacts of the passage of the American Rescue Plan on COBRA, unemployment benefits, multiemployer pensions, and funding for school HVAC retrofits.
He also discussed the PRO Act and what it means for SMART members to have so many labor friendly people now appointed to top positions in the Biden administration.
“This president has done something that all presidents have always talked about but never were able to accomplish,” said Dodd. “This Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, and now its implementation, means a great deal to not only sheet metal workers but all workers, whether they’re union or nonunion, across the United States.”
Brother Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and SMART TD’s National Legislative Director. He discussed how the Biden Administration, in contrast to the previous administration, now very much has an open door for labor and actively seeks input from unions on issues of concern to working families.
“The most obvious are the appointments and the people that President Biden has surrounded himself with,” said Hynes. “He’s actually put competent people in charge of these agencies. And they are all very labor friendly, I mean, it comes from the top down.”
Greg also touched on how the American Rescue Plan included funding to rehire furloughed Amtrak workers, the significance of new leadership at the Federal Rail Administration which is now re-prioritizing rail safety over corporate profits, and what it really means when politicians or rail carriers say we need to just “cut back on regulations.”
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responds to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
In the June 2021 Talking SMART episode, we dug into freight rail safety issues that affect both railroad workers and the safety of communities around the country. Our featured guests were SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo and former Transportation Division Nebraska State Legislative Director Bob Borgeson.
Brother Dragoo followed his father into the railroad industry and hired on as a conductor for Union Pacific in 2005. He has served as a legislative representative of Local 1503 in Marysville, Kansas, been the state’s legislative director since 2010 and helped lead efforts to create a transportation safety task force in his state. Ty spoke with us about his work in Kansas, including two-person crew legislation and the downsides of so-called precision scheduled railroad.
Brother Borgeson represented SMART in a state – Nebraska – with a high concentration of Transportation Division members, where he worked to bring greater public attention to the important work our members do. Bob spoke with us about the negative impacts of long trains, efforts to move two-person crew legislation in Nebraska, and the innovative media and outreach tools SMART has used recently to bring attention to key rail safety issues in his state.
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responded to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
“Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family — the 40-hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace — is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections.”
The words above could have been written or spoken by any of thousands of union organizers or leaders across the United States in recent decades. They could be part of the narration to a union video or the rousing prelude to a call-to-action at a union rally. But they aren’t. Instead, they come from the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign website, which is peppered with promises to stand with regular working Americans, support the creation of good union jobs and strengthen collective bargaining and worker organizing. We know campaign promises are one thing… and post-election actions and reality are another. So, what has the Biden-Harris Administration done for workers thus far? Are they walking their pro-worker talk? Below is a summary of actions to help working Americans under the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration:
President Biden Fired Aggressively Anti-Union NLRB General Counsel
Just hours after his inauguration, President Biden took the unprecedented step of firing the sitting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, who had been blasted as an anti-union zealot. During Robb’s tenure at the NLRB, the board significantly expanded employers’ powers, allowing them to search workers’ cars and personal items, eject union organizers from public spaces, withdraw union recognition more easily, discriminate against union members in the workplace, thwart protests, and disregard the rights of workers at subcontractors and franchises, among other harm done to workers’ rights. His assistant, who took over in his place and shares the same views, was next in line to replace him. Biden terminated her immediately thereafter. One of Robb’s priorities had been to try and limit the legality of Project Labor Agreements. Two suits filed by Robb aimed to create new case law on PLAs, which would have had disastrous impacts on work hours for all construction union members. They were rescinded by Robb’s Biden-appointed replacement.
Biden-Harris Administration Issued Emergency Safety Protection Order
On Day 2, President Biden underscored that worker safety will be a top priority under his administration, signing an executive order directing OSHA to produce “clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.” This action aimed to save lives and protect workers who regularly face dangerous conditions while serving their communities during the pandemic. Strong enforceable standards built into the order require employers to develop workplace safety plans, implement science-based protection measures, train workers and report workplace COVID outbreaks.
Biden Appoints Amit Bose to Replace Former Rail CEO Ron Batory Atop FRA
On Jan. 21, President Biden appointed Amit Bose, who had served as deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) during the Obama administration, to the same position for his administration. Bose later was elevated to the position of FRA acting administrator and is in line to become the permanent FRA administrator. “We’re excited to be working with Amit Bose,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We’ve had several conversations and he understands and supports our issues. It’s a welcome new day for rail labor.
New Administration Set $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors
President Biden signed an executive order that ordered the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a $15 minimum wage for all federal contractors.
President Biden Selected Union Steelworker to Lead OSHA
President Biden selected former United Steelworkers’ safety official James Frederick to lead the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), signaling a commitment to tougher federal enforcement of workplace safety standards as the nation continues to battle a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 500,000 Americans. Frederick worked for 25 years in the Steelworkers’ health, safety, and environment department.
President Picked Building Trades Official to Lead Wage and Hour Division
Jessica Looman was the executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council before she was selected to head the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. She previously worked as general counsel for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. In between, she served as the deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Her appointment is of particular importance and offers a very stark contrast with the previous administration, which issued an eleventh hour change to prevailing wage laws. If kept in place, the change would have had a disastrous impact on prevailing wages, pricing out high-road signatory contractors from projects. The change also would have given employers on public projects the leeway to pay someone performing commercial work the residential wage instead, which typically would be significantly lower.
President Selected Union Attorney to Lead FLRA
President Biden promoted union attorney Ernest Dubster to be the chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). This agency oversees disputes between the federal government and federal unions. Dubster previously worked as legislative counsel for the AFL-CIO and as a law professor teaching collective bargaining and arbitration.
President Fired Entire Anti-Union Federal Labor Board
President Biden’s work to rid the government of Trump’s anti-union appointees continued with his decision to oust the 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). This panel decides contract disputes between federal unions and the government. It was stacked with anti-union picks that included leaders from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which crafts “right-to-work” (for less) legislation for state elected officials, as well as bills aimed at eliminating prevailing wages (including the infamous Act 10 bill in Wisconsin). The board also included appointees from the Heritage Foundation, and another individual from a top union-busting law firm. President Biden offered the 10 appointees the chance to resign, which eight did. The other two were fired. When those appointees were on the board, the government won 90% of the cases that came before the FSIP — meaning federal employee unions won only 10%.
President Biden Issued Buy American Executive Order That Closed Previous Loopholes
While the Trump administration used the right-sounding “Buy American” words and rhetoric, it never put into place policies to effect meaningful change regarding the purchase of American-made goods and services. Five days into office, President Biden signed an executive order that directed the federal government to strengthen its Buy American standards. This required more of the product to be made in the United States, cut red tape for buying these items, and made it easier for small and medium sized manufacturers to get federal contracts. The government spends about $600 billion a year on American-made products and is expected to add another $400 billion as part of Biden’s Build Back Better program.
President Named Far More Labor-Friendly NLRB General Counsel
The week after firing Peter Robb as NLRB general counsel, President Biden named Peter Sung Ohr as the NRLB’s acting general counsel. A career NLRB attorney, Ohr had been the board’s regional director of Region 13 in Chicago. Now as the NLRB’s top attorney, he gets to choose many of the cases the board hears and write directives that tell regional offices how the NLRB should enforce the law. In his first week on the job, Ohr repealed a dozen Trump-era anti-worker directives that had targeted unions. He also threw out a case that would have prevented unions from negotiating commonsense neutrality agreements with employers.
President Issued Order to End Federal Private Prisons
Near the end of his first week in office, President Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government to stop contracting with private prisons. Private prisons are for-profit ventures that reduce prison employee wages and take jobs from union corrections officers. Training and security standards are often much lower at private prisons. According to a 2012 study by The Sentencing Project, private prison employees earn an average of over $5,000 less than government employee prison staff and receive 58 fewer hours of training, leading to higher employee turnover and decreased prison security. In addition, a 2016 Justice Department report found that private prisons had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults. According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents employees with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal prisons staffed by union employees are “more cost-effective, more efficient and much safer than their for-profit counterparts.”
Biden Signed Executive Order Calling for Union Labor to Build New Climate Infrastructure
Realizing that the shift to clean energy is a tremendous opportunity to create jobs, President Biden signed an executive order directing the federal government to lead the way by focusing public dollars on American-made products, including renewable energy goods and clean vehicles, and that high labor standards be attached to every federal incentive for clean energy. The president also explicitly called for investments communities that produce coal and other fossil-fuels to create good jobs in new industries and by cleaning up abandoned mines and wells.
President Biden Signed Order Mandating Masks on Interstate Travel
President Biden underscored his commitment to the safety of air, rail and transit employees and passengers with a mask mandate that covers anyone who flies, takes a passenger train like Amtrak, or travels on busses such as Greyhound or Peter Pan that cross state lines. This order was followed up on January 29 by the Centers for Disease Control, as directed by the president, and imposes a mask requirement on all public transportation systems including rail, vans, bus and motorcoach services.
In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on January 31, an FRA representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures, including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”
Per Biden’s Order, OSHA Released New COVID-19 Safety Guidance
OSHA issued enhanced COVID-19 safety guidance to help employers and their employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program and better identify risks that could lead to exposure and infection.
Employee Advocate Appointed Senior Advisor on Unemployment Insurance
The Biden-Harris administration selected Michele Evermore for the newly created role of senior advisor on unemployment insurance within the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration. Evermore previously worked as a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a non-profit that supports low-wage and unemployed workers. Evermore has been a prominent pro-worker voice throughout the pandemic, both as an expert in explaining the federal assistance available to workers, and as a vigorous advocate who addresses the inequities of unemployment assistance.
U.S. House Passed National Apprenticeship Act
With this new bill, union-sponsored registered apprenticeships will not only continue strengthening economic opportunities in every community, both large and small, they will also open pathways for more industries to recruit, train and expand productive and highly-skilled workforces.
President Biden Nominated Labor Attorney to Serve as NLRB General Counsel
President Biden appointed Jennifer Abbruzo, special counsel for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and highly respected within the labor movement, to serve as the NLRB’s new general counsel. During her labor career, she provided legal counsel on numerous initiatives that advanced worker power. She previously served as deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the NLRB. In her nearly 23 years with the agency, she helped to protect workers’ rights from numerous corporate attacks. Once confirmed, she will replace acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr.
Biden-Harris Moved to Eliminate IRAPs
In mid-February, the Biden-Harris Administration restricted funding for Industry Recognized Apprenticeships (IRAPs), an important step in rolling them back entirely. IRAPS are a dangerous initiative inspired by anti-union contractors aimed at undermining high-quality union apprenticeship programs and replacing them with a watered-down system of certifications. The IRAP program was the most serious political attack on building trades unions in over a generation. Cutting off IRAP funding is an important step in the fight to roll them back. Through his actions, President Biden took important steps to eliminate this existential threat to union apprenticeships. The Biden-Harris administration also brought back the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, which provides much-needed industry-based input on policy, quality assurance standards and equitable enforcement.
FRA Closed Comment Period on Proposed Rail Worker Fatigue Regulations
On Feb. 22, comments closed for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for which the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sought input on how to address the problem of rail worker fatigue. The regulations would require certain railroads to develop and implement a “fatigue risk management program” as one component of their larger safety programs. The notice and closing of the comment period shows movement by the Biden-Harris administration on a long-delayed component of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA), which requires railroads to create safety risk reduction programs to address the hazards that railroad workers face on a regular basis. SMART-TD filed its comments in conjunction with another union representing rail operating personnel ahead of the comment deadline.
Biden Signed Order Allowing Unions at DOD
The Defense Department employs about 700,000 civilian workers, about half of which are unionized. An executive order from the previous administration allowed the Secretary of Defense to eliminate collective bargaining rights for those employees at the DOD secretary’s discretion. An executive order by President Biden reversed this anti-union directive.
Biden Order Allowed DOL to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Those Who Refuse Work Due to COVID Concerns
Under the Biden-Harris administration, the Department of Labor released guidance extending unemployment benefits to workers who refuse to return to a job that is unsafe. The benefits eligibility now applies in circumstances where a worker refuses to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that, in either instance, “is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.” These health and safety standards include those related to the wearing of face coverings, physical distancing, and the provision of personal protective equipment consistent with public health guidelines. This extended eligibility is specific to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a type of benefit created and federally funded by the 2020 CARES Act. PUA covers self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and other workers who are not covered by traditional unemployment insurance programs.
Major Court Victory for Freight Rail Labor Blocked Trump FRA Policy
In a legal victory that underscored the importance of electing presidents who will pick judges who understand worker issues, soon after President Biden was inaugurated, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put common sense and safety ahead of profits and political favoritism. By vacating action by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Trump administration to preempt all state laws and regulations concerning freight train crew size, the court ruling overturned one of the most blatant attacks on workers from the previous administration. While the decision was not a direct result of actions by the Biden Administration — the 3–0 ruling was made by judges nominated by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — the actions of President Biden and his appointees point toward a far more receptive audience in the nation’s capitol in the fight to maintain two-person crews.
Biden Announced Support for Amazon Organizing Drive
By announcing his support for Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama seeking to form a union, President Biden became the first president in over 70 years to come out strongly in support of a major union organizing drive. The last president who articulated this type of support was Franklin D Roosevelt. While the Alabama warehouse workers lost their election in April, the campaign — and the president’s public support — inspired them and other Amazon workers across the country.
House Passed Right-to-Organize Bill with White House Support
On March 9, the U.S. House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which is the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression. Among other improvements and reforms to outdated U.S. labor laws, it will:
Help ensure workers who win union recognition can reach a first contract quickly.
End employers’ ability to hire permanent replacements to punish striking workers.
Enhance the NLRB’s power to fine companies that violate labor law, up to $50,000 per violation.
Weaken so-called “right-to-work” laws in the 27 states that allow employees who benefit from union contracts to choose not to join or pay union dues.
In early March, President Biden encouraged Congress to pass the PRO Act and the House swiftly passed it. The president had articulated his support for labor law reforms during his campaign, but with the PRO Act now introduced in Congress, his support is a powerful tool in helping ensure that all Democratic Senators support the bill. As of press time, the bill was the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The American Rescue Plan
On March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The act is a $1.9 trillion relief plan that will jumpstart the American economy. It puts real money behind the president’s commitment to defeat the COVID-19 virus and to build back the U.S. economy back better than it was before the pandemic. This critical relief package has already delivered desperately needed federal support for hard-working Americans and will help rebuild our shattered economy with provisions that directly benefit SMART members. The plan includes resources for COVID testing, logistics, vaccine production and distribution to save lives and reopen America. It secures health care coverage, extends unemployment benefits and provides direct cash support for tens of millions of American families. It also delivers badly needed state and local aid to safely reopen schools and keep our bus and transit systems safe. In addition, the legislation allocates $170 billion to education, with much of that funding targeted to updating ventilation systems — putting sheet metal members to work as we monitor air quality and retrofit those same buildings to rebuild America’s aging HVAC systems. For SMART brothers and sisters on Amtrak who were idled due to no fault of their own, $2 billion is provided to re-open routes and get them back to work.
Multiemployer Pension Relief
Included in the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden is a provision allocating $86 billion for multiemployer pension plans facing financial uncertainty. Under the legislation, eligible plans will receive funding in an amount sufficient to ensure that full benefits are paid for the next 30 years, without any benefit reductions or any repayment obligations. Hundreds of multiemployer plans that cover millions of union members and retirees stand to benefit (SMART’s pension plans are currently financially healthy). “Reckless Wall Street behavior, industry deregulation and employer abuse of corporate bankruptcy have threatened the financial security of millions who’ve worked hard, only to have that promise stolen from them,” said SMART General President Joseph Sellers in his March 2021 video message to members. “We now have a president who supports workers, retirees and their union. This administration put that commitment of ‘guarantee’ back into the ‘Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation’ ” — without cuts to accrued benefits or taxation.”
Former Union Leader Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor
On March 22, the U.S. Senate confirmed Marty Walsh as the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Known primarily for his work as the mayor of Boston, Mass. Walsh was previously a rank and file member of LIUNA who worked his way up in the trade. His appointment by the Biden-Harris Administration puts a union member in charge of the Labor Department for the first time in decades.
Biden Nominated Nation’s First Made in America Director
On April 28, President Biden named Celeste Drake as the nation’s first Made in America Director. The new position will shape and implement federal procurement and financial management policy to help carry out the president’s vision of future manufacturing focused on ensuring goods are made in America by American workers. Drake joins the administration from the Directors Guild of America, where she served as the executive in charge of government affairs. Prior to joining the DGA, she served as the trade and globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, where she led efforts to reform the labor rules found in NAFTA and the USMCA and to reform the process by which Congress oversees and approves trade agreements to protect American jobs.
Back in January, we met with Steve Dodd and Greg Hynes to talk about the 2020 election and what to expect from the Biden-Harris administration. We have brought them back for this Talking SMART episode to talk about the first 100 days of the administration and, more specifically, its impact on SMART members.
Brother Dodd is SMART’s Director of Governmental Affairs. He spoke with us about the many actions the Biden administration has already taken to support working families, including positive impacts of the passage of the American Rescue Plan on COBRA, unemployment benefits, multiemployer pensions, and funding for school HVAC retrofits. He also discussed the PRO Act and what it means for SMART members to have so many labor friendly people now appointed to top positions in the Biden administration.
Brother Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and SMART TD’s National Legislative Director. He discussed how the Biden Administration, in contrast to the previous administration, now very much has an open door for labor and actively seeks input from unions on issues of concern to working families. Greg also touched on how the American Rescue Plan included funding to rehire furloughed Amtrak workers, the significance of new leadership at the Federal Rail Administration which is now re-prioritizing rail safety over corporate profits, and what it really means when politicians or rail carriers say we need to just “cut back on regulations.”
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responds to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
To address the growing safety concerns of our membership, we have implemented a universal Safety Condition Report that is now available on the SMART-TD website for all members to use. This form will become the primary tool to report and collect data concerning unsafe working conditions, including COVID-19 issues, from all members. Organizational information such as Craft, Local, Carrier, State Legislative Director and General Committee are loaded based on a member’s selection using defined database values, ensuring an accurate submission so that the officers responsible for acting on the report are directly and timely informed. Members are presented a default list of safety hazards (including COVID-19) to choose along with identifying the state and location of the unsafe condition. Additionally, the form will dynamically update based on the members’ input, creating a customized report. After submission, an automated email to the General Chairperson and State Legislative Director with jurisdiction is sent as an initial notification. Full details of the Safety Condition Report are then accessed by these officers via the TD Connect portal along with printing and exporting capabilities for further collaboration with Local officers so that the unsafe conditions can be addressed. Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires. It is important to note that the data collected by this Safety Condition Report and the information within are kept and used solely within our SMART Union computer system and are used by SMART-TD officers to assist in addressing the issues presented by members. “Membership safety and well-being is a founding principal of this Union, but we cannot assist without being properly informed of the unsafe issues facing our fellow brothers and sisters.” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson stated. “These reports are to enhance our safety efforts as many carriers lack proper and effective reporting mechanisms. Our SMART Constitution lists safety as our local legislative representatives’ primary mission, stating ‘They shall report to their Locals regarding the handling of all alleged unsafe or unsanitary working conditions found to exist, or reported to them, within their jurisdiction. They shall undertake to correct such conditions through appropriate measures consistent with the local and national policies of the Transportation Division.’ Therefore, we ask that you also forward this information as soon as possible to your local legislative representative or other SMART Union officer for proper handling. If you are unsure who they are or how to contact them, please contact our office. “It is imperative that we all accept the personal responsibility to properly document known unsafe conditions, acts and security concerns. If more people would take the time to do this we could, over time, address most of the long-standing concerns we have. Without documentation, nothing will ever change — the issues and concerns will continue to remain and often grow until a very unfortunate situation such as an injury, accident or fatality brings to light what many knew was a problem long ago but failed to address.” The union’s chief of staff hopes that the use of this form brings hazards that have been taken for granted or tolerated by workers to light. “Sadly, we hear one particular scenario too often,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Someone says, ‘That has been an issue for a long time’ or ‘Everyone knows that is a problem’ at a particular property. Yet everyone assumes that someone else has written the unsafe condition up and unfortunately, no one has. The issue remains and the carriers use that against us by stating the very same thing — ‘That has been like that forever, and no one has said anything or taken issue with it.’ “This online reporting process is here to change that. Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough. Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.” The Safety Condition Report is accessible directly from the SMART-TD home page as both a banner and as a menu item — look for the blinking yellow caution signal. “Please assist us with assisting you,” President Ferguson said. “All of our members deserve safe working conditions on the job and to return home safely. If there is an issue you want to report — report it.”
The safety coordinator to the SMART Transportation Division Designated Legal Counsel has updated a pair of publications that offer comprehensive surveys of federal laws that cover TD members who work in the rail industry and who work as bus operators. “What Every Railroader Should Know About the Federal Railroad Safety Laws and Regulations,” by Larry Mann, has been updated with changes that have occurred since the 2014 version’s release and contains detailed information about how federal railroad safety law pertains to railroad workers. “What Every Bus Driver Should Know,” also by Mann, does the same for bus members and is essential reading for TD members concerned about how the law protects them. Mann, who has served as DLC rail safety coordinator since the position was created in 2008, has extensive legal experience in the transportation industry and has given SMART Transportation Division permission to distribute both the updated rail book and the updated bus book via PDF on the TD website.
To better understand and evaluate the use of certain technologies implemented by carriers, SMART Transportation Division is seeking information regarding the operation of the technologies such as Positive Train Control, Trip Optimizer/Leader and others. In order for our organization to formulate a plan to protect members and the general public and to ensure the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, we are asking members to provide information when incidents or events occur that involve these technologies failing. “By reporting these events, we can track these instances and find any trends that may be occurring with these technologies,” said Jared Cassity, alternate director — East for the SMART TD National Safety Team and Kentucky’s state legislative director. On the right side of the main page of the SMART Transportation Division website, an electronic form for members to report a railroad technology event is linked in the box labeled “Railroad Technology Event Report.” Reports submitted through this form go to union safety leadership for collection. These reports are not a substitute for filling out a report to a carrier or to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
A notice published in the Federal Register in late September announced that the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) would be rechartered for two years after a period of dormancy. RSAC advises the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and makes recommendations on matters relating to railroad safety, resulting in a process that allows stakeholders, including labor and industry representatives, to collaborate before proposed rules are submitted. The committee consists of 40 representatives from 29 member organizations, including SMART Transportation Division. It last met in May 2017, according to the RSAC website, and has been in existence since 1996. A notice providing details about the committee’s next meeting has yet to be posted the RSAC site.