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“Any time a monopoly is broken up, and competition is emphasized in the workplace, American workers win. SMART-TD stands behind today’s announcement by the Surface Transportation Board. It is a clear result of this administration’s dedication to railroad workers and workers in general over the insatiable appetite of the railroad companies to feed their bottom lines to the detriment of all else. SMART-TD, on behalf of the hardworking conductors, engineers, and yardmasters we represent, are thankful for the leadership of Martin Oberman, chair of the STB, and of the Biden administration for their courage in breaking the stranglehold the railroads have had on their customers since 1850. Our hope is that introducing the spirit of capitalism into our industry will force the railroads to run their companies more responsibly, starting with demonstrating more respect for their greatest asset, OUR MEMBERS.”
— SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson
This morning, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), following a unanimous vote by the board, announced a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that represents a tidal shift in the way railroads provide service in this country. Since the golden spike was ceremonially driven in 1869, connecting this country from coast to coast with rail service, our country’s railroads have had a unique business model. This model has always hinged on the fact that if they owned the track your factory or company was adjacent to, you were locked into their services no matter the level of their pricing or the quality of that service.
In recent years, the STB has been flooded with complaints regarding the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) era from shippers who are no longer satisfied with the results of the one-sided partnerships they have with American rail barons. These shippers have been “railroaded” into paying inflated rates for severely inadequate service. The STB has ruled numerous times that rail carriers are obligated to honor their contracts and provide regular service to our country’s most-pivotal industries.
Recently, the STB asserted its power to insist that Union Pacific (UP) service a large-scale poultry farm in California whose livestock was suffering from that carrier’s inability to consistently deliver the feed necessary to keep their animals alive. Currently, the Navajo Nation has engaged the STB in a dispute with BNSF over its inability to deliver on its contractual obligation to get coal to market produced by a subsidiary of the Nation . The idea that railroads can service who they want when they want does not mesh with their obligations to provide adequate service.
Martin Oberman, the Biden administration, and the STB today said they will no longer allow this mentality to continue. The STB is holding the railroads’ collective feet to the fire so that the supply chain for critical goods, like energy and food supplies, delivers on time.
The NPRM announced today provides three basic standards of service railroad companies must abide by. If they refuse to do so, their previously locked-in customers will have the right to contract with another railroad that will. As the press release from the STB points out, this will be a complex process of negotiating trackage rights; however, the STB shows no sign of backing down from the task.
Chairperson Martin Oberman specifically noted, “One of the principal goals of the rule is to incentivize carriers to maintain sufficient resources — specifically workforce and locomotives.”
This NPRM is open to public comments until October 23, 2023. If it is adopted as proposed, this nation’s railroads are, for the first time, forced to recognize a direct correlation between their staffing levels and their ability to retain customers. This puts these carriers in a unique position where retention of their workforce, as well as attracting new talent, will force itself to be their top priority.
SMART-TD is proud to stand with Chairman Oberman, the STB, and President Biden as they make this bold and decisive move to level the playing field and assert the ideals of capitalism into the railroad industry.
Railroad workers, heavy industry, and “mom-and-pop” shops across this country will benefit from adopting this proposed rule-making. As SMART-TD President Ferguson stated, “When monopolies are disrupted by capitalism, our country’s workers and the economy itself win, and win big.”
If you’re interested in speaking more about the union’s stance on this issue and the changes SMART-TD is calling for, we’d be happy to connect you with:
President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.
President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Ferguson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the Union with the nation’s rail carriers.
Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019.
Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007 – 2014.
In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards.
Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.
Jared Cassity was elected by his peers in 2019 and currently serves as the Alternate National Legislative Director for the SMART Transportation Division, which is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees, and airport personnel.
In addition to his elected roles, Cassity has also been appointed as the Union’s Chief of Safety, serves as the Director for the SMART TD National Safety Team (which assists the NTSB in major rail-related accident investigations), is SMART TD’s voting member on the Federal Railroad Administration’s C3RS Steering Committee, and is the first labor member to ever be appointed to the Transportation Security Administration’s Surface Transportation Safety Advisory Committee.