From local union visits to new member organizing, the SMART RME Department is actively working to strengthen and grow our union. Read updates on the department’s recent activities:

SMART RME International representatives visit local unions

SMART RME International Representative Joe Fraley and RME Department Director Peter Kennedy have been engaging with RME members at union meetings, visiting Locals 78 (Little Rock, Ark.), 165 (Argentine, Kan.), 256 (Chicago, Ill.), 462 (Huntington, W.Va.) and 472 (Topeka, Kan.) To provide information about local representative training, member engagement and other resources that are available for officers and members.

“Keep an eye out for meeting notifications in the future — we will be visiting remaining locals in 2024,” said Kennedy.

RME Department conducts trainings for local union officers

In November 2023, General Committee 2 officers, with assistance from International representatives, provided training to local union chairpersons for claim and grievance handling, as well as the representation of members at disciplinary hearings. The training, held in Chicago, marked the second of its kind for local chairpersons. The department also held its first training for newly elected recording secretaries and financial secretary-treasurers in Washington, DC.

“These training courses are offered at no cost to the local unions, as costs associated with the training are covered by General Committee 2 and the International,” explained Fraley. “These sessions will continue In 2024, again at no cost to local unions. Each local is encouraged to send their elected officers to these courses.”

SMART RME wins National Mediation Board election for RailTerm employees

On November 16, 2023, the RME Department won a representation election for employees working at RailTerm. This marks another organizing victory for SMART as we work to bring new members into our union.

“Negotiations will begin in the near future,” said Fraley. “We are proud to represent the RailTerm employees and are ready to negotiate an agreement with the company.”

WASHINGTON, DC – The shop craft unions at Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway are urgently calling upon the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate unannounced focus inspections on all locomotives and rail cars owned and leased by BNSF Railway, and immediately issue non-compliance orders requiring BNSF to fix all found defects before being permitted to use such equipment, citing concerns over numerous defects that are allegedly being ignored and neglected by BNSF management.

The letter comes on the heels of BNSF’s recent announcement of over 362 furloughs in the shop craft unions, further exacerbating concerns over safety and maintenance practices. The defects and recent extreme cuts to the workforce pose serious safety risks to railroad operations and personnel.

Many furloughed employees may be forced to accept positions with lower pay and fewer benefits, potentially disrupting their lives and livelihoods.

In a letter addressed to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, the shop craft unions at BNSF highlighted their ongoing efforts to address safety and maintenance issues within the railroad industry. The letter referenced a meeting held on December 19, 2023, during which the shop craft unions presented evidence of significant workforce reductions within the mechanical departments of Class I freight railroads, including a staggering 41% decrease in employees since 2015.

Reports received by the shop craft unions indicate that BNSF managers that have been under pressure to perform work without an adequate number of workers, may have instructed workers to release locomotives and rail cars for service that have not been adequately inspected or repaired, effectively disregarding federally mandated safety inspections and fabricate of inspection reports, purportedly as part of cost-cutting measures aimed at maximizing shareholder profits.

“BNSF’s actions represent a reckless disregard for the safety and integrity of our nation’s railways,” said the shop craft unions. “BNSF has recently admitted in public filings that they would not be in compliance with federally mandated safety inspections, and we continue to be informed that BNSF has numerous FRA defects on their locomotives and rail cars. There is no shortage of profits for BNSF, and there is no shortage of work to be performed on BNSF equipment. There is simply an obscene shortage of workers and disregard for people at BNSF. By prioritizing cost-cutting over safety, BNSF is placing its employees and the public at risk. In light of these developments, we have urged the FRA to take immediate action to ensure the safety of BNSF operations. Random audits and focus inspections are essential to holding BNSF accountable and preventing further compromises to safety.”

The shop craft unions at BNSF are calling upon the FRA to prioritize the safety of railroad workers and the integrity of railroad operations by promptly conducting inspections of BNSF locomotives and rail cars located at or in transit to all BNSF Locomotive Maintenance Inspection Terminals (LMITs).


The Shop Craft Unions are, in alphabetical order: The Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen Division, TCU/IAM (BRC), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) , the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the National Conference of Fireman and Oilers, Local 32BJ/SEIU (NCFO), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Mechanical Department (SMART MD), the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).

In May of 2023, SMART dealt a major blow to Union Pacific when, after four years, we successfully received an arbitration award that sustained our claim for protective benefits for five SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) members that were furloughed by the carrier and replaced with contractors.

On October 1, 2019, Union Pacific sent a notice to SMART stating that it was furloughing nine employees working in the Water Service Department, and that the carrier intended to contract out the work. Union Pacific refused to follow the black letter of the collective bargaining agreement and instead arbitrarily selected which of the furloughed employees would receive protective benefits, denying benefits to others.

SMART filed a claim on behalf of the members that were refused protective benefits, and the case was heard before a Special Board of Adjustment in 2021. The claim was originally denied by the arbitrator; however, SMART asserted that the board’s decision was not based on the clear language of the agreement and filed a motion to vacate in district court. The court agreed with SMART and remanded the case back to the arbitrator, which meant going through the entire arbitration process a second time.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job. The money will go a long way.”

RME member Don Yei

The case was heard again in March 2023 — and SMART prevailed. Union Pacific was ordered to provide protective benefits to the members’ choosing based on the options set forth in the agreement. In total, these SMART members will receive more than $840,000 in protective benefits.

“Union Pacific is a huge railroad, and it fought hard to deny the members what was rightfully theirs,” said International Representative Joe Fraley, who handled the case. “But even when times got tough, the members had SMART’s back — and SMART had theirs. Together, we fought smarter, we fought harder, and we won. That’s what being SMART is all about.”

“I am honored and humbled to represent the members — the members are the real heroes here, and they deserve every penny that they will receive,” he added. “We would not have done it without all of us working together. We would not have done it without being SMART.”

For the victorious members, the case demonstrates the material difference of union solidarity.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job,” said RME member Don Yei. “The money will go a long way.”

During a financial secretary-treasurers meeting at SMART International headquarters in Washington, DC, several SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department members received their 15-year service awards. Pictured, left to right: Erik Marro from Local 31 (Harmon, New York); Rob Ussery of Local 78 (Little Rock, Arkansas); SMART International Representative C. Joseph Fraley of Local 31; Rob Kaminskey from Local 149 (New York City); and Arnold Fernandes from Local 139 (Boston, Mass.).

On June 28 and 29, General Committee 2 held its second General Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first such convention held since the merger of General Committees 1 and 2, this marked an important milestone: honoring and enacting the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department’s commitment to union democracy under the SMART Constitution.

Thirty-two delegates from 20 local unions were present for the purposes of electing General Committee 2 leadership, voting on changes to the bylaws, and discussing union and industry business more generally. The results of the elections reflect the department’s unity: both Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey and Financial Secretary-Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt were reelected to their roles by acclamation. Elections for other positions in General Committee 2 were also a success. Executive board members elected include Keith Petrie (Local 139), Matthew Haile (Local 78), Troy Weakland (Local 472), Craig Tallini (Local 149), Joe Persaud (Local 396), Marcus Williams (Local 363), George Jeffers (Local 462), Bill Scalia (Local 526) and Jose Navarrete (Local 209). Finally, Brian Opland (Local 165), Kevin Downing (Local 363), John Daly (Local 526) and Tom Kennedy (Local 367) were elected trustees.

General Chairperson McCloskey was proud to see such a strong interest in union democracy and was impressed by the presence of international union leaders.

“It was such a huge honor to have four presidents attend our convention,” he noted. “With so many SMART International staff in attendance, it showed the delegates that General President Coleman is committed to our department. The delegates have elected a very strong executive board, and being the best representatives for our members will be a priority. We look forward to serving our members going forward.”

During the convention, delegates also heard presentations on Railroad Retirement, FELA, insurance benefits and other topics relevant to railroaders. SMART’s Communications and Organizing Departments also gave presentations on applying their resources and expertise to the needs of RME members.

RME International Rep. Joe Fraley reflected enthusiastically on the success of the convention: “It was great to have all our local unions united in solidarity as we forge ahead together. I cannot recall ever having so many strong local union leaders ready to take on the challenges of the railroad industry. This is our time.”

International Representative Peter Kennedy is the newest addition to the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department.

Brother Kennedy started his railroad career in September 2003 in the Maintenance of Way Department of CSX Transportation and has been a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) of the Brotherhood of Teamsters for 20 years.

Kennedy is an experienced labor relations practitioner and strategist and has a knack for special projects. Most recently, he served as director of strategic coordination and research at BMWED, a position in which he oversaw major projects and initiatives impacting railroaders, including presenting the union’s case before Presidential Emergency Board 250, implementing the National Paid Sick Leave for Railroad Workers Campaign, and creating a memorandum of understanding on Brightline West for the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition.

International Representative Joe Fraley, whose experience working with Kennedy was instrumental for this recruitment, is extremely enthusiastic about the new hire.

“I have worked with Peter Kennedy throughout the last two rounds of national negotiations and on several other committees including CRLO, which jointly administers the Railroad National Healthcare Plan,” Fraley said. “He is a dedicated union leader who puts the members first. He is a great addition to our team.”

Likewise, General Committee 2 leadership is eager to work with Brother Kennedy and make use of his fresh perspective.

“Peter’s reputation in our industry is second to none,” said Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey. “The local officers and members of General Committee 2 will benefit so much from his knowledge and dedication.”

Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jason Busolt echoed that sentiment: “We look forward to working with him and utilizing his expertise when it comes to many different areas of the railroad. Welcome aboard, Peter!”

For outgoing International Representative Larry Holbert, Brother Kennedy’s recruitment ensures the department is in competent hands.

“Without any hesitation, I am so confident of a successful future for this department and for the entire union with the assignment of Brother Peter Kennedy,” Holbert said. “I have had the opportunity to work with Peter on numerous occasions, and I am truly impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of this industry.”

Finally, having recently become a member of SMART Local 256 (Chicago, Ill.), Kennedy is eager to show his commitment to his new role. In his own words: “I look forward to interacting with every member at every railroad across the country and getting to know what is important to them. This is our time to renew the meaning of SMART’s work and improve the workplace. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve and represent the members of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department.”

This issue’s Rail, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department Report is from International Representative Larry Holbert:

During my 40-plus years as a railroader, I have always sought out opportunities to participate in my union, not only in the General Committee or at the International level, but also at my local union. As a lot of you have heard me say: At every level of our organization, we are only as strong as our local unions. While I’ve certainly seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years, this is one thing that has not changed — the local anchors us both to our fellow members and to our craft.

Attending local meetings over the years, I have always been fascinated when looking at each union’s original charter and reading the names and signatures of the brothers and sisters who drew on said charters to establish our locals, hold the first elections of officers and join their fellow workers in the International. The work confronting these past members required their commitment and dedication: They built their locals to be financially responsible, they drafted and adopted bylaws to govern their affairs, and they eagerly trained on their obligations at the International and on compliance with the law, learning to navigate the Department of Labor, IRS and various other regulatory agencies. Most importantly, they chose who they wanted to enforce their contracts, settle grievances, protect the rights of their members and ensure their work jurisdiction — electing their officers and, when necessary, stepping up to serve in elected roles.

The strength of our locals and the directions they have taken have always been determined by the consensus reached by membership when a local met — it was not just three or four members at meetings making decisions for the rest! Participation in one’s local not only helps members to look out for and support each other, but also builds a stronger and more resilient workforce and protects our trade. You might decide that you have better things in life to do than to attend a meeting, but when you find yourself injured on the job or terminated for not having your PPE on, you’re hoping a fellow member will be there to lend a hand. Or when the carrier gets the idea to remove all the sheet metal workers from the service tracks, you’re hoping you’ll have all your local brothers and sisters there to prove that it’s you and your fellow workers who make the trains run — not dangerous and cynical cost-saving measures.

Brothers and sisters, you need to get involved in your union, you need to serve as officers and continue getting educated; without dedicated officers, there would be no union to speak of. It’s easy to blame our current issues on past officers, but in my opinion, all it comes down to is the proper filing of claims and grievances and to the good retention of documents. Railroad workers have an excellent and effective process for handling claims and grievances under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. Although I fully agree that nowadays this is much harder than it used to be — with the carriers assigning “labor relation experts” with very limited knowledge of the work we do to respond to our grievances — this only proves that now is the time for our local union leaders, armed with all the training and support that has been made available, to help build competitive and strong locals that are able to stand up to the carriers.

Local officers are the ones who are in the shops every day; they alone can see whether or not a contract is being lived up to, not your general chairperson and not the International. There are a lot of opportunities in this department to change things. We’re just waiting for you to get involved.

Tell us about yourself and your career at Amtrak.

Growing up as a young boy in the inner city of Washington, DC was very tough, but it built me into the man I am today. A memory at the precipice of my mind that I will never forget is losing my mother at the age of six years old. My life was split in two, and I felt like no one cared about me anymore. I did whatever I felt like doing, I skipped class and eventually stopped going to school for prolonged amounts of time. School became obsolete to me, and I opted for hanging out in the streets with older guys getting into things we had no business getting into.

My uncle did his best to raise my siblings and me, but it was becoming too much for him to handle holding down a job and keeping us out of trouble. He was left with the hard decision of separating us. I never knew who my father was, so my sister and I were sent to live with her father. It was the first time I lived in Kenilworth projects in DC; we had very little money and resorted to second-hand things as our source of having what we needed. Being the tallest of my eight siblings, hand-me-down clothes never really fit quite right. Pants were “high water,” shoes too tight, and sweaters with sleeves way too short. Living in poverty really lit a fire of determination within me to work and earn a living for myself.

It was living in the projects that spurred me to learn the type of work ethic I needed to survive. I was surrounded by negative influences: I saw people selling and doing drugs, drinking very young and stealing to make it through the day. Fortunately, I had a very loving step mother who — despite the mischievousness of my siblings and I — doted on us, instilled routine and structure, and steered us in the right direction. Looking back on it all, I am so grateful for her impact in my life.

I finished high school, had no trade and was not prepared for college. The summer following my high school graduation, I remember wondering to myself what my career would look like. I had dreams of having a family, with a loving home and a white picket fence, but it seemed unattainable at the time. I refused to sulk in what it would look like to not have these things, and focused on how to achieve these goals. That’s when I decided to attend the Diesel Institute of America and get a trade in diesel mechanics.

Having this trade opened the door for me to be hired at Amtrak as a laborer in 1984. After four years of hard work, I was given a promotion with the responsibility of operating locomotives and yard engines. One year following this promotion, I was given the opportunity to test for apprenticeship as a sheet metal pipefitter. I passed the test, and in 1989 I headed to Beech Grove, Indiana, as a member of the last apprenticeship class for Amtrak. Four years later I completed my apprenticeship and soon after was appointed as lead pipefitter in recognition of my hard work ethic.

As I saw my efforts start to be noticed, I grew the confidence to apply for a management role and got the position over 100 other applicants. After four and a half years working, commissioning new high speed rail trainsets and locomotives in Colorado and Pennsylvania, I decided to resign from management and focus again on helping raise my kids and being a sheet metal pipefitter. I had still been paying union dues to SMART, and I knew that by making this decision I could live comfortably and start my dreams of having and raising a family.

What advice would you give to a young person considering getting into this field?

The advice I have for the youth entering this field is to think about the long term and where you see yourself in the near future. My path started by getting into a trade: working with diesel engines, which transformed into working in sheet metal. This is a great field, and you can’t go wrong working in it. Start while you’re young and able to grow and advance with the technology, and hone the skills you’ll acquire along the way. Even if your plans and ambitions change later on, make sound decisions that will help you grow into a better version of who you are today.

My spouse at the time was able to raise our two beautiful daughters in our new home solely off the salary of a sheet metal pipefitter. It has been a very rewarding and providing career, and I would recommend it to the young folks trying to make a living for themselves and/ or their families.

What has been your involvement with SMART?

My involvement with SMART began by dispersing contract information along with information pertaining to the fields that spell out the SMART acronym to fellow pipefitters within the union. To further my commitment to the union, I ran for an officer’s position as financial secretary-treasurer. The local union needed my leadership and steady hand in order to get back in good standing.

During my time, we were successful in balancing the budget, getting membership dues up to date and passing a major audit. I took pride in servicing our members, and it was noticed by our General Chairman John McCloskey. He recommended I apply for the financial secretary-treasurer position for SMART General Committee II for passenger rails. I applied for the role and accepted the opportunity to serve as a board member while holding my place as financial secretary-treasurer for Local 363. With this new level of responsibility, I was able to travel across the country not only to audit 10 local books, but to fulfill my dream of exploring the United States.

SMART General Committee 2
SMART General Committee II

How has working for our union helped you?

Working with the union has helped me to understand what it means to be a part of something bigger, while also being a great contributor to my society and community closest to me. I believe we are all here to help serve one another in varying capacities, and the union was my avenue to serve. Because the union opened its doors for me to give back to my people, I was able to reflect on how I was truly walking in my calling. For that I am grateful.

Tell us something that might surprise people to know about you.

I have more than 38 years of perfect attendance, and I have only been tardy once. And on June 26, 2023, I will celebrate 39 years with Amtrak. The third thing people may be shocked to know about me is that I was a councilman for the Town of Fairmount Heights and that I ran for mayor of my town, only losing by 16 votes. The last thing others may be taken aback by is that I was a member of the team that broke the record for fastest train travel at a speed of 161 miles per hour. This was while I was working in Philadelphia, commissioning high speed trainsets. I guess you could say I am full of surprises.

What are you most proud of?

I would without question say that I am most proud of my daughters Whitney and Juel Downing, who bring a smile on my face at the sheer thought of them. Since birth they have been my pride and joy, something I desired and worked hard for ever since I was a young man. As adults they have exceeded my expectations by earning their bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. Growing up they have given me no issues whatsoever, and I can confidently say I have model children who have grown to become contributing members of society. This brings me the utmost pride.

On November 15, 2022, the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department, in conjunction with General Committee 2, held its first in-person local representative training class in more than two years. The training, which was revamped in 2022, focuses on claim/grievance and discipline handling. Seventeen attendees representing 13 local unions attended the day-long training, which outlined the responsibilities of the local representative and provided guidance for filing claims/grievances and preparing for and representing members during discipline investigations.

The response from attendees was positive. “The training was very informative,” said Chuck Mullins from Metro North in Harmon, New York.

Rex Moore from BNSF in Lincoln, Nebraska, added that “the training was great.”

The RME Department has increased its training budget in order to expand the number and frequency of trainings in 2023 and beyond. “Our goal is to provide this training on an ongoing basis for current and newly elected local representatives,” said SMART International Representative Joe Fraley.

International Representative Larry Holbert agreed, saying: “We are committed to providing future training to our local leaders, making sure that they have the knowledge, tools and skills necessary to perform their elected duties more effectively and efficiently.”

The RME Department has scheduled a training session in January on the West Coast for representatives in California, as well as a class in the Northeast in February. The third training session will be scheduled in the third quarter of the year, giving newly elected officers the opportunity to attend.

“This training is the cornerstone for our local reps, as they are the men and women on the front lines representing the membership on a daily basis,” explained General Chairperson John McCloskey. “All of our local unions are urged to participate in the training that is provided,” concluded General Committee 2 Financial Secretary- Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt. “As elected officers, it is our duty to ensure that we provide the highest level of representation to the men and women we represent.”