As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) works toward having effective safety regulations in place for the operation of positive train control prior to its 2015 congressionally mandated implementation, the agency is reaching out for feedback to its early proposals. In fact, many PTC operations likely will commence prior to 2015 mandatory date.

In response to specific questions asked by the FRA at a recent public hearing, the UTU and five other rail labor organizations jointly responded with regard to permissible use of certain locomotives, required enforcement of PTC’s ability to correct train overspeed, permissible use of non-PTC equipped or functional trains on PTC-required track, and use of unequipped trains and failed PTC trains.

  • The location of PTC-equipped locomotives in the engine consist: The FRA asked how a railroad is to handle a situation where an engine that is PTC-equipped is positioned with long hood forward or has a broken air conditioning unit. 

Responsible operating personnel recognize that operating a North American cab locomotive in the long hood forward position is patently unsafe and should only be permitted for short distances and then only in emergency situations, said the labor organizations.

Operating trains with the long hood forward presents safety concerns because the engineer has a limited view of the railroad with that configuration. 

The value of detailed documentation can never be overstated.

UTU members have been empowered to address the issue of harassment and intimidation though federal whistleblower protection that is written into law.

This protection already has had a positive impact. Recently, an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which followed information from a whistleblower, resulted in $300,000 in multiple punitive damage awards against commuter railroad Metro North

The UTU Safety Task Force has received many complaints about harassment and intimidation.

Some of the carriers have made a relentless practice of harassment for the sake of productivity, with little or no regard for our members’ safety. With your detailed documentation, this will change.

In addition to reporting all dangerous safety conditions to your respective carriers, your report should be made to your local legislative representative and state legislative director, with copies to your local chairperson and other local officers.

Your report should contain pertinent information, such as:

  1. Date and time with job/train ID
  2. Location
  3. Name of carrier official who instructed you to make an unsafe act or safety violation.
  4. Statement of the alleged safety violation, including threats, harassment, intimidation or unsafe events directly attributing to this situation.

By your paper trail of documentation, your LRs and SLDs can take the appropriate actions.

The UTU Safety Task Force suggests you familiarize yourself with these procedures in order that we all share a safer workplace.

A summary of whistleblower protection under the law follows:

The Law and its Protections:

(a) In General. — A railroad carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, a contractor or a subcontractor of such a railroad carrier, or an officer or employee of such a railroad carrier, may not discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way discriminate against an employee if such discrimination is due, in whole or in part, to the employee’s lawful, good faith act done, or perceived by the employer to have been done or about to be done—

(1) to provide information, directly cause information to be provided, or otherwise directly assist in any investigation regarding any conduct which the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or gross fraud, waste, or abuse of Federal grants or other public funds intended to be used for railroad safety or security, if the information or assistance is provided to or an investigation stemming from the provided information is conducted by—

 (A) a Federal, State, or local regulatory or law enforcement agency (including an office of the Inspector General under the Inspector General Act of 1978.

 (B) any Member of Congress, any committee of Congress, or the Government Accountability Office; or

 (C) a person with supervisory authority over the employee or such other person who has the authority to investigate, discover, or terminate the misconduct;

 (2) to refuse to violate or assist in the violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security;

 (3) to file a complaint, or directly cause to be brought a proceeding related to the enforcement of this part or, as applicable to railroad safety or security, chapter 51 or 57 of this title, or to testify in that proceeding;

 (4) to notify, or attempt to notify, the railroad carrier or the Secretary of Transportation of a work-related personal injury or work-related illness of an employee;

 (5) to cooperate with a safety or security investigation by the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the National Transportation Safety Board;

 (6) to furnish information to the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Transportation Safety Board, or any Federal, State, or local regulatory or law enforcement agency as to the facts relating to any accident or incident resulting in injury or death to an individual or damage to property occurring in connection with railroad transportation;

 (7) to accurately report hours on duty.

 In addition,

(8) A railroad or person shall not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical or first aid treatment of an injured employee. If transportation to a hospital is requested by an injured employee, the railroad shall promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest medically appropriate hospital. A railroad shall not discipline, or threaten discipline to an employee seeking medical treatment, or for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician. Provided, however, it will not be a violation if the refusal by the railroad is pursuant to the FRA’s medical standards regs. or a carrier’s medical standards for fitness for duty.

Remedies:

(1) In general.— An employee prevailing in any action shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.

(2) Damages.— Relief shall include—

(A) reinstatement with the same seniority status that the employee would have had, but for the discrimination;

(B) any backpay, with interest; and

(C) compensatory damages, including compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorney fees.

(3) Possible relief.— Relief in any action may include punitive damages in an amount not to exceed $250,000.

(e) Election of Remedies.— An employee may not seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the railroad carrier.

 (The UTU Safety Task Force was created by UTU International President Mike Futhey in response to a sharp spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

(Members of the task force are: Arizona Assistant State Legislative Director Greg Hynes, chairman; Arkansas State Legislative Director Steve Evans; Michigan State Legislative Director Jerry Gibson; and Arizona State Legislative Director Scott Olson.)

View the Safety Task Force interactive Web page at:

http://utu.org/utu-rail-safety-task-force/

August 17, 2009

Career-ending personal injuries and fatalities have continued to increase in the rail industry.

To educate members on the circumstances of these incidents, and in attempts to avoid them in the future, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, appointed by International President Mike Futhey, urges that each of you continue to look out for each other and forward your ideas and concerns about workplace safety to them so they may address them.

Interactive communication and “looking out for each other” is imperative to bringing us all home from work in one piece.

To ensure we all go home to our families in one piece, the UTU Rail Safety Task Force asks for a 100 percent commitment to rules compliance and to the following eight activities:

  1. Job briefings: Ensure all crew members are present for job briefings, and focus on risk assessment.
  2. Situational awareness: Constantly be aware of your surroundings and maintain situational awareness to avoid risks associated with the required tasks and work within the limits of your capabilities.
  3. On/off standing equipment: Keep hands free of other objects and maintain three point contact, always being vigilant for equipment movement.
  4. Avoid slips, trips and falls: Keep your eyes on the footpath and report any unsafe walking conditions to your local legislative representative for handling.
  5. Radio communications: Always use proper identification, provide car counts when shoving, do not engage in excessive chatter; use “over and out.”
  6. Put safety first: Performing a task safety is more important than the time it takes to complete it. The only “good move” is one done 100 percent by the rules.
  7. Ask questions: If any uncertainty arises, take the time to ask questions. Do not take risks or assume anything.
  8. Be in charge of your own safety: Do not let others set YOUR level of safety. Report harassment and intimidation.

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, and to communicate with the task force, visit the task force’s interactive Web page by clicking:

this link

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force
Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

This is the second in a series of safety alerts issued by the UTU Rail Safety Task Force.

The task force was appointed by International President Mike Futhey in response to a spike in railroad on-duty employee fatalities.

This safety alert focuses on the job of protecting the point while riding rail cars.

In such situations, here are facts to consider and questions to ask yourself as part of assuring you return home to your family in one piece:

  • Are you controlling the movement to really allow stopping within half the range of vision? Are you really protecting yourself?
  • Have you considered walking as a safer alternative in some cases?
  • From how far away can you see a one-inch gap in switch points? In daylight, it’s about 130 feet, at most. And the average railroad issued lantern casts light for approximately 70 feet
  • Do you know how many feet per second are you moving at 10 mph? The answer is 15-feet per SECOND; and at 8 mph, it is about 12-feet per second.
  • Now contemplate that you are protecting the point during daylight, with a single engine shoving 10 loaded lumber cars on flat grade at 15 mph. Now, you see a gapped switch. It will take you 8.6 seconds to stop.
  • If you are shoving too fast,, are you rolling the dice?
  • Now contemplate what would happen if the shoving movement at 15 mph were a crossover lined into a cut of cars, or a car left out to foul.
  • In such a situation should you consider stopping the movement and walking ahead to inspect and protect?
  • There have, recently, been a great number of shoving-related fatalities and career ending injuries in our industry. Please be careful. Always maintain situational awareness. It’s very dangerous out there, and your family wants you back home in one piece.

In solidarity,

UTU Rail Safety Task Force

Greg Hynes, UTU assistant Arizona state legislative director
Steve Evans, UTU Arkansas state legislative director
Jerry Gibson, UTU Michigan state legislative director
Scott Olson, UTU Arizona state legislative director

For more information on the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, visit the task force’s interactive Web page by clicking:

http://utu.org/utu-rail-safety-task-force/

July 3, 2009

By International President Mike Futhey

Compromise is the art of successful negotiations. But when one party goes to the negotiating table unwilling to compromise, the results can be unpleasant for both, and produce a result that might not be the best choice.

Such was the case with the Rail Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress last fall.

Repeatedly, rail labor told the carriers that if we don’t jointly reach a negotiated agreement on employee fatigue, limbo time, availability policies and arbitrary discipline, that a major rail accident would force Congress to write legislation that neither the carriers nor labor would like.

The UTU and the other rail unions, whose members are subject to hours-of-service regulations, had three objectives:

  1. An end to limbo time, with a short phase-out period.
  2. Advance notice of start times, or a minimum of a 10-hour call.
  3. An end to arbitrary discipline tied to unreasonable availability policies.

The carriers refused to accept rail labor’s objectives. So, when a series of severe and headline-grabbing rail accidents occurred, it became clear that Congress was going to act on its own.

The fatigue mitigation piece of the Rail Safety Improvement Act had been on Congress’s agenda for 15 years. The fatal accident in Chatsworth, Calif., involving a commuter train, was the ice breaker.

Rail labor’s position was consistent throughout the process.

The result was not all that rail labor or the carriers wanted in a rail safety bill. The 10-hour call principle was included only as a pilot project, and 10 hours of rest between each shift was mandated.

Had the carriers negotiated with us in good faith, the result could have been a joint recommendation to Congress that maximum flexibility be afforded carriers and rail labor to craft solutions based on the reality of local situations.

The best legislation always starts with an agreement in principle with the involved parties, but the railroads would not agree to any change in the application of unlimited limbo time, to accurate lineups, or an absenteeism policy that would force safety-critical employees to work when they were fatigued.

Instead, lawmakers took the one-size-fits-all approach because of the railroads’ refusal to discuss fatigue solutions.

We are now working to find local flexibility options to fine-tune the principles contained in the Rail Safety Improvement Act.

We are not optimistic that this can be achieved in so short a time frame, even though the carriers similarly want more flexibility in the law.

What we may be able to achieve is permission from the FRA for an FRA-monitored pilot project that permits flexible approaches instead of one-size-fits-all regulations.

The UTU and other rail operating unions are committed to do everything in their power to achieve more flexible regulations that recognize that situations are not equivalent across all railroads, all operating districts or all rail yards.

We will keep you informed.

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

For more years than I care to count, we having been telling the carriers that if we couldn’t come up with a mutually acceptable solution at the bargaining table to the problem of availability policies and train-crew fatigue that we were going to ask Congress to impose a solution.

And still the carriers dithered, placing profits ahead of safety and ignoring the quality of life and safety threats of 30-day availability policies, seemingly never-ending limbo time, rolling the dice on circadian rhythms with wild swings in start times, and assuming human beings could maintain situational awareness as their cumulative sleep deficits mounted.

We provided the carriers with exhaustive evidence of train crews being called to work in a fatigued condition; and reminded the carriers that sleep scientists have concluded that going to work fatigued is equivalent to going to work drunk.

Even in the face of horrific accidents involving deadly hazmat releases and NTSB findings with regard to crew fatigue, the carriers continued to ignore our pleas to negotiate a solution to the fatigue problem. The carriers refused to negotiate.

So we went to Congress in the fall of 2008 which enacted the most far-reaching rail safety bill in decades. It was our only relief. The law didn’t give us everything we wanted, but it is a good, overdue and necessary law.

Most troubling now is that even with the new safety law’s changes in hours of service and limbo time elimination, the carriers continue to resist providing train and engine service employees with predictable starting times.

How can it be that an industry so fully computerized can’t provide its operating crews with predictable starting times?

The fact is, the railroad industry can.

In fact, on Canadian National, which Wall Street analysts say is the most efficient North American railroad, senior management is committed to train scheduling. CN CEO Hunter Harrison considers this good business, safe business and appropriate labor-management policy.

We are now negotiating with CN in hopes we can reach agreement permitting CN and the UTU jointly to petition the Federal Railroad Administration for a pilot project — under provisions of the new safety law — to demonstrate every railroad can efficiently provide train and engine-service employees with start and stop times within a predictable range of hours.

We stand willing to negotiate with any carrier a similar joint petition to the FRA for such a pilot project if that carrier is agreeable to structured start times.

Our objective is a changed culture that reduces employee fatigue, fully eliminates limbo time, assures situational awareness of all crew members, improves our members’ quality of life, boosts customer service, and contributes positively to each carrier’s bottom line.

It is high time to bring the railroad industry into the 21st century. This pilot project has the potential to do just that.

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

The Bush Administration did it again.

Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters extended the right of foreign-operated trucking and transit companies to operate across the U.S. border without requiring them to even have a minimum of safeguards for U.S. citizens on U.S. roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires U.S. licensed drivers to be tested, certified and comply with numerous laws and rules.

Yet foreign drivers do not have to abide by any of these requirements.

Equipment inspection, certification of ability to operate equipment, drug testing and hours of service requirements have made our roads safer.

The UTU has protested loudly and has a commitment from Rep. Jim Oberstar (D.-Minn.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, to overturn Ms. Peters’ action. We are committed to our members and the riding public to keep the roads safe for them and their families.

The UTU Bus and Legislative Departments continue to fight the mandated changes to drug testing (observed testing).

We have joined with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO to make a concerted effort to protect our members’ personal rights.

To contact me, call the UTU International headquarters at (216) 228-9400, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., EDT.

Send e-mail to me at v_baffoni@utu.org

By Vic Baffoni,

Vice President, Bus

The safety of our members in the work place has been — and will always be — a priority of this union and its officers.

More and more, we are experiencing passenger assaults on drivers. Any environment where a bus operator fears for his or her safety is equally dangerous for riders and traffic sharing the highway, because when coach operators must concern themselves with possible assaults, they cannot fully concentrate on safe driving.

Some agencies are providing enclosures for drivers. In Washington, D.C., for example, where the number of assaults on bus drivers has tripled since 2002, a clear, plastic shield is being inserted between the driver’s seat and the fare box. Also, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is experimenting with an enclosure.

While some enclosures being tested protect drivers from assaults, they may block the escape route for the driver and/or passengers in the event of a collision. Protective enclosures should permit the driver to exit the bus quickly and without impeding the escape of passengers. We urge also that protective shields be manually operated and not be connected to the front frame of the coach, as such construction could cause the shield to collapse into or onto the driver in a front-end collision.

Driver safety is one of many issues I am discussing with local officers and members.

Recently, I visited locals 710 and 759 in Newark, N.J.; Local 1496 in Riverside, Calif.; Local 1584 in Lancaster, Calif.; Local 1589 in New Brunswick, N.J.; Local 1741 in San Francisco; and Local 1785 in Santa Monica, Calif. In these meetings, we also discussed their members’ concerns regarding the union. I am very impressed with the leadership of the locals and their desire to serve their memberships.

Finally, congratulations to General Chairperson Nelson Manzano and his committee in negotiating an excellent contract for members on the Red and Tan Lines in northern New Jersey.

By Bonnie Morr
Alternate Vice President, Bus

When operating a motor coach — whether carrying students, commuters, tourists or the handicapped – whenever we open the door, we are exposed to assaults.

We are vulnerable to what we do see, and what we cannot see, such as the sneezing, wheezing and coughing passengers spreading illness.

Many of us are versed in “talking down” aggressive and sometimes out-of-control passengers. The federal government and states are toughening penalties for violent acts against transportation workers, and many employers are taking additional steps to protect bus operators, such as by installing video cameras in terminals and on buses.

On page 11 of this issue, our union’s medical consultant, Dr. Norman Brown, explains how to protect ourselves against one dangerous micro-organism called MRSA.

A benefit of being a union member is that from the local level to the International, we have qualified officers and staff working each day to help improve workplace safety. For example, to the right of this column is an article and photo showing the success of the UTU in having notices posted in Coach USA buses in New Jersey warning of severe penalties for assaulting bus operators.

If you have ideas about further protecting the safety and health of bus operators, share them with your local officers, and also with Bus Department Vice President Vic Baffoni at the UTU International in Cleveland, whose e-mail address is v_baffoni@utu.org.