Many of the workshop presentations made at the Seattle Regional Meeting that took place July 2 to 4, 2018, are now available by following the links below. The presentations are in PDF form, so Adobe Acrobat Reader or a web browser plug-in that handles the format will be necessary to view the files.
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division’s Washington State Legislative Board, represented by Legislative Director Herb Krohn, gave awards to a number of state legislators supportive of the union’s safety efforts at July’s regional meeting. Receiving Golden Spike Awards for “exemplary leadership in advocating for legislation to protect the safety of both railroad workers and the general public” were state Sens. Steve Conway (D – Dist. 29) and Patty Kuderer (D – Dist. 48).
When receiving his award, Conway talked about the need for multiple-person crews on trains and the vital support crewmembers provide to first responders when a rail accident happens. “We’re going to get that bill,” Conway said. “We’re going to get it passed.” Kuderer, an attorney who worked on a number of railroad-related cases, is a “magnificent advocate” for rail safety, Krohn said, and had a hand in the state hearings regarding the aftermaths of both the 1993 Kelso accident and the 2015 Stampede Pass incident in which a train came apart during a blizzard. In her speech accepting the award, Kuderer talked about how her grandfather, a union railroader, and later her grandmother could stay in their home after retirement thanks to a pension that unions fought for and protected. However, the recent Janus v. AFSCME decision places those things in jeopardy.
“There’s direct evidence that unions work and they’re not the problem,” Kuderer said. “I think what we need to do is to fight fire with fire. The Freedom Foundation is not going to give up. The Koch brothers aren’t going to give up. Big money interests, they’re not going to give up. But we have something more than they have – we have numbers, we have people, and we need to communicate the message of the unions more effectively to people to make them understand why it’s important to be a part of it. “Just know that here in Washington, we’re going to do what we can to continue to protect unions and working families,” she said. State Sen. Steve Hobbs (D – Dist. 44) received the Washington State Legislative Board’s 2018 Senator of the Year award for support of rail labor and working to lead the state’s Transportation Committee.
“If you don’t remember about the people – the people that drive the buses, the people that are on the rail cars, the people that fly the planes – then you’ve missed the point about transportation,” Hobbs said. “Because transportation is not just about getting people from Point A to Point B or getting your product from Point A to Point B, it’s about connecting people, building relationships.” State Rep. Mike Sells (D – Dist. 38) was given a Golden Lantern award as the 2018 Representative of the Year. Sells leads the Washington State House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee and has sponsored or co-sponsored “every piece of legislation that we’ve introduced on rail safety,” Krohn said.
Three state senators also were recognized for their advocacy and full support of TD legislation. State Sens. Marilyn Chase (D – Dist. 32), Mark Miloscia (R – Dist. 30) and Hans Zeiger (D – Dist. 25) all were given awards for voting for 100 percent of TD safety legislation and for their 100% sponsorship or co-sponsorship records for all TD-supported legislation over the past six years.
In addition to Krohn, Assistant State Legislative Director Steve Mazulo of Local 855 and Darren Volland, legislative representative of Local 426, served as the host local committee for the meeting at the Westin hotel in Seattle.
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch gave attendees a broad overview of the landscape of the transit industry on the third day of the TD regional meeting. Among the topics covered: how to grow support for transportation-related bills in Washington, D.C., train automation, operator safety, stock buybacks and the potential threat politicians pose to what they describe as “entitlements.” “If you see something, do something,” Risch told the crowd, encouraging them to get involved by running for public office, engaging government officials face-to-face to educate them about the issues important to the transportation industry and being more visible at public meetings and in the media.
“It’s not me or our small office in D.C. that passes a crew bill,” Risch said. “That’s not the most effective way. The most effective way is when constituents contact them.” He praised the grassroots efforts of Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez, a bus member out of Local 1607 in Los Angeles, who took it upon herself to meet Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Cook at a town hall meeting. After the discussion, Cook signed on to the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) as one of the 112 bipartisan members in the U.S. House who support the two-person crew bill. General Chairperson Steve Simpson (GO 489) met with U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and one of the most conservative congressmen, and also was able to get Gohmert to sign on in support of H.R. 233 and to advocate for funding for the National Mediation Board, Risch said. “This is a political year — they’re all ears. They’re all ears in the political years,” Risch said. “Once they get elected, they’re not quite as attentive.” Risch said the responses received by the Federal Railroad Administration in a request for comments on automation in the rail industry largely agreed with rail labor’s approach — that all trains should have two-person crews. “The vast majority, with a handful of exceptions from railroads, of the comments were comments saying the only safe way to be allowed to run a train through America is with two crewmembers — a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” Risch said. “It’s a safety issue — it’s an issue to where you need two people to get the job done.” Two safety bills have been introduced in Congress — one to protect passenger rail workers in the Senate and one to protect bus operators in the House. The House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of California and U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York, is a strong bill and if passed, would protect our bus members. “It will require that bus companies develop risk-reduction programs, and not only do they have to develop them, they have to do it with their bus drivers and union representatives,” Risch said. The programs would target areas on bus properties where safety could be improved, such as fixes for the vehicles, and de-escalation training, Risch said. “Too often, the fare is a dollar-and-a-half and the guy’s only got a dollar getting on the bus and then the bus driver tells him it’s a dollar-and-a-half…and this 50-cent issue turns into something terrible,” Risch said. Class I railroads received millions, if not billions of dollars back when the Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut the U.S. corporate tax rate last year. Risch reminded attendees what the railroads are using the money for rather than infrastructure and maintenance. “They’re using it to buy back stock — elevate the stock price. Who are the biggest stockholders? — Top officers of the railroads and the hedge funds,” Risch said. “Those are the guys that are profiting. Union Pacific will spend twice as much money these next three years buying back stock than they will in investing in the railroad.” The runaway debt that has been created by spending increases also has politicians eyeing what they describe as “entitlements” — among them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Railroad Retirement. Politicians want to get their hands on the money that fund these “entitlements” – money that we’ve put in for our retirements – and bankrupt these programs. “That’s the deal we’ve made — we’re going to pay in for 30, 40 years and then we would have a few years to enjoy retirement because we invested,” Risch said. “That was the deal — it was a pension plan. You can’t change that. We’re not going to stand idly by if they try to change that deal.”
SEATTLE — SMART General President Joseph Sellers Jr. said Tuesday that the union will move in a unified direction at all levels in the fight against the ongoing attack on labor by monied right-wing interests. His call to action at the second day of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting came a week after the Janus v. AFSCME case that overturned the ability of public sector unions to collect agency fees from “free-riders” — people who are represented by a union and benefit from union negotiating on areas such as health care and contract negotiations but do not pay dues.
“Our theme — Strength through Unity — that is perfect and appropriate for this time,” Sellers said. “We need to roll our sleeves up. We need to put sweat equity into the changes that we need to make on behalf of our union, on behalf of your local on the behalf of the good and the welfare of our members and members to come.” The 5-4 decision in a fractured U.S. Supreme Court drives a wedge between unions and the financial resources unions have to spend representing workers, weakening unions’ ability to represent and protect workers, Sellers said. Janus is a reversal of the 1977 precedent-setting Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, a 9-0 decision made by what SMART Transportation Division General Counsel Kevin Brodar described Monday as a “who’s who” of Supreme Court justices. Current Justice Samuel Alito and four other conservative justices banded together for the reversal. “This is supposed to be the most honorable court in the world, the most independent court in the world, but this is a radical act — a radical act to undo decades — four decades — of precedent,” Sellers said. And already the agents of big business are beginning campaigns to reach out to members of the affected public-sector unions — traipsing through neighborhoods and knocking on doors, trying to convince members to stop supporting their union financially. “They’re going out there and they’re spending their money and the Koch brothers as we heard yesterday continue to go after unions and working people and working families,” Sellers said. Those big-money businesspeople hate that unions such as SMART and other AFL-CIO members have financial resources to leverage — the Janus decision is one way those one-percenters are trying to reduce labor’s clout, divide unions and also to lower wages and benefits for workers. It’s already evident in the 28 right-to-work-for-less states, where benefits and wages decline across the board. Workplace safety also deteriorates, with occupational fatalities in those states going up 14 percent in the 24 years that right-to-work-for-less has existed, Sellers said. “This is big business and this is the far-right. This is the majority at this time … but with our heart and our hard work, that will end in November,” Sellers said. “That is where our strength comes from — 200,000 members in our organization working together pulling on the rope together in the same direction, making sure that we are not weakened.” He called upon local chairpeople to intensify their organizational efforts and communication — the union’s “grassroots campaign.” “We need to make sure that we have our game together,” Sellers said. “We need to make sure that we educate our members. We have a mid-term election coming up, and we can change that paradigm, but it’s not going to happen by itself. It’s not going to happen without our hard work. “We need to be laser-focused as we fight back and take back one or possibly two branches of this government.” Sellers said that the SMART Army’s community activism efforts, face-to-face contact and the use of avenues such as social media and text messaging will also help make SMART stronger, more united and improve communication with members. “We need to make sure that we, at every level of this organization, are fighting back with one voice,” he said. To join the SMART Army and stay up to date, members should text “SMART” to 21333 and follow the prompts. Messaging and data rates may apply.
Strength, unity and education will be the way to fight the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week on Janus v. AFSCME 31 that overturned more than four decades of legal precedent. That was the message given at the opening session of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting on July 1 in Seattle. The 49-page decision written by Justice Samuel Alito and supported by the four other conservative justices eliminates the ability of public sector unions to collect agency fees from those employees who refuse to be union members, yet still receive the benefits negotiated by unions. “Janus is something that is indicative of an anti-labor movement in certain parts of the government that they’re working very hard to take away the rights and privileges that we have worked for for a number of years,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said. SMART TD General Counsel Kevin Brodar explained to attendees the magnitude of the decision and how the conservative tilt of the court, achieved with the installation of President Donald Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch, poses an ongoing menace to labor. “It is everything we thought it would be,” Brodar describe the Janus decision, written by Alito. “From every page drips his contempt for labor and unions. This is less a legal opinion as it is a right-wing manifesto against labor. That’s the sad story. “Justice Alito and his Federalist Society conspirators are once again trying to sell the public on a two-century-old idea that organized labor is nothing more than legalized extortion. Having lost the battle of ideas over the years because unions are still here, they have taken the idea that they can strangle unions out of existence by ending their funding.” Janus overturns the 9-0 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education made in the 1970s in which, Brodar said, “some of the heaviest hitters in the legal field” all agreed that unions had the power to collect agency fees from “free-riders,” non-paying members who still received benefits negotiated by the unions. “This is essentially a green light to anyone who wants to stop paying unions dues in the public sector,” Brodar said. “The idea is to drain union coffers of their money, drain them of their political clout, drain them of the ability to represent their members. With that, disappears a decent wage, pension plans, health care — all gone. That’s the plan of this case.” The Janus decision is another attack on the United States labor movement, Brodar said — the newest moment in a long line of resistance against people uniting for a common cause to improve their lives. “This case is an attack on working people. It’s an attack not just on public sector unions, but all of us in this room. This is an attack on every member of this union,” Brodar said. “No matter how many bayonets and bullets they used, they couldn’t kill the idea. They couldn’t kill the cause. It exists today. Why is that? Because this is a righteous and just cause. And you, all of you here, are the heirs to that cause.” The fight will continue, Brodar said, and he urged members to come together, educate themselves and be prepared to battle future efforts to weaken the power of labor and tip the scales in the favor of the carriers. “This is not the last shot. There will be many more shots coming. It’s up to us to respond,” Brodar said. “If this union disappears, there are dark days ahead. There are dark days right now — there will be another Supreme Court appointment who won’t be a labor-friendly guy. “What we need is solidarity. It’s solidarity that brought us here,” Brodar said. “There’s work to be done, and it’s time.”