On Wednesday, October 25, the United States Senate confirmed Jessica Looman as the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. In response, SMART issued the following statement:

“The confirmation of Jessica Looman as the Department of Labor’s Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division is a win for SMART members, our families and working people across this country. Looman has advocated for workers in our industries throughout her career, whether as executive director of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council, or in various positions for Minnesota’s Departments of Labor and Commerce. We know she will continue to fight for workers as the head of the Wage and Hour Division, and we commend the Senate for this well-deserved confirmation.”


The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a short-term surface transportation funding extension that includes a long-term extension of the positive train control (PTC) implementation deadline. The Senate’s action followed the House’s approval of the bill on Tuesday, and President Obama is expected to sign it.

The legislation reauthorizes funding of transportation programs through Nov. 20, and pushes back the Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install PTC safety technology to Dec. 31, 2018, and as late as 2020 under certain circumstances.

The deadline extension will ward off a nationwide shutdown of railroad services, which industry leaders said would occur after Jan. 1, 2016, if the deadline wasn’t postponed. Most railroads would have missed the Dec. 31 deadline, and many indicated they wouldn’t operate in violation of federal law.

Read more from Progressive Railroading about PTC extension and Sarah Feinberg’s confirmation as administrator to the FRA.

capitolWashington, D.C. — The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to delay a year-end deadline for railroads to install automatic speed control equipment that would have averted a fatal Amtrak crash several months ago. 

The Senate passed $350 billion legislation to renew federal highway and rail programs for six years, 65-34, but the measure gives railroads another three years to install positive train control. The absence of such equipment along the Northeast Corridor was blamed for the May 13 fatal derailment of a speeding Amtrak train in Philadelphia.

Read more from NJ.com.

By UTU International President Mike Futhey – 

For UTU members employed in the airline, rail and transit industries, the Obama/Biden victory and U.S. Senate election results translate to:

* More, and more secure, transportation jobs.

* More support to increase funding for public transit, Amtrak, and high-speed and higher-speed rail.

* Strengthened protections of collective bargaining rights and the right to organize the unorganized.

* Assurance of a safer workplace.

* Protection of Social Security, Railroad Retirement and Medicare programs as we know them.

* Retention of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that allow children to remain on your health insurance policy until age 26, prohibit insurers from limiting maximum patient care payments to those with serious chronic illnesses, prohibit denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, prohibit copays for certain preventive care procedures, and require insurance carriers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on patient care.

Moreover, continued control of the U.S. Senate by labor-friendly Democrats better ensures that presidential nominations to federal regulatory agencies are more likely to be approved, and that anti-labor legislation passed by the House of Representatives more likely will be blocked by the Senate.

We have many contacts within the Obama administration who understand the concerns and needs of transportation workers.

A few of the most outrageous members of Congress were defeated. Our National Legislative Office and state legislative departments look forward to working with the new Congress to help resolve the major issues facing our nation. We will continue to deliver a clear and consistent message to all members of Congress.

The vote re-electing President Obama and Vice President Biden was a clear victory for the middle class over the privileged landed gentry’s candidate, who was out of touch with working families.

We will continue to develop good working relationships with the leadership of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and our partners in the rail and public transit industries to grow our transportation alternatives with improvements in rail passenger service, rail freight service and all public transportation services.

We are thankful that many of our friends in the Republican leadership in the House were returned to office.

The most important function of a labor union is to advance the job security, wages, benefits, working conditions, and retirement security of its members. The re-election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and the continued labor-friendly control of the Senate, will help to advance those objectives.

Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) have reintroduced legislation this Congress that would lasso railroad pricing power.

S. 49, introduced by Kohl, would repeal some of the railroads’ antitrust exemptions.

S. 158, introduced by Rockefeller and co-sponsored by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, would increase the size of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (which regulates railroad rates, service, mergers, and abandonments) and require the agency to be more sensitive to captive rail shipper complaints.

Similar bills failed even to reach the Senate floor during the previous Congress.

WASHINGTON — Two friends of labor — Democratic Senators Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) — say they will retire at the end of the 112th Congress in 2012. Conrad is completing his fifth six-year term; Lieberman completing his fourth six-year term.

These announcements follow the retirement announcement of Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, who said she will retire in 2012 when her third six-year term ends. The Senate Commerce Committee has oversight of many rail, transit, air and bus issues. She is considered a moderate Republican.

WASHINGTON — Two Obama administration nominations of Republicans to key transportation regulatory positions — one to the National Mediation Board; the other to the Surface Transportation Board — were returned to the White House by the Senate this week without confirmation action and will have to be resubmitted to the Senate in the new Congress.

Republican Thomas M. Beck had been nominated by the president to the three-member NMB, for a term expiring Dec. 31, 2013; and Republican Ann D. Begeman had been nominated to the three-member Surface Transportation Board for a term expiring Dec. 31, 2015. Both agencies have Democratic majorities.

Under rules of the Senate, nominations not confirmed during the session during which they are made must be returned to the White House. The president may nominate them again in 2011, or choose new nominees. There is no indication Beck or Begeman will not be renominated or that the Senate would not confirm they if renominated.

Owing to a busy Senate calendar and the late timing of both nominations, neither was afforded a hearing before a Senate committee — Beck before the Health, Education & Labor Committee; Begeman before the Commerce Committee — an interim step prior to a Senate floor vote on confirmation.

Beck was nominated to succeed Republican Elizabeth Dougherty on the NMB. Dougherty’s term expired June 30, but under NMB rules she may continue serving indefinitely until a successor is confirmed. Since Oct. 2, Beck has been serving as a Senate-confirmed member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The FLRA administers labor-management relations for non-Postal Service federal employees.

Previously, Beck was a partner in the law firm of Jones Day, practicing labor and employment law. He is a 1992 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School. Beck also is a part-time professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where he teaches courses on legislation and public policy.

The other two members of the NMB are Democrats — Chairman Harry Hoglander, who is serving his third term, and Linda Puchala, who was confirmed to her first term in May 2009

Begeman was nominated to succeed Republican Chip Nottingham on the STB. Nottingham’s term expires Dec. 31, but under STB rules he may continue serving until a successor is confirmed, but no later than Dec. 31, 2011. Begeman is a long-time aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and most recently has been an aide to the Senate Commerce Committee.

The other two members of the STB are Democrats — Chairman Dan Elliott, who is serving his first term; and Frank Mulvey, who is serving his second term.

The STB has regulatory authority over railroad mergers and labor protection for rail employees adversely affected by mergers, line sales and leases, and line abandonments. The agency also regulates railroad freight rates.

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

It’s a new year. We have a new administration in Washington and a larger labor-friendly majority in the House and Senate. It is a time of new hope.

It will not be easy. The deteriorating economic conditions in this country are serious and will take time to solve. There are no quick fixes.

With the unfortunate death of National Legislative Director James Brunkenhoefer, we have suffered a serious loss.

As the new Congress organizes itself in January and February, our focus– with assistance from the AFL-CIO — will be to gain Senate confirmation for labor-friendly cabinet and regulatory agency heads nominated by President Obama. Updates on nominees and the confirmation process will be reported at www.utu.org. Members should visit the UTU Web site regularly to check on updates.

President Futhey, Assistant President Martin and Alternate National Legislative Director James Stem will be working to educate new members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — about the rail industry and transportation labor’s past and present role in improving productivity and safety.

During difficult economic times, UTU members are fortunate to have good benefits, good working conditions and a strong union to provide them and their families with protections.

Even so, it is not going to be easy. Many of our locals will be entering contract negotiations in 2009 and management is going to point to the financial crisis as reasons to seek givebacks.

Your union officers and representatives will be doing their jobs, which is protecting your rights. This union has a proud history in times of crisis, and I am confident that our strengths will be evident in 2009.