For decades, Warren Buffett has reigned as one of the most-recognizable brands in American business. He leads BNSF’s parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and his decisions play a large role in the direction of the rail industry.

Buffett and Berkshire’s reach extends into industries all over the globe. It influences many common U.S. business sectors, from insurance, real estate, and the energy sector down to jewelry stores and the groceries we buy labeled Kraft or Heinz.

It is easy to understand why the alleged “Oracle of Omaha” and his annual letter to investors is widely read. His words are embraced by the owning class, who dream of hoarding even a fraction of Buffett’s great fortune. This year, Buffett complained in great detail about BNSF as well as railroading in general.

First and foremost, Buffett expressed his disappointment that BNSF’s revenue and profits fell last year. He also noted that our new contract provided raises that were “far beyond the country’s inflation goals.”

Nobody in the SMART Transportation Division is regularly found in Forbes or Fortune magazine. Still, our interpretation of his letter is that, in his billionaire opinion, the raises our members earned in the 2022 National Agreement were “too much” and that what it did to Berkshire Hathaway’s stockholders was “disappointing” because they — the ownership — deserved more.

Let’s be crystal clear, his statement never stated that BNSF lost money. His disappointment is that an overdue raise for the people who actually do the work cut into the obscene amount of profit they wanted to make. The 92-year-old billionaire, sadly, did not make as much off workers’ backs as predicted.

SMART-TD will not apologize to Buffett or anyone else on Wall Street for our men and women getting paid what they have rightfully earned while keeping this nation’s economy humming.

He went on to describe how BNSF’s profit margins have fallen relative to the other Class I railroads and promised that these “margin comparisons can and should improve.”

Maybe that’s why he decided to have BNSF cut the jobs of maintenance workers, pipe fitters and other unionized workers across the railroad. These men and women many with mouths to feed, were shown the door the VERY WEEK after his public-facing letter.

Our union hears this loud and clear. If the profits being returned to the stockholders are disappointing, the answer for Berkshire Hathaway and BNSF obviously isn’t for the company to try harder to grow, to earn new business, or expand its relationship with the customers they have; it is to increase the operating (Profit) ratios. The easiest and most-expedient way to do that is to start handing out pink slips and furloughs because the executives and shareholders MUST get theirs first and foremost.

We know what it looks like when railroad-owning hedge funds start managing railroads based on operating ratios and profit margins. Safety goes out the window, trains get longer, brake inspections get rushed, extra boards get smaller, PO days get canceled, maintenance workers are axed. Life gets harder at home and more hazardous for those on the job.

If Berkshire Hathaway’s profit isn’t growing fast enough, the executive perspective is it’s far cheaper to buy additional whips than to add more horses to the team. This is the same mentality used by Wall Street to run our industry into the ground since 2017.

Buffett went on to discuss the work conditions that our members/his employees face. He discussed how he works in an “always-comfortable office” while railroaders are doing their work in harsh winter conditions that are both “tiring and dangerous.” If these are actual concerns he holds, SMART-TD and our General Chairpersons would be happy to discuss more structured rest schedules, the end to BNSF’s ridiculous “Hi-Viz” attendance policy, as well as the implementation of the many safety protocols and redundancies our union has long advocated.

Additionally, if Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s upper management are truthfully concerned with the level of danger for their employees, they could follow Norfolk Southern’s lead and join the Confidential Close Call Reporting (C3RS) program as the FRA, NASA, and the Department of Transportation have been suggesting. This way, they can enable the safety benefits for their employees that other railroads have realized by participating in this program. It’d be preferable to going down the dangerous path of crew-size reductions and automation.

Along those same lines, another change Buffett and BNSF CEO Katie Farmer could make for safety is not to follow through on the planned job cuts for workers in the nation’s heartland.

Cutting 362 jobs in crafts charged with inspections, safety compliance, and making pivotal repairs to the tracks and rolling stock does not square with any concern expressed for worker safety. It does line up roughly 100% with the OTHER comments made about easing the “disappointment” of Berkshire’s stockholders. Buffett’s letter also laments that “a growing percentage of Americans are not looking for the difficult, and often lonely employment conditions inherent in some rail operations.”

Why would Buffett help fund the fight against two-person crew regulations if he is so worried about this aspect of our lives?

Until Buffett and the machine at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., as well as the rest of the rail executives and their all-important stockholders, are ready to address workers’ issues in a serious, thoughtful way, the hard-working people represented by SMART-TD would appreciate it if they didn’t use the crosses we bear to shield themselves in their “always-comfortable offices.”

It is inappropriate to hide behind the dangers and hardships we endure on your behalf; hardships we tolerate for the good of our families, to gain wiggle room with stockholders who aren’t happy with the size of your dividend check. As a reminder, you and your fellow shareholders make money because of us, not in spite of us, even though the Association of American Railroads claimed otherwise in 2022 that “Labor Does Not Contribute to Profits.”

We are exploited enough in our day-to-day duties at BNSF and the other big railroads with inflexible attendance policies and a desire to place profitability over safety and humanity. You have no right to use our hardships to justify anything to the stockholders. You have no right to twist the worst aspects of our lives into a justification for a recommitment to longer trains, more grueling schedules, and a diminished commitment to appropriate staffing and safety. We resent the manipulation of your backhanded compliments on our toughness and ability to overcome our job conditions despite your lack of actual assistance.

Mr. Buffett, you have done nothing in this letter but show that the owning class believes in its own story that what they do in the comfort of their own office matters more than what happens where the boots hit the ballast, at all hours of the day and night and types of weather.

How can you justify telling the world that an overdue pay raise is problematic for stock dividends while you also use our lifestyle to hijack any empathy the public has for us to benefit you and your multi-billion-dollar conglomerate?

Railroaders are used to having their primary meal for the day come off the roller grill at a gas station, but even we can’t swallow this much hot garbage.

SMART-TD is not a publicly traded, market-driven organization. We don’t pretend to understand the motivations that led to this addition to your “Letter to Investors,” although we can speculate. We do, however, know railroading. One phrase you hear when conflicts arise in crew rooms that might be good advice — “Keep my name out of your mouth.”

Until Berkshire Hathaway, BNSF, and Buffett are willing to address the core quality-of-life issues on their railroad and put the people who do the work first, rather than using them as corporate propaganda, it would be wise to adhere to this invaluable wisdom.

CALIFORNIA – Today, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA), which oversees the largest high-speed rail project under construction in North America, announced a ground-breaking agreement with 13 rail unions to utilize rail workers covered by federal railroad labor laws in critical jobs once trains begin to operate. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) ensures that highly skilled rail workers will perform all traditional railroad work such as operating trains, engineering work, maintenance of equipment, dispatching, on-board service and clerical work.

“We are proud that this agreement guarantees our right to organize workers, including reasonable access to the jobsite for union organizing, and establishes a pathway to voluntary employer recognition of the union. Further, the agreement ensures that workers will be covered by bedrock federal rail labor laws, including the Railway Labor Act, the Railroad Retirement Act and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act,” said the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition, which consists of 13 rail unions representing more than 160,000 freight, regional, commuter, and passenger railroad workers. “California is the birthplace of high-speed rail in America. Despite the robust support of the citizens of California, CAHSRA has faced many obstacles since the project’s initial launch. We commend CAHSRA for overcoming these challenges and achieving substantial progress, including today’s momentous agreement, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

This agreement follows an existing Project Labor Agreement between CAHSRA and building trades unions to utilize union workers on the construction side, furthering the project’s commitment to employing highly skilled union workers and maintaining fair labor standards. The project is already responsible for the creation of over 11,000 jobs, including high-skilled construction jobs and other industry-related work, and this agreement brings hundreds of additional good union jobs to the California Central Valley.

“The Authority is proud to continue its tradition of working with labor unions and we are pleased to have reached this important agreement that ensures we have the highest quality working conditions for our highly trained and qualified workers,” said Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “This is essential to ensuring that California’s high-speed rail system will be operated with the safest and highest quality of service for our passengers,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of the CAHSRA.

Phase 1 of the project will cover 500 miles and run service from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Basin in under three hours. Upon full completion, the project will stretch 800 miles, extending to Sacramento and San Diego. The zero-emission trains will be 100% powered by renewable energy, reaching speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

“As the nation’s largest transportation labor union federation, we are proud to support monumental projects like the California High-Speed Rail Project, which will deliver a modern, efficient, and green transit system while putting skilled union members to work,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

In the midst of the largest expansion of transportation and infrastructure in our country’s history, including a record level of federal investment in passenger rail transportation, today’s agreement establishes a precedent for future high-speed rail agreements between public entities and rail unions. As it works to deliver high-speed rail to the American public, CAHSRA simultaneously will set the standard for high-quality work and labor practices.

The High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition includes the following 13 rail labor unions: the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART-MD), National Conference of Firemen and Oilers 32BJ/SEIU (NCFO), Transportation Communications Union (TCU), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) implemented planned service cuts the morning of Monday, March 8, in spite of objections made weeks ago by union leadership and echoed by New York state senators just before the cuts went into effect.
The result?

This photo, provided by a LIRR worker to Alternate Vice President/General Chairperson Anthony Simon, shows a crowded Long Island Rail Road car early March 8, the day LIRR implemented service cuts.
Crowded cars and the potential for the early morning commute from places like New Hyde Park or Jamaica Station to become a COVID spreader event with no opportunity for social distancing, as shown by photos provided to SMART-TD Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon by frontline workers, thousands of whom he represents as general chairperson of GCA-505.
“These reductions have now made Long Island Rail Road service unsafe as far as allowing for social distancing is concerned,” Simon said.
In response to LIRR leadership’s implementation of the cuts, which reduced weekday service to the equivalent of what the system offers on the weekend, more than 3,000 unionized workers from SMART, SMART-TD and six other labor unions submitted the following message via email on March 8:
In addition to Simon, SMART-Mechanical Division General Chairperson John McCloskey and TD yardmaster General Chairperson Michael Miele signed the letter addressed to New York Metropolitan Transit Agency Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye and LIRR President Phillip Eng.
“The MTA’s desire to outsource our work, disregard our membership’s quality of life and forget about what we have delivered throughout a global pandemic is inexcusable,” the union leaders stated. “We certainly hope you can get on the right track in winning us back for the good of this great railroad that we have built and have always been proud to serve. Until then, we will continue to work hard for our customers with the understanding that there is a lack of good faith and insufficient appreciation toward our members from leadership.”
Other unions that signed on to the letter included the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Transportation Communications Union; International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers; National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU 32BJ; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and Independent Railway Supervisors Association.
Read the letter. (PDF)