WASHINGTON – SMART Transportation Division organized rallies in multiple locations Dec. 13 to bring attention to rail-related issues, including maintaining the current safe level of a minimum two-person crew in the cabs of locomotives, paid sick leave for workers and an end to the carriers’ Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) scheme.

A solidarity rally took place at Capitol Hill days after the Dec. 2 federal imposition of a national rail contract on the SMART-TD and three other unions, drawing support from the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, multiple unions from inside and apart from the rail industry, a bipartisan contingent of U.S. representatives and senators and others.

“Every single day in this nation, a life is saved because of the actions of a two-person crew. When a train whistle is blown and a kid gets out of the way – that is a life that is saved in a moment. But you never hear about it because the railroads are not required to report it,” SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity told the crowd of supporters at Capitol Hill. “PSR is a deadly animal to this entire nation. Public safety is under threat because of cuts for profit that the railroads are trying to make. They want to keep cutting. They want to keep taking crew members off trains — they’re going to do whatever they can do to keep making another dollar. We have got to put an end to it, but the only way we do that is that we all fight together and keep going.

“Keep talking to your brothers and sisters. Let them know that the fight continues — the only way that we win this battle is if everybody is out, everybody is fighting and everybody is loud and everybody is doing their part to make sure our job, our union, our solidarity is being fought for. You’ve got to be the leader at home. You’ve got to let your people know that the time is here, the time is now. We’re all in this fight together.

“When we leave here today, do not go home and think that you did your part. You have not done enough yet. We have not done enough yet. No one has done enough yet,” Cassity said. “We will get strong. We will get louder. We have got to continue.”

The rally at the Capitol was one of a series that took place in multiple states, including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah and Wyoming.

“These reforms aren’t going to happen on their own. We’re going to keep pushing to make them happen so we can deliver for railroad workers. At a minimum, every single railroad worker deserves paid sick leave and the guarantee of a two-person crew. These reforms will create a safer and better freight system for everyone,” said TTD President Greg Regan, who introduced a number of the speakers from Congress.

While Congress stopped a nationwide rail strike by imposing a contract on workers earlier this month, the devastating workplace conditions perpetuated by major rail corporations continue to prevail.

More than a dozen members of Congress addressed the rally, including: U.S. Reps. Donald Payne (D-N.J., Dist.10), Andy Levin (D-Mich., Dist. 9), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa., Dist. 1), Don Bacon (R-Neb., Dist. 2), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y., Dist. 16), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill., Dist. 4), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y., Dist. 14), John Garamendi (D-Calif., Dist. 3), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J., Dist. 12), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash., Dist. 7), Cori Bush (D-Mo., Dist. 1), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif., Dist. 34), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich., Dist. 13) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn., Dist. 5) and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at the Capitol Hill labor solidarity rally on Dec. 13.

“What you have shown the country is how outrageous this level of corporate greed is and how we have it in the rail industry and in other industries across this country,” said Sanders. “Tell the people that own this country that we are going to put an end to their greed.”

Sanders railed at the carriers’ refusal to meet workers’ demands for paid sick leave in the industry during the contract negotiations that concluded with the federal government imposing a contract on a majority of rail workers.

“The truth of the matter is, that if we had any justice in this country, we wouldn’t have to make that demand because this country would do what virtually every other major country on Earth does and guarantee paid family and medical leave.”

He also told workers that PSR will be in Congress’s crosshairs:

“You guys now have to do more with less. That’s their ideology — how do we work people to the bone so we can make $20 million a year? And that is why we have to put an end to Precision Scheduled Railroading,” Sanders said. “We’re going to bring not only the rail unions together, we’re going to bring the workers together to bring the justice that is long overdue.”

The D.C. rally was streamed live by the Rails, Tails and Trails podcast.

The rallies coincided with a hearing led by the Surface Transportation Board to examine Union Pacific’s service performance failures that have harmed the supply chain and preceded the public hearing before the Federal Railroad Administration regarding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding two-person freight crews.


Members of SMART-TD rally at the overpass above BNSF’s Denver roundhouse and yards Dec. 13. (Photo courtesy Colorado SLD Carl Smith.)
Union members mobilize before their rally.
Members hold a banner at their rally Dec. 13.


Members rally in the rain in Galesburg, Ill.

TSPR coverage of the event


Workers and supporters at a rally in Royal Oak, Mich.

WXYZ coverage


Northern News Now

Duluth News Tribune


Nevada Globe

This is Reno

2 News

New Mexico


Labor supporters rallied outside the Ohio statehouse on Dec. 13.


People turning out in Cheyenne in 15-degree temperatures with 25+mph winds and a -22-degree wind chill. “Huge shout out to Tammy Johnson, Wyoming AFL-CIO Executive Secretary, who helped me and did so much of the organizing,” said Wyoming SLD April Ford.

K2 Radio

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART-TD and -MD are members, released the following statement on behalf of rail unions regarding next steps in our push forward on reforms to a freight rail industry that is failing its workers and the American people:

“Across this nation, the American people have been awakened to the importance of freight rail workers to the national supply chain and our economy. More importantly, they have learned that the workers who are single-handedly responsible for the success of this industry have been mistreated while they’ve held these companies together through a pandemic and a historic supply chain crisis.

While rail unions successfully secured historic pay increases and other benefits for their workers with the support of President Biden, the railroads and their bought and paid-for allies in Congress refused to meet our demands for the basic human right of paid sick leave in bargaining. However, it should be made clear that the lack of paid sick leave is merely a symptom; so-called “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR) and its cut-to-the-bone business model is the virus plaguing the rail industry and America’s freight commerce network. This virus exists for one reason, and one reason alone: corporate greed.

Let us be clear. The fight to guarantee paid sick leave for rail workers is not over and we will not back down until we win. We are committed to aggressively pursuing further action by both parties in Congress and the President, including the strategic use of legislation and Administration action, such as federal regulations and oversight, that will once and for all hold the rail industry accountable.

We stand united with workers and are grateful to the American people who have heard our call: in one of the most profitable industries in the richest country in the world, there is no excuse for rail workers to go another day without immediate action to correct this glaring injustice. But we must also remain focused on the underlying problems that remain for workers and the industry, which cannot be solved through paid sick leave policies alone.

The American people should know that while this round of collective bargaining is over, the underlying issues facing the workforce and rail customers remain. Over the last seven years, the freight railroad industry has moved to a business model that has cut their workforces to the bone, devastated worker morale by creating unsustainable working conditions across the industry, and put the safety of their workers and the American public at risk. This business model, which the industry termed “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR), is not meant to improve service or reduce costs for shippers and consumers. Instead, it is meant to squeeze, with precision, every last penny of profit out of their operations for the benefit of a handful of ultra-wealthy investors who have contributed nothing themselves to the success of this industry.

Prior to PSR, if an employee needed to call in sick, they were nearly always allowed to “mark off,” and would be replaced by the next person on the roster. However, after cutting 30% of the workforce, there are no backups, and in an effort to keep trains moving, the rail industry needed a “stick” to keep employees in line. Management dusted off their rulebooks and decided to begin disciplining employees for missing work – a right they always retained but never used. If railroad workers spoke up, they risked being targeted. And in an era of mass furloughs, railroaders were rightfully worried that tomorrow would bring a pink slip.

The need for paid sick leave is only greater in this environment of strict discipline enforced by ruthless managers that were told to cut costs by any means. To most railroad managers, the solution was to furlough all possible employees, and rule over those remaining with an iron fist. Forced overtime went from being rare to a routine, multi-day occurrence. In fact, fatigue is now one the most dangerous issues facing employees. That is why the rail industry fought tooth and nail to deny paid sick leave to workers. They know that they cannot sustain their unsafe, greed-driven business model without putting the health and safety of workers on the line. In other words, denying workers sick leave isn’t an oversight but rather a core, intentional feature of the freight railroads’ business model.

In April, the railroads were called before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for a three-day hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service.” The railroads were scolded not just by the STB and rail unions, but by rail customers across the spectrum. From grain shippers to chemical distributors, every witness pinpointed the same issue: that poor rail service is the result of years of irresponsible cost-cutting and the hostile work environment for remaining employees. And despite their public scolding and promises to make improvements, all of these metrics have continued to decline. Six months later, staffing levels are even lower than before, and freight embargoes of shippers are higher than ever.

And it is not just rail workers who are suffering. The freight railroads have created an economic crisis for all Americans by failing to meet the service needs of their customers. They have shamelessly crippled our supply chain, driving up prices for consumers on our most essential goods. What’s more, by forcing sick or fatigued workers to perform their jobs, they are knowingly risking public safety in our communities every single day. All of this for the sake of eking out a few extra dollars to further pad the pockets of their CEOs and Wall Street.

We will share our concerns about the freight rail industry’s behavior in greater detail before the Surface Transportation Board’s public hearing next Tuesday, Dec. 13, regarding Union Pacific’s refusal to accept goods for shipment because they’ve undermined their own capacity to ship them. We also applaud the Federal Railroad Administration for holding a public hearing next Wednesday, Dec. 14, on train crew size safety requirements, which is a fundamental safety issue and another example of the railroads willingly jeopardizing the welfare of their workers and safety to fuel more profits.

Ahead of these public hearings, rail workers will rally in front of the US Capitol on Tuesday, 12/13 from 1 to 3 p.m. to highlight the need to address all of these issues within the freight rail industry. Additional details will follow.

The wins for rail workers that resulted from a Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Biden with further improvements facilitated by the Biden Administration are indeed historic. They include a 24% pay raise with back pay, which is the biggest wage increase in 45 years; a $5,000 bonus for every worker; an increase in travel disbursements for maintenance of way workers; no increase in health insurance copays or deductibles; no changes to two-person crew staffing; and more.

But rail workers, the unions who fight for them, and our partners in government must work together to hold this industry accountable for their actions and reconcile the long-term consequences of their greed. By prioritizing profits over people, they have failed workers, customers, and consumers. We need a freight rail system that works for the entire country. It is time for a reckoning.”

American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen-IBT (BLET)

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division-IBT (BMWED)

Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 19

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB)

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, SEIU (NCFO, SEIU)

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD)

International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART TD)

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD)

Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)

SMART Transportation Division members are invited to gather for a pair of rallies taking place Sept. 10 in Nebraska and Ohio.

Solidarity Saturday is happening at Lincoln County Fairgrounds AG Center in North Platte, Neb. The event starts at 11 a.m. and will run until 5 p.m.

Local 200 (North Platte) Chairperson Amanda Snide will receive a Solidarity Star and be honored for her work representing the membership as well as her unyielding commitment to the labor cause.

All are welcome, Local 200 President Jeff Cooley said.

In Ohio, a labor rally for all crafts is scheduled for Saturday in the parking lot of IBT Local 20, 435 S. Hawley St., in Toledo, beginning at 9 a.m.

Following the rally, a Rail Labor Family Day event is planned at the Toledo Zoo following the rally, for discount tickets to the zoo event, follow the link below.