Washington, D.C. — Today the White House announced its COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. It commits to providing schools and businesses guidance and tools to improve ventilation and air filtration, including a Clean Air in Buildings Checklist that all buildings can use to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration. It also commits to providing schools, businesses, employers and state, local and Tribal governments technical assistance to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan funds to help protect workers and building occupants.

SMART issued the following statement in response.

“We commend the Biden administration’s response to prevent, protect against and treat COVID-19 and its prioritization of ventilation and indoor air quality to help move America forward safely. Clean air is critical for our health and well-being, and proper ventilation is an important mitigation measure that can help prevent both COVID-19 and future public health threats. Proper ventilation is not only a key to our recovery, but it will also help cut building emissions, lower energy costs, ensure systems are meeting design intent and make buildings safe for all occupants.

For decades, SMART members and our training programs have set the standard for the work that will be required to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration for all buildings. SMART sheet metal workers are highly skilled, trained and certified to achieve safe indoor air quality and ensure HVAC systems operate properly to improve building energy efficiency and safety. Ensuring buildings hire professionals with proper training and credentials will support and create good union jobs and make sure buildings are safe. We stand ready to support the administration on this effort.”

Washington, D.C. — Following President Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, 2022, SMART released the following statement:

“The first year of the Biden-Harris administration has produced historic results for working people across the United States. By governing with an economic vision focused on growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, President Biden has achieved much-needed victories for working families.

  • Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the economy has rebounded from a disastrous two years and has achieved its fastest job growth in American history – including the addition of 375,000 manufacturing jobs in just one year.
  • In the last year, companies announced nearly $200 billion in investments for semiconductor, electric vehicle battery, and critical mineral production and manufacturing in the United States.
  • Intel recently announced a new $20 billion factory outside of Columbus, Ohio that will create 7,000 construction jobs and another 3,000 permanent jobs.
  • President Biden is swiftly implementing the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure law (BIL), which will create jobs for SMART members improving indoor air quality in buildings, advance railroad safety and drive demand for the products and services provided by SMART sheet metal workers.

This extraordinary progress is occurring during a long-overdue shift from an outdated and unfair trickle-down approach to one that centers workers, families and small businesses. Now, we call on Congress to support the legislative priorities President Biden outlined during the State of the Union. These include:

  • Building upon the historic economic recovery of the last year by eliminating barriers to good-paying jobs for workers across America. President Biden specifically outlined his support for enacting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act; expanding skills-based hiring and increasing access to registered apprenticeships and training; creating a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program; and more. Such measures are vital for SMART members and all workers.
  • Strengthening our supply chain, transporting goods faster and cheaper and prioritizing products that are made in America. The last year has already seen exceptional growth in American manufacturing production and employment. President Biden plans to build on the victories already won with the implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding; we call on Congress to supplement those efforts with legislation that encourages competition, innovation and the creation of good, union jobs.
  • Reducing everyday costs for working Americans. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan lowered the cost of health care, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and provided hard-earned tax relief for millions of middle-class families through an expanded Child Tax Credit. We echo President Biden’s call for legislation that further lowers everyday expenses for American workers and their families by ensuring that corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.
  • Promoting fair competition to lower prices, protect consumers and help small businesses. In his State of the Union address, President Biden announced the Biden-Harris Administration’s intent to lower prices for Americans and businesses by combatting unfair ocean shipping practices – launching a new Federal Maritime Commission and Department of Justice initiative to promote competition in the ocean freight transportation system, increasing federal oversight of global ocean shipping and more.

Finally, SMART commends the president for pledging to address the ongoing health emergencies facing the American people. By committing to improving the safety of nursing homes and protecting residents and health care workers from bad actors, the Biden-Harris Administration again demonstrates its dedication to safeguarding the lives of our loved ones. And with his stated whole-of-government strategy to take on America’s national mental health crisis – which has had tragic consequences in the building trades – President Biden once again demonstrated his loyalty to SMART members, their families and all American workers.”

Washington, D.C. — Today President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. In response, SMART issued the following statement.

“We commend President Biden’s historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her experience, credentials, dedication to public service and commitment to the rule of law illustrate that she will safeguard the rights and freedoms of working people. While serving as an appeals court judge, Judge Jackson issued a ruling ending a Trump administration policy that restricted collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers. The U.S. Supreme Court should reflect the diversity of the communities that it serves, and this nomination is an important step in helping achieve a fair judicial system. We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm her nomination.”

The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys (ARLA) have filed a joint motion and brief urging the United States Supreme Court to prevent railroads from seeking property damages from their employees who are involved in railroad accidents.
The joint amicus curiae brief was filed in the case of Melvin Ammons and Darrin Riley v. Wisconsin Central, Ltd. Following a 2014 derailment, Conductor Ammons and engineer Riley filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), claiming the carrier had failed to provide a safe place to work resulting in injuries to them. In its counter claim, Wisconsin Central blamed Ammons and Riley for causing the accident. The carrier further argued that the crew acted in a negligent manner and sought damages from the employees in excess of $1 million for damage to railroad property.
In their brief, SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA argue that to allow a railroad to recover property damages from employees following an accident is an unlawful device that permits the railroad to evade its own legal liability, and will create a potential catastrophe in the railroad industry because the safety-reinforcing purpose of FELA will be destroyed.
“No tactic by the railroads has more potential for destroying employees’ rights — the exclusive remedial recourse available to railroad employees — under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (‘FELA’ or the ‘Act’) than allowing a railroad to seek property damages from an employee arising out of an accident,” the group wrote in its amicus brief.
Congress created the FELA in 1908 with the “twin objectives of providing effective relief to railroad workers injured or killed because of their employer’s negligence and giving railroads an economic incentive to improve the safety of this nation’s railroads.” This remedial purpose was underscored by amendments to the Act in 1908 and numerous times thereafter.
The FELA prohibits a railroad from utilizing “any device whatsoever” to exempt itself from liability. SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA contend that seeking property damage from employees in the event of accidents is such a device, and one that would basically exempt railroads from liability.
It was explained to the Supreme Court that “[i]t was not the intention of Congress in enacting FELA, with the inclusion of ‘any device whatsoever,’ that by the device of a claim for property damages, a railroad may avoid financial liability for its negligence, collect damages from an employee or drive an employee to bankruptcy, and whether it be the collection of damages or employee bankruptcy, dissuade other employees from filing FELA claims.”
SMART-TD, BLET and ARLA also argue that allowing employees to be sued for property damages would jeopardize safety in the railroad industry and discourage future safety improvements. In its brief, the group wrote: “Congress’ purpose in enacting FELA was to shift the cost of the ‘human overhead’ of railroading from the injured employees to their railroad employers. Allowing railroads to offset their FELA liability by shifting these losses back to the employees through property damage claims frustrates that Congressional design and jeopardizes the safety of the nation’s rail system.”
A copy of the amicus brief can be found here (PDF).

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.”

SMART TD General Counsel Kevin Brodar speaks out about what’s ahead for unions in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. Afcsme, overturning decades of union-favored precedent, at the opening session of the Seattle Regional Meeting, Monday, July 2.

scales_gavelReuters reported that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-4 split decision, ruled in favor of public sector unions by preserving the legal precedent of agency fees, which are a vital source of cash for organized labor. Read the entire story here.

The following release was issued by the Environmental Law & Policy Center:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s March 9 decisionAmtrak Logo affirming Amtrak’s power to create on-time performance standards could get slumping Midwest arrival times back on track.

“This is a good Supreme Court decision that should help rail passengers across the country,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which filed an amicus curiae brief in the case. “For every passenger who has been delayed for hours in Northwest Indiana or outside of Cleveland while oil tanker cars slog by, today’s court decision can be an important step forward.”

The Association of American Railroads challenged a federal law that allows Amtrak to help set on-time performance standards for railroads, arguing that Amtrak is a private company rather than a government entity. The Supreme Court, agreeing with the Department of Justice and ELPC, held that Amtrak is more like a government entity.

The DC Court of Appeals had struck down a provision of the 2008 rail reauthorization bill that instructed the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak – consulting with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations – to develop metrics and minimum standards for measuring Amtrak passenger train performance and service quality.

“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling settles that legal question,” Learner said. “Amtrak is a government entity. Given this ruling, the existing on-time performance standards should be enforced and passenger rail should again be given priority.”

In an amicus curiae brief filed by ELPC, on behalf of itself and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, All Aboard Ohio and Virginians for High Speed Rail, ELPC found that on-time arrival rates had suffered since the appeals court ruling. In 2012, Amtrak achieved a nationwide on-time performance rate of 83 percent. Since the standards were invalidated by the Court of Appeals, on-time performance fell to an abysmal 42 percent.

While this is a major victory for Amtrak passengers across the nation, the Supreme Court’s ruling does raise the possibility of a lengthy court fight should the Association of American Railroads seek to continually litigate other issues around on-time performance.

“The highest court in the land has spoken and we hope that freight railroads will move forward as a partner to improve passenger rail service across America,” added Learner.

Amtrak LogoWASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided Monday as it considered whether Amtrak, the government-owned passenger rail company, wields too much clout in setting regulations that private freight carriers also must follow.

The nine justices heard arguments in a challenge by the Association of American Railroads to a federal law that gives Amtrak, a government-owned corporation, a key role in setting standards for railroads, including for on-time performance.

Read the complete story at the Bangor Daily News.

Amtrak LogoResponding to increasingly serious delays across the national train network, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), represented by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), will file an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief with the United States Supreme Court in the lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Association of American Railroads.

The brief will argue that a lower court was mistaken in ruling that it is unconstitutional for Amtrak to participate with the Federal Railroad Administration in setting performance standards. These metrics helped ensure that Amtrak’s trains – which operate on tracks owned by the private freight railroads – met minimum standards of service quality, and they were developed in conjunction with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations. NARP believes that the recent decline in on-time performance by Amtrak trains is at least in part due to lower court’s ruling (U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit; Association of American Railroads v. U.S. Department of Transportation, et al., No. 12-5204).

ELPC is undertaking the legal research and will file the brief on NARP’s behalf on a pro bono basis. The case is expected to be argued in late 2014 or early 2015, with a decision expected sometime after that.

“This is one of the most important issues NARP has ever tackled,” said NARP Chairman Robert Stewart. “The standards adopted by the government provided real protection for the train-traveling public. As a consumer organization representing railroad passengers, our primary responsibility is to ensure that the services provided meet the reasonable expectations people have for getting to their destinations on time and safely. NARP is deeply grateful to ELPC for their professional assistance in presenting our views to the Supreme Court.”

scales_gavelWASHINGTON — The Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions Monday, ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining.

In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.

Read the complete story at the Associated Press.