Officers and Staff
SMART Transportation Division

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
As the COVID-19 continues to impact our country and its day-to-day operations, I have received a number of inquiries concerning travel and day-to-day business for union officers and staff.
I will simply state that at this time, it is my personal decision to continue as normal with our mission to serve the membership. As a leader I would never ask our members who are working on buses, trains, and commuter operations every day to do something I would not do. I know they are in harm’s way every day they go to work, with or without COVID-19, and as long as they are there, I too will be traveling by all means necessary to move us forward. This past week, I flew to the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department executive council meetings and the UTUIA Field Supervisor annual training class. Next week, I look forward to traveling to Los Angeles to meet with many bus drivers and SMART-TD officers. Until a government agency tells me I can no longer travel, my schedule will not be altered.
In doing so, I will also be monitoring this situation and keeping current with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, while staying particularly mindful of the links provided below my signature. If you are not already, I would encourage you to do the same.
With that being said, should anyone have issues with having to travel while serving in a union capacity due to personal health reasons or fear of contamination of a family member, then I understand. That is your personal decision to make, in conjunction with your doctor or family members.
We will do our best to keep everyone apprised of any changes and we will take every precaution necessary to keep everyone safe. Many letters went out last week and early this week from my office requesting advice for the safety of our members, and also demanding relief from the draconian attendance policies currently in place. So far, the FRA has been the only one to respond. It is sad, yet not surprising, to see the FRA has responded in such a pathetic manner. It is also disconcerting how the FAA stepped up and issued advisories to airports, pilots, and flight attendants; yet the FRA relies on “having no authority in this area” (via Frank Wilner of Railway Age) as their excuse for inaction. We will continue to push all agencies to do everything possible to protect our membership when on duty.

Fraternally yours,





Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

COVID-19 and Travel in the United States:
CDC Steps to Prevent Illness:
CDC Guidelines on Identifying Symptoms:

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 6) — SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) jointly petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 6 to take action in responding to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States.

“With at least 231 patients treated in 22 states, and at least 14 deaths at the present time … we and other rail labor Organizations take this issue very seriously, and we have been monitoring it closely,” wrote SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce in a letter to FRA Administrator Ronald J. Batory.

The two union presidents pointedly questioned the FRA’s lack of an action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers.

“As you are likely already aware, over the last several weeks multiple departments within the Department of Transportation … have issued guidelines to employers on how to approach this issue, along with statements and guidelines focused on educating and protecting the crew members, passengers, and consumers who may be impacted by this deadly disease,” the union presidents wrote. “To our knowledge, the FRA has overlooked, or perhaps outright disregarded, its responsibility to get involved with this matter.”

The presidents urged FRA to issue guidelines directed at U.S. rail carriers, employees and passengers similar to those issued by other departments within the DOT.

Those would include:

  • Sanitizing equipment such as (but not limited to) locomotive cabs, computers, remote control boxes and communal areas such as passenger cars, offices, crew staging areas, company provided ground transportation, and away-from-home lodging facilities.
  • Providing crews and passengers with personal protective equipment, alcohol-based hand sanitizer strong enough to kill viruses, and other cleaning supplies as deemed appropriate.
  • Encouraging employees to stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and/or fever) that are similar to those associated with the coronavirus and to leave if they develop such symptoms while working.
  • Strongly encouraging rail carriers to relax current attendance policies which can be described as unforgiving, at best, to employees who miss work due to illness.
  • Educating all rail employees (including supervisory staff) on the appropriate guidelines for self-monitoring of their health, as well as monitoring and addressing others who appear to be symptomatic.
  • Reporting to appropriate health departments where employees have shown aforementioned symptoms that prevent them from carrying out their assigned duties.
  • Developing plans for employees who reside with, and/or come into direct contact with individuals who are symptomatic.
  • Encouraging carriers to develop health programs and practices which exceed FRA’s recommended guidelines.
  • Encouraging all parties to understand and comply with other such guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Presidents Ferguson and Pierce concluded by again urging prompt action from FRA to protect the safety of railroad workers and the traveling public.

“Further, we ask that you provide continual updates to these guidelines, as other departments have done. Please advise of your plans pertaining to this very serious situation,” they wrote.

Read the letter to FRA Administrator Batory.

The SMART-Transportation Division has reached out to the chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) seeking answers as to what the rail industry’s response would be to the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory illness, especially when considering the strict attendance policies of carriers.

This is the first of what will be a number of outreach efforts by the union to transportation stakeholders to protect the health and jobs of SMART-TD members as the illness, commonly known as the coronavirus, spreads.

At present, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other reputable sources report 158 patients being treated in 17 states for the disease, which starts out with respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath and/or fever. In order to prevent the virus’s spread, CDC has recommended that affected workers remain at home.

“As we have discussed on numerous occasions, this philosophy is incongruent with many of the rail carriers’ current attendance policies, which can be described as unforgiving, at best, for employees who miss work due to illness,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson wrote to the NCCC’s Brendan Branon.

Ferguson said that the communications efforts of the NRC/UTU Health and Welfare Plan Governing Committee in conjunction with the Railroad Employees’ National Health and Welfare Plan to inform, educate and help protect members from coronavirus could have a positive impact in stopping the spread of the virus among transportation workers.

However, he asked Branon to map out a more detailed response in cooperation with the governing committee to answer questions about the industry’s response to the virus going forward:

Do the carriers plan to adopt the CDC’s guidelines, specifically, the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), as published on the website?

If the answer is yes, do the carriers plan to relax their current attendance policies for employees who miss work accordingly?

If the answer is no, then what are the carriers’ alternative plans or suggestions?

Do the carriers plan to relax their current attendance policies for employees who miss work as a result of a family member, or someone who resides in the same household, contracting coronavirus or showing such symptoms?

Do the carriers plan to relax their current attendance policies for employees who miss work because they determine that they should be tested for coronavirus?

What steps are the carriers taking, if any, to sanitize the workplace (including but not limited to equipment, company provided transportation and away-from-home lodging facilities, and other common areas such as offices and crew staging areas)?

COVID-19 is easily spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the CDC said. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, CDC said.

Additional outreach is planned by SMART-TD to the federal Department of Transportation, federal Health and Human Services Department, Federal Railroad Administration and the Association of American Railroads.

Read President Ferguson’s letter here.

As president of the SMART Transportation Division and on behalf of General President Joseph Sellers, I want to wish every member happy holidays. We are all one family, and this season is a time when we have our loved ones in our thoughts and on our minds. As your president, your well-being, safety and job security are always on my mind, and I take those responsibilities seriously. Please know that I strive daily to make a difference in protecting you both on and off the job.
With the holiday season upon us, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep the season joyous and free from needless sorrow. Safety is a gift we give our families each and every day, and nothing should be more important.
The twenty-four days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have historically proven to be the deadliest for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other. Unfortunately, this rang true in 2018, when member Jeffery Hague of Local 495 lost his life on Dec. 30, 2018.
Regrettably, we have had a sixty-six (66%) percent increase in switching fatalities in 2019 compared to 2018. These include members Travis “Bowie” Andrepont of Local 1947, Chris Seidl of Local 1227 and most recently Curtis C. “C.C.” McConihay of Local 1386. All lost during rail switching operations. Sadly, all of our fallen members families will never feel the same joy of this season again.
Making a difference in your safety as a bus operator or a railroader has to start with both you and I, as it will take all of us actively working together in this union to succeed. We are already moving forward with plans to change how we all work together on safety-related issues, including the reporting of unsafe conditions, training, and the prevention of injuries.
However, it is imperative that we hear from members in the field about unsafe conditions, be it bus or rail, so we know where to deploy our own investigators and experts to help.
The SMART-TD website will be going through a series of updates in the near future. We will be updating our successful technology failure report and deploying an online unsafe condition and close-call report along with a few others to get you and our office connected on these issues. This will be explained in more detail in a forthcoming announcement.
As a reminder, I have listed the five life-saving tips that the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — have promoted in efforts to bring railroaders home safely to their families. With the recent rollout of Precision Scheduled Railroading, and productivity and profits placed directly ahead of employee safety, it is my belief that the focus on these life-saving rules and practices has been lost from a management standpoint. Therefore, I would ask that you take time to review them now and incorporate them into your daily work routine, especially in this most-dangerous season.
SOFA’s five life-saving tips can save yours, as they have saved countless other railroaders from death and career-ending injuries:

  1. Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  2. Protect employees against moving equipment.
  3. Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  4. Communicate before action is taken.
  5. Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group also warned of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

On behalf of all your international officers, I once again wish you a blessed, safe and happy holiday season.

President, Transportation Division

From left, Local 1409 Legislative Representative Dan Bonawitz Jr., TD Vice President Brent Leonard, Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn, TD President Jeremy Ferguson and Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo participate in an informational picket on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in Kansas City.

General President Joseph Sellers Jr. and TD President Jeremy Ferguson both participated in a town hall meeting and informational rally in Kansas City on Nov. 4 and 5 to draw attention to Union Pacific’s closure of the Neff Yard that resulted in about 200 lost jobs.
The event received local media coverage and was a success, said Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo.
“it was a great event,” Dragoo said. “We had over 170 members there. We’re definitely moving forward.”
More coverage of the event will be forthcoming.