The following letter was submitted by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, on behalf of SMART, SMART Transportation Division and a number of other labor unions to the U.S. Department of Transportation and to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

November 8, 2023

Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Acting Administrator Carlson,

We write today to reiterate our grave safety concerns about the expanded testing and operation of automated driving system (ADS)-equipped vehicles. Given the recent surge in both the number of cities operating these vehicles on public streets and the number of crashes and safety incidents involving these vehicles, we urge you to take immediate action to bring long overdue federal leadership to this issue. We applaud the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) recent decision to launch an investigation into pedestrian protection practices at General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle division. But we believe that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must take additional actions to end the unsafe operation of ADS-equipped vehicles on our roads.

As robotaxi and other ADS-equipped projects have expanded, workers have faced increasing safety threats on the job. Firefighters and police have been forced to jump out of the path of driverless taxis moving through emergency cordons. Bikeshare workers have been forced to dodge these vehicles abruptly stopping in bike lanes and crosswalks. Transit and sanitation workers have been boxed in, cut off, and trapped inside their vehicles by driverless cars driving erratically. Construction and maintenance workers, who stand in harm’s way every day on our roads, have seen driverless vehicles pull into construction sites. These safety issues are exacerbated by operational chaos as driverless cars are failing to use public roads in safe, predictable ways.

Let us be clear: ADS-equipped vehicle operations are unsafe and untenable in their current form. This industry is in dire need of federal regulation and leadership to restore a modicum of safety and establish a realistic path for these vehicles to operate without threatening other road users – including those represented by these unions. The DOT and NHTSA should immediately take the following actions – consistent with NHTSA’s mission statement to save lives and prevent injuries through safety standards and enforcement –  to restore confidence in the safety of public roadways everywhere:

  • Issue an updated department-wide Automated Vehicle Policy (AV 5.0) which sets firm expectations for these vehicles and aligns with the Department’s Innovation Principles;
  • Open investigations into Waymo, Zoox, and other operators of for-hire driverless vehicles similar to the already-announced Cruise investigation; and,
  • Update NHTSA’s Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for incidents involving ADS to include a broader range of performance indicators such as driving into construction worksites, violations of police and firefighter cordons, pulling into bicycle lanes or pedestrian crossings, near collisions, and other clear safety issues which may not result in crashes.


While Phoenix was the first city to open its doors to for-hire services provided by driverless cars in 2017, California threw the floodgates wide open in June 2021. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulated commercial licenses in the state, began granting licenses to private companies to operate driverless ADS-equipped vehicles within the city limits of San Francisco. Both cities have seen the fleet of driverless vehicles increase exponentially since then, despite the objections of transportation and planning agenciespolice and firefighters, and concerned citizens. The California licenses were expanded in early 2023 to allow Cruise and Waymo to operate for-profit driverless taxi services 24 hours a day across the entirety of San Francisco. The results have been chaotic and dangerous. There have been crashes, injuries, traffic jamsposed hazards to sanitation workersemergency services delayed, law enforcement confusion, blocking access to crime scenes, recalls, and even the death of a pet.

Following a tragic crash in early October of this year where a Cruise robotaxi dragged a pedestrian 20 feet before coming to a stop, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which regulates motor vehicle safety in the state – having already halved the number of vehicles Cruise could have on the road at any one time following a collision between one of their vehicles and a firetruck – suspended the company’s license entirely. The DMV’s investigation not only found that Cruise’s vehicles failed to meet minimum standards for safe operations, but that the company had also intentionally withheld vital information from regulators. After this damning verdict from the DMV, Cruise voluntarily shut down its driverless operations in other states and today issued a software recall for all of its 950 driverless vehicles.

While Cruise is not currently operating any vehicles without human operators, Waymo, Zoox, and other robotaxi operators continue to use public roads as test sites for driverless vehicles. Many cities, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Austin, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Washington, DC and its suburbs, still have driverless cars operating today. The federal government has provided very little oversight of any of these companies and the result has been a disaster for the residents of these cities. That fact was recently echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Bass in a letter to the CPUC, which states, “To date, local jurisdictions like Los Angeles have had little to no input in AV deployment and are already seeing significant harm and disruption.”[1]

The ongoing problems created by these vehicles (a sampling of which is included as an appendix to this letter) offer a stunning glimpse into the challenges that are inherent both to ADS technology and the real-time testing of ADS technology on our streets without rigorous federal oversight. Moreover, it has offered a preview of what may happen if other states adopt the same approach to driverless ADS-equipped vehicle operations without federal or local safeguards in place. The California example and NHTSA’s recent investigation into Cruise show that it is time for the DOT to step up its regulatory authority to ensure these vehicles are being operated responsibly and with the serious oversight they require.

Update Department Wide Automated Vehicle Policy at DOT

Transportation unions have repeatedly called on the DOT to take proactive steps to regulate the safety of ADS vehicle operations through direct correspondences and regulatory filings.[2] Most recently, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters released their “Autonomous Vehicle Federal Policy Principles”, calling for comprehensive federal action. In response to the DOT’s latest request for comments on the topic, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) called on the DOT to reject the Trump Administration’s hands-off approach to regulating automated vehicles (AVs), and develop a safety-focused approach that ensures the well-being of road users and the larger transportation system. As noted in TTD’s regulatory filing:

“Any framework for automated vehicles must lay the groundwork for true regulatory oversight. The [Framework for Automated Driving System Safety] entirely fails to meet this standard; instead it turns over the authority to regulate to the industry itself… In the absence of federal leadership, automated vehicles are operating across the country with very little oversight. The approach is not based on safety; it is based on deregulation and corporate interests.”

Sadly, we are now seeing first-hand the catastrophic results of a failure to take these threats seriously. It is past time that the DOT recognized the deep shortcomings of the current departmental AV policies, and that they develop an updated, comprehensive, safety-focused framework for ADS. That framework must offer clear direction that the era of self-regulation by this industry is over to help combat the dangerous state-by-state patchwork of policies that has emerged in the absence of serious federal oversight. It must also hold true to the vision espoused in the Department’s Innovation Principles, namely by ensuring that safety and job creation are the main goals of ADS development. The first step towards ensuring the safe operation of these vehicles is setting a safe operating standard at the federal level.

In developing an updated policy, the DOT and its sub-agencies should thoroughly review and identify their regulatory and oversight authorities to ensure that driverless ADS-equipped vehicles are operating safely, as well as identify clear steps to hold manufacturers or operators of driverless ADS-equipped vehicles accountable when they operate in unexpected or unsafe ways on public streets. We believe that the DOT has more power in this area than it has previously exercised.

Open Full Investigations into Driverless Vehicle Operators to Ensure the Industry’s Current Practices are Safe and Transparent

While NHTSA’s investigation into incidents involving Cruise vehicles is welcomed, NHTSA must also recognize that vehicles being operated by other manufacturers have been publicly identified in similarly dangerous incidents. Waymo, Zoox, Beep, and other companies that are operating or planning to operate driverless ADS-equipped vehicles present identical performance concerns. Given the widespread, ongoing, and increasing number of incidents caused by ADS-equipped vehicles, NHTSA must initiate an industry-wide investigation to determine the true extent of the safety failures behind the scenes. Put simply, we do not believe that Cruise is the most concerning driverless operator, but rather that current circumstances highlighted their mounting safety failures first.

Furthermore, we are concerned about the lack of safety culture at driverless vehicle companies. As the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has previously identified, the “fail fast, fail hard” approach taken by many technology companies is anathema to safety. This is best exemplified by a recent report that Cruise knew that its robotaxis had problems recognizing children, but still chose to keep them on public roads.[3] The DOT would never tolerate such a philosophy in airline, rail, or transit safety, and it should not tolerate it in a nascent industry utilizing our public roads to test their products. A full investigation of the industry will reveal which operators are honoring the basic trust of the American public when it comes to safety and which are basing key safety decisions on the unmet promises of their own marketing materials.

Finally, while NHTSA continues its investigation of GM/Cruise, it would be contradictory for the agency to simultaneously provide GM/Cruise greater deference and authority by granting a petition to allow the companies to operate an FMVSS-exempted vehicle, the Cruise Origin. Given GM/Cruise’s behavior operating a less advanced vehicle, granting its pending petition would be deeply irresponsible and inappropriate.

Ensure NHTSA has the relevant data necessary to oversee the industry

Lastly, we call on NHTSA to amend the Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for incidents involving ADS and Level 2 ADAS (Standing General Order 2021-01, Second Amended) to require data reporting for incidents that are not strictly limited to crashes. Specifically, the Standing General Order should be amended to require data on any incident in which an automated vehicle encounters any significant deviation from expected performance – including malfunctions, degradations, remote human interventions, clustering and connectivity incidents or reversion to a minimal-risk condition. Reporting requirements should be expanded to include any additional data deemed necessary by NHTSA or the Secretary to more accurately track and analyze the fitness of those vehicles to safely operate on public roads, and the potential for unexpected behavior to result in a crash or to pose serious safety threats to road users, and safety threats or interruption of normal operations to transportation, public service, and emergency response workers.

We align ourselves with the February 28, 2023 letter to NHTSA from Representatives Schakowsky, Castor, and Trahan, which called for further transparency, data, and compliance reforms to the Standing General Order.[4] In particular, we agree that incident data must be standardized and that more information – including incident location and whether the vehicle was operating within its operational design domain – should be made available to the public without redaction. We also agree that incomplete incident reports are unacceptable and must include the factors mentioned above, including roadway condition, speed, and other factors, along with independent analysis including police reports and visual evidence. Lastly, we concur that non-compliance with the Standing General Order must result in NHTSA promptly and decisively exercising its statutory authority to rectify the issue.

It is a troubling fact that social media outlets are currently better informed as to the safety of these vehicles than the federal government. Many unions applauded NHTSA for issuing the Standing General Order two years ago as an essential initial step on data collection, but it must not be the last step on this path. Updating the Order to account for the past two years of experience will ensure safety regulators have a realistic, dispassionate picture of this industry’s record.

The safety of workers and road users remains paramount to labor’s concerns about driverless ADS-equipped vehicles. A federal safety-focused regulatory response to their operation on public roads is long overdue and necessary before NHTSA green lights any type of demonstration project such as the agency has indicated it will do with AV STEP. We urge you to give these recommendations the serious consideration they are due and we look forward to your prompt response.


Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD)
Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)
International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA)
Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (SUP)
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)
SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P)
Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA)
International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
United Auto Workers (UAW)
Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU)
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
International Association of Ironworkers (IW)
American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)
Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED)
Transportation Communications International Union (TCU)

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson issued the following statement on Feb. 21:

“The greatest threat to the American railroad industry and the communities with which it intersects is Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The changes PSR has brought since its inception in 2017 have only served to make executives and Wall Street shareholders richer, while the risk to employees and the public has become greater.

“The derailment that occurred in East Palestine was predictable and preventable. Unfortunately, financially driven equations, like the operating ratio, have caused rail carriers to abandon fundamentally sound practices for haphazard, inherently dangerous, impetuous movements of freight and locomotives across America’s rail system — all in the pursuit of increasing the bottom line. This is neither responsible nor sustainable, and we are now seeing the reality of this fact coming into fruition.

“Because of PSR, we find ourselves in an era of exponential increases to train length, less consideration to train make-up or construction, the desire to reduce crew size and introduce automation, the reduction in frequency and quality of inspections to equipment and infrastructure, and the permissibility of railroads to self-report and self-police — none of which are consistent with safety.

“Now is not the time to introduce more technology but rather to focus on the fundamental changes needed to reverse railroading’s dangerous trajectory. Now is the time to put an end to PSR.

“While our hearts break for the people of East Palestine, Ohio, we are thankful that our calls for meaningful oversight are finally being heard. We look forward to working with President Biden and the Department of Transportation to get this right. The catastrophe in Ohio and Pennsylvania demands that we get this right.

“We stand willing and ready to do just that.”

Secretary Buttigieg’s letter is available here.

Good labor relations with elected officials can be summed up by knowing that the people who represent us in our state legislatures and Washington D.C. are familiar with our needs and concerns, and that they keep us informed on what is going on in their committee meetings and about legislation that might affect our membership.

Great labor relationships are when elected officials value our opinion and actively seek it out to help decide their votes and what legislation they write to bend the actions of government to the best interests of our membership. The latter is what is happening in Kansas under the leadership of State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo (Local 1503, Marysville, Kan).

In February of this year, Brother Dragoo was chosen to introduce Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kans., Dist.-3) at an event discussing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (previously known as the IIJA — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). This was a great showcase of the role that SMART plays in the labor community of the state. What’s more important is that on October 19, Secretary Buttigieg came back to the state to hold a series of events and round table discussions about how to move forward and Brother Dragoo was brought into the thinktank to be consulted. 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh meets Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo on Oct. 19 in Kansas.

Along with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Secretary Buttigieg and Rep. Davids, SLD Dragoo helped form discussions surrounding the implementation of federal dollars in both Kansas and nationwide. In one of the multiple events of the day, SLD Dragoo was the only representative of the labor community at the table with the White House contingent along with a handful of contractors. Brother Dragoo’s role in these important discussions is indicative of the expanding role SMART-TD is playing in recent days when it comes to forming public policy.

When asked about the day’s events, Brother Dragoo described how refreshing it is to be treated as a contributing player of the team rather than being viewed as an opponent. He went on to say that the access that our union has been given to the Biden team is unprecedented in his 12 years as the SLD of Kansas. 

In his words, “With past administrations, labor was considered and given a spot at the table on some issues, but with the Biden administration, the meeting doesn’t happen unless labor is represented.” 

Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, left, meets with federal Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Oct. 19 in Kansas.

The emphasis the administration has placed on labor has given SMART added clout with Congress as well. SLD Dragoo receives calls weekly from Davids to discuss upcoming votes she has and how to best represent SMART members in Kansas.

“It’s this kind of a productive relationship that allows us to create a better future for our members,” Dragoo said. 

In the past year, Kansas has seen the fruits of these relationships in the form of 26 newly funded projects for the Kansas Department of Transportation. These projects are beneficial to Transportation Division and Sheet Metal members alike.

It’s said that change is inevitable, and it’s up to you whether you merely react to that change or if you become the agent of it. SLD Dragoo and SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department have positioned themselves well to have a big hand in what is to come in Kansas as well as in the rest of the country. 

“SMART really has become the leader of labor in Kansas,” Dragoo emphasized. “With continued support from SMART members, we can create better careers and a better country for all of us.”

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (February 1, 2022) — By letter dated January 31, 2022, SMART-TD and the BLET are seeking review by both the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Transportation of all Class I attendance policies. In a joint letter to Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce ask the secretaries to immediately investigate all carrier attendance policies that refuse to provide exceptions for fatigue-related absences, as well as those that refuse to provide exceptions for illness-related absences.

Referencing the most recent “Hi-Viz” policy on BNSF set to go into effect today, the presidents said: “The new policy also potentially subjects employees to disciplinary action when they request time off because they are ill or when they need to tend to sick family members. This includes time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as this policy disincentivizes employees from utilizing this protected leave by prohibiting ‘Good Attendance Credit’ from ever being gained because of its use.”

Addressing fatigue concerns, the presidents said: “The only tool these engineers and trainmen have to prepare for their unscheduled work shifts are so-called ‘train lineups,’ which are managed solely by the railroad. Moreover, BNSF has openly admitted that the quality of these lineups and the related predictability for the on-duty times is far from adequate. As a result, engineers and trainmen are routinely called for duty without having any knowledge or awareness of the potential for work (at that particular time), thus subsequently preventing them from the ability to be physically rested prior to their being called to work. For example, it is commonplace for these employees to be suddenly called into work for an evening shift when they didn’t expect to be called in until the morning according to the available train lineups. Under BNSF’s new Hi-Viz policy, even though they may be fatigued, they are not allowed to refuse the unpredicted call for duty without potentially being subjected to employer discipline, up to and including dismissal. Forcing these employees to choose between their job or their safety in the workplace is in complete contradiction to BNSF’s obligation to protect public safety and to provide a safe workplace environment.”

The presidents said the harsh policies fly in the face of railroad safety laws and government regulations. The policies also would negatively impact already-diminished workforce staffing and would contribute to an increase in the “already historic levels of mid-career resignations.”

President Ferguson and President Pierce concluded: “It is imperative that the Department of Transportation and Department of Labor act to address this most egregious railroad policy, as well as those implemented by NS, CSX, Union Pacific, and any other railroad with similar policies. The safety and health of the engineers and trainmen who are employed at BNSF, and the safety of the general public, stands in the balance.”

Read the presidents’ letter to the DOT and DOL secretaries.


The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.
Dear Secretary Chao:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry[1], I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.[2]
Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.
While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.
These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.[3] [4] The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.
As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage.[5] DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines [6] and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations.[7] Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.
Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them.[8] In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. [9]
Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive.[10] While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.
This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.
However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.
We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.”[11] In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.
Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”. [12] The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.
While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.
In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:
“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.
We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.
While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”
To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.


Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department

PDF Version
[1] Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.
[2] To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.
[5] TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.
[6] For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01
[7] For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators
[8] Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.
[9] Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.
[10] Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.
[11] 71 FR 8042

The U.S. Department of Transportation clarified what is classified as marijuana for testing purposes in a release dated Feb. 18, 2020. Below is the release from DOT.


The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334, (Farm Bill) removed hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Under the Farm Bill, hemp-derived products containing a concentration of up to 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are not controlled substances. THC is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Any product, including “Cannabidiol” (CBD) products, with a concentration of more than 0.3% THC remains classified as marijuana, a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
We have had inquiries about whether the Department of Transportation-regulated safety-sensitive employees can use CBD products. Safety-sensitive employees who are subject to drug testing specified under 49 CFR part 40 (Part 40) include: pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, transit vehicle operators, aircraft maintenance personnel, fire-armed transit security personnel, ship captains and pipeline emergency response personnel, among others.
It is important for all employers and safety-sensitive employees to know:

  1. The Department of Transportation requires testing for marijuana and not CBD.
  2. The labeling of many CBD products may be misleading because the products could contain higher levels of THC than what the product label states. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently certify the levels of THC in CBD products, so there is no federal oversight to ensure that the labels are accurate. The FDA has cautioned the public that: “Consumers should beware purchasing and using any [CBD] products.” The FDA has stated: “It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.”* Also, the FDA has issued several warning letters to companies because their products contained more CBD than indicated on the product label. **[i]
  3. The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation, Part 40, does not authorize the use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, for any reason. Furthermore, CBD use is not a legitimate medical explanation for a laboratory-confirmed marijuana positive result. Therefore, Medical Review Officers will verify a drug test confirmed at the appropriate cutoffs as positive, even if an employee claims they only used a CBD product.

It remains unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to the Department of Transportation’s drug testing regulations to use marijuana. Since the use of CBD products could lead to a positive drug test result, Department of Transportation-regulated safety-sensitive employees should exercise caution when considering whether to use CBD products.
The contents of this document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies. This policy and compliance notice is not legally binding in its own right and will not be relied upon by the Department as a separate basis for affirmative enforcement action or other administrative penalty. Conformity with this policy and compliance notice is voluntary only and nonconformity will not affect rights and obligations under existing statutes and regulations. Safety-sensitive employees must continue to comply with the underlying regulatory requirements for drug testing, specified at 49 CFR part 40.
[i]* What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD: The FDA is working to answer questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD.” **
· ODAPC CBD Notice.pdf

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has launched a web page that provides information about the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database to be launched in early January 2020.
The database’s purpose is to track and identify “drivers who are not legally permitted to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) due to drug and alcohol program violations,” the FMCSA said.
In 2012, Congress directed the secretary of transportation to establish a national clearinghouse containing commercial motor vehicle operators’ violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program in Section 32402 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). This rule implements that mandate and responds to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.
FMCSA says on the website that registration with the database will open in the fall and all operators who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial driver’s permit (CLP) must comply with the requirement in order to continue working in a safety-sensitive role.
More information, including frequently asked questions, is available at the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse website.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, April 10, tasks the Federal Department of Transportation with creating a new rule in a little more than three months’ time that permits super-cooled liquid natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail.
“The Secretary of Transportation shall propose for notice and comment a rule, no later than 100 days after the date of this order, that would treat LNG the same as other cryogenic liquids and permit LNG to be transported in approved rail tank cars,” the order states. “The Secretary shall finalize such rulemaking no later than 13 months after the date of this order.”
Natural gas trade and rail carrier groups have lobbied for years for the ability to supply LNG to the northeastern U.S. via rail. Current Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety rules do not allow the transport of LNG in rail tanker cars.
It is transported by truck and pipelines with one exception — Alaska Railroad was given a special authorization in 2015 to transport LNG by rail in portable containers transported on flatcars, Bloomberg News reports.
Read a Bloomberg News article on the order.
Read the executive order.

triple_trailerWASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory A. Booker (D-N.J) with U.S. Representatives James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) March 26 wrote to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx, urging him to review results of a 2012 DOT study on the impact of heavy commercial trucks on the nation’s roads and highways prior to publicly releasing the study results, noting their concerns with the study’s methodology and data.

“The deteriorating nature of our infrastructure can hardly be overstated. As the administration noted in its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016, ‘65 percent of America’s roads are rated in less than good condition,’” they wrote. “DOT has taken several steps to conduct the study, and we appreciate DOT’s focus on the issue…as we noted in letters last Congress, there appeared to be conflicts of interest in the selection of the study’s contractor and the bases of its findings on flawed data and poor methodology. These issues must be addressed and corrected.”

“It is troubling that DOT could release a study that recommends bigger, heavier trucks that will lead to more potholes and even greater problems – like safety risks, environmental damage, and economic harm – not to mention higher expenses to maintain our infrastructure. For these and so many other reasons, DOT needs to fix the fatal flaws inherent in the study that is now underway.”

Read the complete letter here.