TTD president: Labor needs to stick together to maintain progress

July 9, 2024

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan addresses the opening session of the SMART-TD National Training Seminar.

CLEVELAND — Greg Regan, president of the 37-union coalition Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (AFL-CIO TTD) of which SMART-TD is a member, reminded attendees Tuesday, July 9, that labor’s collective efforts brought the needs of bus, transit, passenger and freight rail to the public eye.

But a change in the country’s leadership could reverse our progress. Labor needs to stick together.

“If you go back three and a half years ago or so, rail labor issues, transit labor issues were kind of hidden. Not a lot of people had a lot of awareness of the issues working people in those industries were facing,” Regan said. “We had rampant problems in the freight rail industry. We had a growing Amtrak service, but people were looking to cut them. Same with commuter rail. In transit we had people being beat up constantly.”

Railroad and transit union campaigns woke people up

Federal lawmakers didn’t begin to take notice until the 2022 national rail labor dispute that brought attention to draconian attendance policies, the lack of paid sick days and the strategies rail carriers were using to ensure record profits for companies.

“People were waking up,” Regan said. “That got an amount of attention that I’ve never seen in a contract dispute where people were on the side of the workers.”

The East Palestine disaster in February 2023 also highlighted the risks to people who live in communities that tracks run through.

“If things go wrong, the consequences can be very severe,” Regan said. “We cannot let federal lawmakers and the administration forget what happens when things go poorly, and we’re pushing.”

Labor’s persistence will be important in getting the Railway Safety Act and other measures passed that protect bus and transit.

“This does not happen without the advocacy of rail labor and the labor movement more broadly,” Regan said. “We are the ones on the ground. We see the problems and we see the opportunities.”

Unions pry the door open for important advances

Labor’s voice has helped to move infrastructure legislation forward that will result in more jobs for unionized labor. Keep the momentum going, press for more service where it is needed. This will eventually create more jobs as well, Regan said.

“When we look at where we can go from here, there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of risk,” Regan said.

Receptive leadership of the federal agencies overseeing the rail and transit industries is in place, Regan said. The current administration listened, and the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration acted to protect union members and improve safety conditions.

“We did that together and we look forward to that, but we can’t do it without the right people in charge,” he said.