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Washington State Labor AFL-CIO Resolutions On Mass Public Transit, Railroad Health and Safety

By staff - Washington State Labor Council, July 27, 2016

Every year, delegates to the Washington State Labor Council convention discuss, deliberate and act on resolutions submitted by the affiliated union locals and councils. These resolutions establish policy, programs and action for the WSLC. The following were passed by delegates at the WSLC’s 2016 Convention held July 19-21 at the Coast Wenatchee Hotel and Convention Center.

The following resolutions specifically address matters of transportation workers. See the original post for a complete list of resolutions passed:


Resolution #7

WHEREAS the Greater Puget Sound Region’s traffic is the sixth worst in the country, the average driver losing 66 hours of his or her life each year due to gridlock; and

WHEREAS, relief from gridlock will get major help from the bold Sound Transit 3 plan (ST3) announced by Sound Transit, to go before the voters of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties this November; and

WHEREAS, ST3 will greatly expand mass transit in the Puget Sound region adding 62 miles of light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit, to the existing Sound Transit System and upon completion of ST3 we will have 116 miles of light rail — about the size Washington, D.C.’s Metro System — extending from Tacoma in the South, West Seattle and Ballard to the West, Issaquah and Redmond to the East, and Everett to the North; and

WHEREAS, ST3 will be a $54 billion infrastructure project creating about 50 million labor hours providing many tens of thousands of building and construction jobs and great opportunities for local hire and for new, young apprentices to join the trades and few years into the project and ST-3 will account for over 1 in 10 construction jobs through both good and bad economic cycles; and

WHEREAS, the wages from these jobs will be spent locally giving an economic boost to businesses in the region and bringing much needed tax revenue into state and local governments; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the WA State Labor Council support the Mass Transit Now campaign to pass ST3 this November; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC engage with affiliated unions and community partners to endorse Mass Transit Now and pass ST3.


Resolution #26

WHEREAS, railroads in Washington State employ over 2,700 operating craft workers who perform work aboard moving trains; and

WHEREAS, railroad operations require that railroad operating crews be transported to and from trains and in deadhead transportation all across our state on a 24/7/365 basis in all weather conditions, on public roads and highways as well as in rural areas on private unpaved roads and trails; and

WHEREAS, railroads once provided such transportation services in-house subject to state regulation, with a staff of unionized and qualified clerks who functioned as drivers; in the late 1980’s the railroad companies eliminated these workers and outsourced these services to unregulated, out of state, lowest bid contract operators, after which the safety of rail crew transportation has continuously declined, while accidents and injuries increased; and

WHEREAS, three rail employees died and another was critically injured in a tragic needless accident near Longview, WA. in March of 2011, while occupying a crew hauling transport van operated by a non-railroad contract company which was struck by a moving train at a private crossing on railroad property; and

WHEREAS, our legislature has failed for four consecutive years to pass legislation to address these problems, resulting in a continuing occurrence of railroad crew fatalities and accidents in contracted transportation vehicles, including the following:

• On May 1, 2013 an accident occurred about 10 miles N. of Pasco, WA. A Crew was in route from Spokane to Pasco – when an accident occurred involving the crew van being sandwiched between two semis. All the occupants were injured – one was off work for many months.
• On October 10, 2013, at 8:00 a.m., a crew transport van with four railroad crew members was traveling from Pasco, WA, to Vancouver, WA, on I-84 when the driver drove off the road near Hood River, OR, injuring two of the four railroad employees. The driver has been charged with reckless driving, and it has been reported that one of employees was injured so severely that he will never be able to return to work on the railroad.
• On November 13, 2013, a driver was assigned to pick up a rail crew at a rural siding near Pasco, WA. The driver, proceeding at 50 mph in dense fog, failed to slow down and stop at a “T” intersection, driving through the intersection, off the road, and into a field. All railroad crewmembers riding in the van were injured.
• On February 21, 2014, at approximately 9:15 a.m., crew van #711, operated by QM Shuttle Services, was nearly struck by a southbound Amtrak train in Burlington, WA. The van had just dropped off a BNSF rail crew at a nearby location. The Amtrak engineer reported that the crew van backed off the tracks just a split second before they would have collided; and
• On September 18, 2015 – A PTI van transporting crews (4 passengers) from Pasco yard was attempting to make left turn across the opposing lane of traffic (in a 65 mph zone), they were stopped waiting for traffic to clear in opposing lane – a vehicle in opposite lane struck the crew van as it turned in a T-bone collision. Two of the injured crew members are in litigation.
• On January 20, 2016 a PTI crew van transporting a Washington state crew traveling between Vancouver, WA and Pasco, WA was rear ended by a semi in Portland, OR. None of the railroad employee passengers have yet returned to work. One member suffered cracked vertebrae and will never be able to return to work. After the accident, the PTI crew van driver tested positive for both alcohol and drugs; and
WHEREAS, railroad contract crew transportation operations have contributed to many other injurious accidents affecting railroad workers including the loss of many railroad careers; and

WHEREAS, these out-of-state contract operators pay their drivers poverty wages based on waiting times and mileage, resulting in extremely high turnover rates; fail to ensure that their drivers are physically able to perform the duties of the job, nor are drivers screened for adequate vision; are not required to meet DOT driver physical standards; do not adequately check their drivers’ backgrounds for criminal histories and drug or alcohol-related issues; do not require drivers to demonstrate a working knowledge of safe driving practices associated with transporting rail crews in all weather conditions on a round the clock basis; do not ensure that their drivers are properly trained for the hazards associated with driving around and near railroad operations; do not implement specific route training and familiarization; and do not have adequate driver fatigue abatement practices; and

WHEREAS, in December 2014 a Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission inspection revealed 188 Administrative Code Violations resulting in the assessment of a civil penalty of $18,800 against Professional Transportation Inc. (PTI) the primary railroad crew transportation contractor operating in our state, and

WHEREAS, in June 2016, a Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission compliance follow-up inspection discovered that PTI had committed yet another 324 new Administrative Code Violations resulting in the assessment of a civil penalty of $170,900 against PTI; and

WHEREAS, railroad employees are not covered or protected under state labor and industry coverage while working; instead rail workplace injuries fall under the Federal Employers Liability Act of 1908, in which rail worker injury protection hinges entirely on fault. This creates a unique absence of protection affecting no other workers in Washington State except railroad employees when injured while riding in employer provided transportation. In rail crew transportation accidents that are the fault of third parties, with no fault on the part of the railroad, the contract crew hauling firm or their driver, a railroad worker has minimal to no coverage and may have no recourse even in the most critical or deadly accidents; and

WHEREAS, the BNSF Railway Company and the Union Pacific Railroad continue to steadfastly oppose any efforts to require their contractors to maintain adequate uninsured motorist insurance coverage to provide adequate protection for rail workers, or increase state oversight into these largely unregulated operations, or increase the minimum qualification of such drivers; and

WHEREAS, the railroad companies have engaged in a despicable ongoing campaign of misinformation, deceit, and misrepresentation in order to block passage of this critical legislation, including issuing completely false assertions that through this legislation our rail labor organizations are seeking only to unionize the contract van drivers and put the van transportation companies out of business; and

WHEREAS, such contract van services utilized by the railroads operate with minimal regulation or government oversight, and the drivers for these service companies have no requisite training or requirements greater than any other private non-commercial licensed drivers; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Washington State Labor Council strongly supports, endorses and demands the immediate enactment of Railroad Contract Crew Transportation Safety legislation that imposes a minimum uninsured motorist insurance requirement sufficient to protect a full vehicle of employees in a catastrophic accident, requires such drivers possess and maintain commercial driver’s licenses, and provides appropriate state agencies will full safety enforcement authority over these contract operators to ensure safe transportation for passengers; and we hereby strongly encourage the passage of this legislation within our 2017 Washington State Labor Council Legislative Agenda; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the Washington State Labor Council send a copy of this resolution to all members of the legislature.


Resolution #27

WHEREAS, the fiery crash of an oil train in Mosier, Oregon along the Columbia River on June 3 places a heightened focus on the safety challenges posed by Crude by Rail shipments. The Mosier derailment resulted in forced evacuations, a regional first-responder alert, and shutdown of a wastewater treatment facility polluted by spilled oil. Fate was on the side of Mosier as unusually calm winds aided in containing and controlling the oil fire; and

WHEREAS, significant oil train derailments leading to spills, and some to fires, have totaled over twenty-five in North America over the past 10 years with the Lac Megantic’, Canada disaster of 2013 the most devastating: 47 people incinerated; and

WHEREAS, in years past as crude by rail dominated capacity as the profit generators for the railroad, ports and agricultural producers faced increased delays in getting other food related commodities to market. Additionally, knee jerk manpower reductions by efficiency fixated rail management resulted in crew shortages that further impacted rail capacity. Now that energy prices are lower, many railroads have furloughed recently hired workers and mothballed locomotives waiting for the next commodity surge to fill capacity; and

WHEREAS, railroad labor whistleblowers have brought many railroad carrier operational and safety shortfalls into the public spotlight, there is a long way to go in improving rail worker safety. Minimum, mandatory two-person train crews are essential, crew fatigue issues must be addressed, and adequate and available rail crews who are properly trained and maintained are essential; and

WHEREAS, by illuminating the pitfalls of dangerous commodity transportation, other opportunities can be progressed demonstrating the vital importance of modern infrastructure to improve upon the overall plight of all workers; and

WHEREAS, within organized labor, most support improvements and upgrades to infrastructure and recognize the importance trade has to the Washington State economy. However, improved bulk commodity infrastructure has drawn the wrath of many because of the commodities that are shipped today. We believe rail and trade modernization opportunities made today are essential in attracting the trade commodities of tomorrow; and

WHEREAS, a strategy for rail line electrification provides an opportunity to create an even more sustainable transportation mode and a pathway for providing economic options beyond diesel power. The Solutionary Rail concept provides a transition strategy that leverages rail’s unique capacity among long-haul transportation modes to operate on electricity, unlike many other modalities. Solutionary Rail centers on electrification of major rail lines using renewable energy; and

WHEREAS, in conjunction with a program of track modernization, the Solutionary Rail concept would enable increased speeds, capacity and reliability. It is not a proposal for high-speed passenger rail that must run on its own line. Rather, it is for practical increases in speeds, attracting back freight cargo and passenger services previously lost, and would modernized existing rail line to carry both; and

WHEREAS, by providing a low-carbon transportation option, the Solutionary Rail proposition would provide significant climate benefits. Rail electrification could also be leveraged to create transmission corridors for renewable resources now stranded by lack of capacity, providing even greater carbon reductions; and

WHEREAS, the Solutionary Rail team developed a concept to overcome these hurdles, a Steel Interstate Development Authority (SIDA) created by an alliance of state governments. The SIDA raises funds in public capital markets and joins in public-private partnerships with railroad companies to erect electrification infrastructure and potentially fund track upgrades; and

WHEREAS, Solutionary Rail proposes a demonstration on one major line to jumpstart rail electrification in the U.S. The team has identified the BNSF “Hi-Line” corridor for initial rollout of the concept. It is the intermodal line from Seattle to Chicago on which higher speed is critical and it also runs through some of the most wind-rich regions in the world; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that to further the concept, the Washington State Labor Council calls on Governor Inslee to direct the Washington State Department of Transportation and other appropriate state agencies to evaluate the feasibility of the Solutionary Rail proposal and to bring the general concept of rail corridor electrification, powered by renewable energy, into the broader “green” industrial transportation system.


Resolution #28

WHEREAS, railroads are a vital infrastructure and industry in Washington State, critical to commerce and the economy; and

WHEREAS, the economic vitality of Washington State is predicated on safe, viable rail networks with adequate capacity to provide freight service for our ports, aerospace industry, maritime cluster, agriculture, and other businesses, as well as adequate capacity for passenger rail; and

WHEREAS, railroads employ over 5,000 unionized workers in Washington State and provide stable, family-wage jobs with premium healthcare benefits and retirements; and

WHEREAS, significant and serious safety concerns currently exist regarding railroad operations and infrastructure in Washington State, which affect rail union members in various job crafts and which when combined create a hazardous workplace that also affects public safety, including the following:

• Insufficient and/or poorly maintained walking surfaces, footpaths, and rail yard walkways utilized by railroad crews for safety inspections of trains and other safety-related duties;
• Poor lighting conditions in and around rail yards;
• Lack of maintenance of critical rail appliances and infrastructure, including switches and derails lacking proper ergonomic standards or any physical operational force requirement standards;
• Unregulated contractors providing transportation services for railroad workers;
• Lack of any Hours of Service laws or regulations for the craft of yardmasters, who are the “rail traffic controllers” of train yards;
• No minimum train crew size requirements;
• Draconian attendance and outrageous availability policies contributing to an epidemic of chronic long term fatigue among most railroad workers,
• No paid sick leave while subjecting workers to severe discipline and or termination for illness or injuries to themselves or their families,
WHEREAS, railroad yardmasters, who control train movements in and around the various rail terminals and facilities, are not protected by the Federal Railroad Hours of Service laws, which limit the number of consecutive hours other railroad employees can work to 12, with no less than 10 hours between shifts; and

WHEREAS, many railroad yardmasters are forced to perform service for 16-hour shifts, with only 8 hours off between shifts, creating dangerous sleep deprivation situations that endanger the lives and safety of the rail workers they are supervising, the public and themselves; and

WHEREAS, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) inadvertently requested that its own legislative authority over railroad safety be repealed (RCW 81.44.065) in 2007, which has resulted in confusion as to which state agency has authority over various aspects of railroad safety and/or which department is empowered to enforce assorted railroad safety regulations, so that four state agencies and ten local governments have different facets of rail regulatory authority; and

WHEREAS, adoption and aggressive enforcement of railroad safety regulations is critical to ensure public and workplace safety, and such authority should be coordinated by one state agency; and

WHEREAS, a clear determination of which state agency will be ultimately entrusted with most all railroad safety regulatory and enforcement authority must be made; now, therefore, be it

WHEREAS, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC), at its 2016 convention, supported and endorsed the following legislative efforts related to railroad workplace and public safety:

• HB 1284/SB 5696, seeking adoption of state regulatory authority, equivalent to the Federal Hours of Service Laws that now cover railroad operating craft personnel, for Class I railroad yardmasters working in the State of Washington; and
• Continued progress in consolidation all of State of Washington railroad public and workplace safety and regulatory functions possible under a single agency, the WUTC; and providing this agency with the maximum regulatory authority over railroads permissible under federal law, as well as providing adequate funding, which includes additional inspectors with federalized rail enforcement authority; and
• Adoption of legislation insuring the availability of safe sick leave usage by employees in Washington State who work for transportation carriers regulated by the Surface Transportation Board, and
• HB 1809/SB 5697, seeking adoption of a minimum, mandatory railroad crew size of no fewer than two qualified operating craft employees on all trains and railroads operating in Washington State, and requiring additional crewmembers required on trains containing high risk volatile hazardous materials to be positioned on the rear end of such trains so they can monitor the cargo as well as respond to any incident or emergency; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the WSLC recognizes that crude shipments by rail pose a real and potentially deadly threat to both rail workers and the public, and strongly urges the Washington State Legislature to work in close cooperation with rail labor organizations to critically examine all aspects of crude-by-rail operations; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC supports and urges the Washington State Legislature, as well as all Washington State agencies having such authority, to develop a coordinated, consolidated, expanded, and effective rail regulatory and enforcement program for the purpose of ensuring increased protection of both railroad workers and the public; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the WSLC hereby determines that the resolution of these critical railroad public and employee safety issues and the passage of this legislation with any newly issued bill numbers with equivalent meaning and intent shall again be a part of, and a priority in, the 2017 Washington State Labor Council’s legislative agenda.


Resolution #29

WHEREAS, over the past 50 years, US railroads have continuously pursued a reduction in the size of crews operating trains, from six persons down to the current negotiated minimum of two crew members on through freight services; and

WHEREAS, in 1967 Washington State repealed a long-standing law requiring a minimum of six persons on all trains operating within our state, and since that time no standard minimum train crew size requirements have been enacted; and

WHEREAS, the elimination of crew members down to the current negotiated minimum of only two has created a situation that significantly reduces the years of on-the-job experience formerly available on larger crews, which had allowed crew members to develop their skills, knowledge, and territorial familiarity; this has resulted in a scenario where new and inexperienced train crews are now operating trains without seasoned, well-qualified persons, to the detriment of the safety of the public and the employees alike; and

WHEREAS, railroad operational requirements require that train crews perform numerous tasks while concurrently operating moving trains, which the National Transportation Safety Board has labeled “task saturation,” which can result in crews overlooking specific actions related to safe train operation; and

WHEREAS, technology, while improving the safe movement of trains, cannot replace the safety and security of train crews consisting of a minimum of two qualified persons, the presence of which provides additional safeguards, including the ability of crew members to cross-check and verify each other’s actions and activities while operating trains, to adequately respond to accidents and critical incidents, as well as the capability to separate rail cars at crossings to allow emergency responders to cross tracks which is a function which cannot be performed by one person; and

WHEREAS, on July 6, 2013, a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic freight train, staffed by only one crew member, was left unattended and inadequately secured and therefore rolled away, resulting in a major derailment of hazardous oil that caught fire, killing 47 people and causing catastrophic destruction to the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada; and

WHEREAS, between July 24, 2013 and June 28th, 2016 there have been 27 major railroad accidents involving hundreds of death, countless injuries, explosions, fires and environmental damage; and

WHEREAS, on June 3, 2016 a Union Pacific oil train with 96 carloads of flammable crude oil derailed in Mosier, OR. on the south side of the Columbia River Gorge while moving at 26 mph, resulting in an oil leak and fire involving four railcars, and resulting in the evacuation of the town for several days; and

WHEREAS, crude oil and hazardous material shipments by rail have increased exponentially in recent years, outpacing rail capacity; first-responder training and state spill response planning are inadequate; and railroad crew fatigue abatement programs are nonexistent, creating public safety and environmental concerns; and

WHEREAS, chronic fatigue is epidemic on US railroads, due to operational requirements that include no regular working schedule for crew members, as well as intentional underemployment policies by the carriers, through which they maximize profits at the expense of public and employee safety, requiring crew members to return to work immediately after the minimum required federal rest has expired; and

WHEREAS, rail carriers have recently imposed draconian attendance policies that punish railroad employees who attempt to take additional time off for rest or family matters, resulting in train crew members reporting for work even when they know they are not rested and ready for duty, creating a serious employee and public safety risk; and

WHEREAS, in 2014 the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad proposed that freight train crew sizes be reduced to just one person: the locomotive engineer, who would be alone in the locomotive cab and working frequently for time periods as long as 12 hours, the proposal was rejected by a margin of 83% of rail labor union members voting; and

WHEREAS, Transport Canada, the equivalent of the US Department of Transportation, now requires all trains moving hazardous materials to have a crew of no fewer than two persons, it being recognized that train crews should consist of at least two qualified employees, due to the large number of tasks required of such employees in order to operate a train safely; and

WHEREAS, when considering railroad safety and hazardous commodity train safety, it is irresponsible and illogical to ignore train crew size issues and rail crew response capabilities when considering methods and legislation to increase train safety, as the two are intertwined and inseparable; now, therefore, be it

WHEREAS, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC), at its 2014 convention, in the interest of public safety and employee safety, passed a resolution to steadfastly oppose any actions to permit one-person train crew operations on Class I railroads operating in our state and elsewhere; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC supports and fervently urges the Washington State Legislature to enact proposed legislation prohibiting one-person train crew operations which are already operating in our state on short-line railroads to the detriment of public safety, and enact minimum two person crew size requirement on all trains both passenger and freight; and be it further

RESOLVED, on trains consisting of large quantities of commodities of highly volatile, flammable, explosive or radioactive materials that additional qualified train crew members be required to be positioned on the rear of these trains to provide constant and ongoing inspection and monitoring of the transportation of such hazardous cargo; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the placement of additional qualified crewmembers provides the public and our communities with additional levels of safety on trains transporting dangerous commodities, additional crew members ensures train crews are in a position to recognize and respond quickly to any trouble that may occur in route, as well as being available to separate the train quickly if necessary as well as quickly cut grade crossings for emergency response vehicles who may need to the cross tracks to respond to any emergencies; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC supports and advocates that members of our congressional delegation cosponsor and work to pass HR 1763 the Safe Freight Act, which would require all trains operating in the United States to be staffed with a crew of no fewer than two persons; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the WSLC hereby determines that the enactment of legislation to prohibit one-person train crews and require additional train crew members on hazardous commodity trains shall be a priority in its 2017 legislative agenda.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.