Brain Labor Report August 20, 2014 - Ron Kaminkow and J.P. Wright on the Danger of Single Employee Train Crews

Radio Show hosted by Wes Brain - KSKQ 89.5 FM, August 20, 2014

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.

On the Brain Labor Report we talk with Ron Kaminkow, an engineer and general secretary of Railroad Workers United about the problems of single employee train crews. Federal legislation HR 3040 would mandate full crews. We are also joined by J.P Wright an engineer with CSX Transportation. He shares his story about organizing with RWU, current RR technology and the campaign to improve cooperation and safety among railroad unions.

"They are always going to need someone in that seat when something goes wrong." ~JP Wright


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Featuring the following songs:

Anne Feeney - War on the Workers
Workers independent news
George Mann, Rik Palieri - Union Train
Nancy Spencer - Morningtown Ride
Anne Feeney - We just come to work here

Re-Identifying Environmentalism

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, August 21, 2014

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.

Several people have asked me whether or not I will be attending the upcoming climate action march in New York. The answer is no. In light of my intended absence, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject.

While I am unaware of a detailed history on environmentalism, I do know that modern environmentalism was born from naturalists and the conservation movement most often attributed to men such as John Muir, the “Father of the National Parks.” His activism preserved some of the most spectacular natural places in North America, yet, we must admit that on the whole, the creation of the national parks and all subsequent environmental protections have been miniscule wins in a full out war on the ecological systems of our planet. The results are plain to see throughout the world from global deforestation to dead zones in the oceans, rivers that change colors or catch on fire to toxic waste water ponds that are visible from space. 

Some have sought to address the underlying problems feeding the immensity of our present day version of a world war. Of those, Wendell Barry, David Orr, and Wes Jackson come to mind, each speaking volumes to the ways in which present day education, culture, and economy combine to destroy the future health and happiness of most species on this earth. As such, and I am not stating anything new here, it should come as no surprise that until we are able to bring ecological understanding into every classroom, altruistic ideals back into every community, and moderation into the economic principles of the world, we will have no chance of saving future generations from such peril. These are truths that each of us must face, a knowledge that Aldo Leopold began sharing with us long ago.  Anyone who has been within the environmental movement long enough can attest to having found themselves in an emotional dilemma:  spend time fighting inevitability or search out the best place to lead a peaceful life.

In February of 2013, I marched alongside an estimated 40,000 people through the streets of Washington DC at the Forward on Climate Rally organized by As we marched down Constitution Ave, I recollected images and stories of a rally my father attended in Washington DC on Labor Day in 1991. The National Park Service estimated that 250,000 laborers were in attendance: coal miners, nurses, auto workers, steel workers, migrant workers, and a variety of social activists. A quarter of a million people had descended upon DC, receiving extended national news coverage (compared to the climate rally), all of them people that millions of Americans could identify with. They were trying desperately to keep labor alive, to reverse the anti-union trends that were crippling the middle class of this nation. My father was among those marching with the United Mine Workers, still unsure of what life had to offer after his recent lay off at Beth-Elkhorn's Deep Mine 26 after 16 years there.

Despite the 3,500 tour buses that brought the cries of those hundreds of thousands of people to Washington on a hot summer day, the demise of the labor movement has continued. Today more and more states are incorporating right to work laws, more people are forced to work mandatory overtime for wages that have barely increased over 20 years. As I marched along side people wielding their homemade wind turbines on that bitter February day, I kept thinking to myself,  "What makes a group of environmentalists, already ostracized by a nation as unemployed hippies, believe a march will actually garner the support needed to save the world from greed driven over consumption?"

Where is labor in Ferguson?

By Carl Finamore - Socialist Worker, August 21, 2014

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.

THE WEAKNESS of organized labor is often attributed to its low numbers, and they are low for sure. For example, AFL-CIO membership remained stagnant this year at 12.5 million, even with the whopping addition last year of 1.3 million United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union food and commercial workers.

Nonetheless, I believe the falling numbers are more a reflection than an explanation of labor's decline. Therefore, I do not agree with the prevailing opinion that spending more money on organizing will turn everything around. Our biggest problems are political, not organizational.

Put another way, corporate power looms large because unions are seriously disconnected from the social aspirations of the majority of working-class women and people of color who strive for equality, justice and fair play that cannot be measured or satisfied solely by the size of a paycheck.

It's been this way for some time, but nowhere is this wide gulf more vivid and more tragic than in the AFL-CIO's spineless reaction to the police murder of yet another young, unarmed African American.

The national federation issued a very cautiously worded statement of half a dozen sentences even as 18-year old Michael Brown's grieving family sharply characterized his shooting as an assassination.

This comes on the heels of the AFL-CIO's anemic and lame "take action" recommendations released last year on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. The federation's bold action plan was to organize a "national symposium," a "scholarship fund" and support for "teaching staff" to educate young people.

This is embarrassing. My multi-vitamins pack more of a wallop.

Why the Climate Movement Must Stand with Ferguson

By Deirdre Smith, Strategic Partnership Coordinator -, August 20, 2014

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.

It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis.

It’s all over the news: images of police in military gear pointing war zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. These scenes made my heart race in an all-to-familiar way. I was devastated for Mike Brown, his family and the people of Ferguson. Almost immediately, I closed my eyes and remembered the same fear for my own family that pangs many times over a given year.

Scene from post Katrina New Orleans

Scene from post Katrina New Orleans

In the wake of the climate disaster that was Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago, I saw the same images of police, pointing war-zone weapons at unarmed black people with their hands in the air. In the name of “restoring order,” my family and their community were demonized as “looters” and “dangerous.” When crisis hits, the underlying racism in our society comes to the surface in very clear ways. Climate change is bringing nothing if not clarity to the persistent and overlapping crises of our time.

Scene from Ferguson, MO

Scene from Ferguson, MO

I was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder, and at the same time wondered why people were so surprised; this is sadly a common experience of black life in America. In 2012, an unarmed black man was killed by authorities every 28 hours (when divided evenly across the year), and it has increased since then. I think about my brother, my nephew, and my brothers and sisters who will continue to have to fight for respect and empathy, and may lose their homes or even their lives at the hands of injustice.

We Do Not Want to be Slaves in Our Own Land

By Mining Slave | The National aka The Loggers Times - Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, August 22, 2014

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.

I WISH to express my views and concerns about expats being the lawmakers of PNG.

I am a mine worker and worked with most expats during my years in several underground mines for the last 10 to 20 years.

I have noticed that they seem to be above the laws of this country which the department of foreign affairs has put in place to guide those expats who later become elected leaders in PNG.

There are also regulations where the departments of mining and petroleum have put in place to guide both expats and PNG nationals.

Most expats come into the country to work, they bring in their family members and use the nationals to train them and in return, they start to criticise and threaten us to get us sacked.

For instance, if a national supervisor makes a single mistake or does not want to follow an idea of an expat to get a job done which is unsafe, they start to kick him or her out because they come in groups and once it comes to decision making, they all come in to compromise in favour of one single expat, even the so-called manager falls into his favour.

The correct procedure is, the expat or national supervisors should contribute ideas to get a job done safely, or if the expat’s ideas are unproductive, the nationals use their own ideas so the job is done safely because in any mine you go around the world, safety is the number one priority.

Please, can the departments or foreign affairs and immigration or our leaders look into this issue because we do not want to be slaves in our own land or spectators of resource development on our land.

We have enough experienced underground miners.

The Overlooked Plight of Factory Farm Workers

By Lucas Spangher - Huffington Post, August 18, 2014

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.

In December, NBC News published a story on an undercover video of animal cruelty in a contract farm to Tyson Meats. If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend watching it. If nothing else, this is one perspective of a frightening story and spectacularly succeeds in giving one a sense of the problem that we have on our hands.

The footage shows brutal and harsh treatment of pigs in a barn-like facility. The article offers a warning on the graphic nature of the video, brief summarizes the footage, and then goes on to quote an apology from Tyson, who promises to terminate its contract with that farm.

This resolution leaves us with a nice sense of closure, but frankly, the entire story alarms me. In telling this story, the video means to evoke a sense of outrage and disgust, and in that I think it succeeds spectacularly. But the disgust it raises is wholly directed towards the workers. We see scene after scene of workers performing acts of violence against pigs, with no sense of what the workers are trying to accomplish. The clips chosen are often ones in which they are shouting harshly, mostly in Spanish, with the screaming of pigs as a skin-crawling backdrop. A casual viewing of this video might lead one to believe that these are a crew of sociopathic and lazy low-lives who spend their entire workday skipping from one act of pointless violence to another. The viewer is invited to let flow all internal xenophobic urges. This video seems to suggest that somehow, if this factory were staffed by a different group of workers, all would be different.

But that telling misses out on so many important details. It misses the poor pay, long hours and frightening pace of the factory line. Workers in the meat industry make an average of $23,000 a year, work 10+ hours a day, are pushed so hard they often defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down and suffer a repetitive motion injury rate 30 times the national average.

It misses out on the harassment and abuse that workers face from superiors. Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that 38 percent of all factory farm workers are from outside the U.S. and have an undocumented status. Workers interviewed said superiors exploit their risk of deportation and unfamiliarity of the language to induce a constant fear, pushing longer hours and harsher conditions. Most women interviewed spoke of sexual harassment and assault that they suffered at the hands of superiors.

But perhaps the hardest part for this narrative to capture is the subordination workers face all throughout society. This video misses out on the constant structural discrimination that lower class workers face in getting their children education, receiving adequate health care and providing for old relatives who lack social security.

At some point, we need to take a step back and ask why the events in Tyson's video occurred. A massive statistical analysis found that after controlling for many variables including poverty and immigration, counties with slaughterhouses have four times the national average of violent arrest, with significantly higher rates of alcoholism, domestic abuse, child abuse and suicide. To me, the data seems clear: We can no longer afford to treat this case as an isolated incident, but rather as part of a dangerous trend.

Steel Jobs and Fracking

By Martin Zehr - Industrial Worker, July-August 2014

The issue of steel jobs in the Monongahela Valley has been an issue for decades. For the last 3-4 decades workers have seen mills shut down and threats of other closings held over the heads of those still working. Workers have seen the mill close in Homestead; USS mills in Duquesne and Clairton closed in 1984. In an eight-year span, from 1979 to 1987, the Pittsburgh region lost 133,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, there is new cry from the steel bosses--XL pipeline and fracking is a “USS right”. “Save Our Steel” jobs. Workers in orange flame resistant suits stand out at the rally in Munhall on May 19, where steel bosses, USW reps and local politicians share the stage and the message.

Some where in the crowd is the IWW. A worker passes by on the way to the rally says: “Good to see the Wobblies here.” Not much time for discussion. But workers remember Homestead 1397 Rank-and-File. They still know the name of 1397’s President Ron Wiesen, who fought the steel bosses and the closing of the Homestead mill. Even the speakers at the rally point to the site where steel workers fought the company’s Pinkerton’s for union recognition in 1892. No promises from the bosses back then, just the exercise of b rutal force.

Everything is packaged today: the bottled water brought to the rally, the bags of chips handed out to rally participants, the speeches from local politicians telling us all how hard they are working to save steel jobs and the promises from USW reps and the AFL-CIO of better days ahead. Speeches speak of US Steel as the source for dynamism in the years ahead. Make US Steel tubes for Keystone XL. Use US Steel in fracking neighboring communities. USW sings the praises of USS with the all too familiar guarantee that “...we’ve had our differences[with USS] in the past” but we’re all in this together. And the question becomes who is “we”? Do they mean our neighbors, friends and co-workers throughout Allegheny, Beaver and Butler Counties whose spring waters are being turned to black? Do they mean the people that our kids have gone to school with and their parents who are getting sick? Always with the USW it’s “Better them than us”, and the them grows, while the US decreases. They keep us in line for USS and they serve no free lunch.

350.ORG Seattle Opposes Single-Employee Trains

By 350 Seattle - August 6, 2014

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.

Whereas, 350 Seattle supports the use of railroads to transport mixed freight and passengers as the most environmental and less carbon intensive way of doing this; and

Whereas, a single freight train can take the load of several hundred trucks off the highway, but due to the over congestion of unit trains carrying crude petroleum products and coal forces grain producers and others to transport their products once again by trucks on the highways; and

Whereas, the number of trains carrying crude petroleum products and coal has skyrocketed and they are a lot more dangerous to railroad workers, our communities, and fragile ecosystems on land and water; and

Whereas, in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy and numerous other train wrecks in the last year, we have an historic opportunity to build alliances with community and railroad worker groups to outlaw single employee train crews;

Whereas, we at 350 Seattle universally support a minimum of two crew members on every train, an engineer and a conductor, for the purposes of basic railroad safety; and

Whereas, the BLET and the SMART have joined forces and have been working hand in hand to outlaw Single Employee Train Crews; and

Whereas, a rogue general committee of the SMART–TD has recently announced a tentative agreement, that would, if implemented, eliminate the road conductor on through freight and allow single employee crews;

Therefore, be it resolved, that 350 Seattle affirms our opposition to single employee train operations and that we support an engineer and a conductor on every train; and

Be it further resolved, that 350 Seattle supports HR 3040, which would mandate a conductor and engineer on every train; and

Be it further resolved, that 350 Seattle urges all rail union members to actively oppose contracts that would allow single employee operations of trains; and

Be it finally resolved, that 350 Seattle stands in solidarity with all rail road worker unions and union members who are standing up and fighting back against the tentative agreement by SMART-TD and the BNSF to eliminate the road conductor on through freight and allow single employee crews;

Adopted by the general membership of 350 Seattle on August 6th, 2014.

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, August 19 2014

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.

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

“This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

This Documentary About “Bomb Trains” Filled with Crude Oil Will Make Your Head Explode

By Ted Alvarez - Grist, July 29 2014

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.

VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.

Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)