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Railroad Workers Unite In Chicago

By Kari Lydersen - www.inthesetimes.com, April 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.

Chicago is known as the place where the nation’s railroads meet. And last weekend, the city also became the meeting spot for about 40 of the country’s most progressive and activism-driven railroad union workers when it hosted the biennial conference of Railroad Workers United (RWU), an independent labor organization founded in 2008 that includes members of the major rail unions, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and other labor groups. Their gathering dovetailed with the Labor Notes conference, which brings together activist trade unionists from around the world every two years.

Those converging in Chicago for the RWU conference included locomotive engineers, rail yard workers, people who build trains and employees of contractors that service locomotives. They represent a small wedge of activism and solidarity-building in an industry that, while crucial to the country’s economic well-being and one of the cleanest freight transport options, is also notorious for retaliation against workers who agitate for better conditions or speak out about injuries and safety hazards.

The Fight For Railway Safety & The Case Of IBT BLET BNSF Railroad Worker Jen Wallis

Jen Wallis, a railroad worker and member of IBT BLET Division 238, who works at the BNSF railroad in the state of Washington talks about her struggle for health and safety and the retaliation against her for reporting a personal injury. Wallis won a lawsuit against the railroad which is owned by Warren Buffet. This video was done on 4/5/2014 when conference of the Railroad Workers United RWU convention was taking place in conjunction with Labor Notes in Chicago.

Production Of Labor Video Project www.laborvideo.org

Tesoro: A Track Record of Pollution, Hostility to Workers, and Meddling in Politics

By Eric de Place - Sightline Daily, March 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.

Right about now, oil executives in Texas are boarding a plane bound for the Northwest. Their goal? To steam roll opposition to the monster oil train terminal that Tesoro wants to construct on the downtown waterfront of Vancouver, Washington.

Hot on the heels of learning that the local city council is narrowly opposed to the project, the oil refining giant is going on a full court press lobbying mission in Vancouver, Washington. The companies leadership, including senior VPs and CEO Greg Goff, will be meeting behind closed doors with members of the city council and the Port of Vancouver. Then on Tuesday, March 25 from 1:00 to 2:00, they are holding a private meeting with 40 business leaders at the Heathman Lodge.

As a public service to the community of Vancouver, it’s worth explaining what Tesoro is—and why their oil train terminal has no place on the Columbia River.

Capital Blight - Oil Town Rebellion

By x344543 - March 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.

For years, the communities of Western and Northwestern Contra Coast County and southwestern Solano County, located on the San Pablo and Suisun Bays, northwest of the San Francisco Bay have been dominated by the fossil fuel industry (and to some extent--until 1993--by the US Military Industrial Complex), and the capitalists running that industry have run each of these communities essentially like company towns.

Under these conditions, all official institutions, including elected city, county, and regional governments, most other businesses, and even the unions that supposedly "represent" the workers in these facilities are beholden to the dominant capitalist interests. Dissident residents or workers--if there are any--often find themselves isolated and alone if they can even find the courage to speak out at all. Complaints about working conditions, corrupt union officials, bought politicians, environmental racism, toxic pollution, and capital blight often fall on deaf ears and are usually dismissed as the product of "outside agitators", even "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" or some such thing.

In this northwestern Bay Area region, there are four corporate refineries that dominate the towns of Avon and Pacheco (Tesoro), Benicia (Valero), Martinez (Shell), Richmond (Chevron), and Rodeo and Crockett (Conoco-Phillips), and--as one would expect--dissenters have indeed had a difficult, almost impossible time being heard.

Chevron in particular has run Richmond as a virtual company town as long as it has existed (indeed, the refinery predates the town's founding).  For years, the people of the nearby residential neighborhoods have complained of toxic pollution and political double standards that favor the corporation--allegations that are supported by mountains if evidence. Until recently, the local politicians were entirely loyal to the company.

The environmental struggles of these communities--mostly composed of African-Americans, Asian, Latino, and working class White people--have often been ignored by mainstream environmental NGOs. Locally based environmental groups, including the West County Toxics Coalition and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), have had to do the vast majority of the work of bringing attention to the plight of their residents. On occasion, Greenpeace and Earth First! have given attention to them, but for the most part, it's been locals--most of whom are not typically activist oriented--who've borne the brunt of the struggles.

Many of these refineries are unionized--mostly by the United Steelworkers Union, with a minority of the workers instead belonging to IBEW Local 180. Naturally, the leadership of these unions has oriented themselves towards capitalist interests, who have on numerous occasions tripped over themselves to voluntarily speak on behalf of their capitalist masters.

For example, in 1999, after four refinery workers were killed in a fire, at the Tosco (now Tesoro) facility in nearby Avon, CBE spoke up on behalf of the deceased and called for stricter regulations of refineries (to protect both workers and the environment). Tosco, of course, opposed the proposed regulatory changes, instead calling for more watered down oversight which--CBE argued--left the foxes guarding the hen-house. Rather than support CBE, Jim Payne of the PACE union local that "represented" the workers at the time excoriated the environmentalists, declaring,

"It absolutely infuriates me that those damned tree-huggers would place this regulation in jeopardy,"

Certain residents of the nearby communities of Avon and Clyde were not especially welcoming of CBE either because--naturally--Tesoro used their substantial economic and political leverage to convince these people that CBE were "outside agitators", perhaps even "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" (imagine that!).

This incident was very similar to the PCB spill in Georgia Pacific's lumber mill in Fort Bragg, California, that took place a decade earlier, in which the union leadership of IWA Local 3-469 (one Don Nelson) essentially took the company's side, leaving the rank and file workers to seek outside help from Earth First! and the IWW. Those efforts were led by Anna Marie Stenberg and (you guessed it), Judi Bari.

In spite of years of frustration and the corporations' seemingly iron rule, aided in large parts by their attempts to divide and conquer workers and environmentalists, the political winds in these northwestern Bay Area refinery towns appears to be shifting. Dissidents are gaining traction within their communities, no longer finding themselves isolated from their fellow residents. Workers employed by these industries are speaking out and even making alliances with environmentalists, the communities are finding that they can elect politicians willing to chart a course independent of the dominate corporate forces, and regulatory agencies—who usually provide official cover for the capitalists they’re ostensibly charged with regulating—are actually showing signs of actually demanding accountability from the powers that be.

RWU Resolution in Support of Limits to Long & Heavy Trains

Adopted by the RWU Steering Committee February 4th, 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, the North American rail carriers continue to run longer and heavier trains each year, and have expressed their desire to run even longer trains in the future; and
 
Whereas, the  last year has witnessed a number of long and heavy train wrecks, resulting in a loss of life and property, wholesale evacuations, injured train crews and environmental devastation; and
 
Whereas, the rail carriers have a professed interest in operating such long and heavy trains as a way to perceived savings on fuel costs, motive power and labor costs; and
 
Whereas, rather than face the reality of the situation, the rail carriers and law makers choose to focus on irrelevant issues like inward facing cameras; and
 
Whereas, such overly long and heavy trains create a dangerous and unsafe situation for a number of reasons:
 

  • 1 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more difficult it is and the more time it takes to slow or to stop such a train;
  • 2 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more slack action is in the train, increasing run-ins and run-outs, increasing the potential for break-in-twos, emergency brake applications and derailments;
  • 3 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more severe the train wreck if and when such a train does derail;
  • 4 -- the longer and heavier the train, the more difficult it is for the train crew to safely run, inspect, work, test, and otherwise get such a train over the road.
  • 5 -- such trains tend to make for longer tours-of-duty for train crews, resulting in fatigue, more time at the away-from-home terminal, and a lower quality of work and home life;
  • 6 – such trains are more likely to have air brake problems, especially in cold weather;
  • 7 -- the longer and heavier the train, the greater likelihood of blocked road and pedestrian crossings, creating a best an inconvenience to the public and at worst an inability to provide emergency services when needed;
  • 8 -- these blocked crossing in effect “train” motorists and the public to “run the gates” to avoid being blocked for long periods, resulting in grade crossing accidents and fatalities.

 
Therefore, Be it Resolved that Railroad Workers United opposes any expansion of the current length and tonnage of existing trains; and
 
Be it Further Resolved that RWU supports a reduction in length and tonnage of already existing trains, especially those hauling hazardous materials, traversing steep grades and /or cold temperatures; and
 
Be it Finally Resolved that RWU urge the unions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to further these ends legislatively and/or contractually.

Another Oil Train Derailment – Rail Crews Call Them “Bomb Trains”

From the blog Railroaded - January 6, 2014 (used by permission)

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.

Twenty-one cars and 2 locomotives of a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway train derailed December 30, 2013, near Casselton, North Dakota, overturning oil tanker cars that exploded and burned for more than 24 hours (Star TelegramAsbury Park PressAssociated PressDuluth News TribuneValleynewslive.comAssociated Press 2McClatchy Interactive).

Another BNSF mile-long train carrying grain derailed first (13 cars) and some of the grain cars fell onto an adjacent track carrying the BNSF oil train. About a minute after the grain train derailed, the oil train struck one of the derailed cars filled with soybeans, causing the oil train to fall off the tracks. 20 crude oil tank cars derailed, of which 18 were punctured. Subsequent explosions and fires lasted for hours. One observer noted at least 6 separate explosions in the 2 hours following the derailments, which sent huge fireballs and clouds of hazardous toxic black smoke into the air. The fire burned so hot emergency crews didn’t even attempt to put out the blaze.

475,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the derailment, some of it burning off and some of it leaking into the soil. Investigators estimate that at least 7,300 tons of dirt contaminated with oil must be removed from the site.

Most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents followed a call from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate the town due to health concerns about exposure to the toxic burning crude which can cause shortness of breath, coughing and itching, watery eyes. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple visited Casselton and called it a “major catastrophe” that would prompt concern no matter where it happened.

A preliminary investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests the derailment occurred at a mechanical switching point between 2 tracks. The oil tanker cars that derailed and exploded and burned were the older-model DOT-111 cars which have been known for years to rupture easily in derailments and other accidents. The NTSB, Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and most rail safety experts have been recommending for many years that the DOT-111 model cars be replaced or upgraded. Unfortunately, railway companies and shippers have been inordinately slow, and in some cases unwilling, to replace this antiquated model with sturdier built and safer models.

Crying for Lec Megantic… and Learning the Lessons

By John Reimann - Oakland Socialist, February 26, 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 February 24, Marilaine Savard, from Lac Megantic Canada gave a presentation in Pittsburg, CA, on the train tanker car explosion that rocked that little town last July, killing 47 people (it would have been far more if it had been later in the morning) and destroying most of downtown. The explosion was of Bakken crude oil, the most explosive oil being pumped nowadays. The Obama administration has ordered “emergency safety rules” for transporting Bakken crude. Those rules are merely that the oil has to be pre-tested for explosiveness. That means absolutely nothing, and even if they did impose more rules, they will not be enforced, if simply by underfunding so there aren’t enough inspectors (a very common trick). From the well head to the refinery and all along the way, fracking is deadly. And that doesn’t even include how it adds to global climate disaster – global warming.

Here is a video of  Marlaine’s presentation:

Why Nothing Is Being Done to Improve Oil by Rail Safety

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, February 14, 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.

Since the oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic in July of 2013, we have learned that there are some obvious safety issues that need to be addressed regarding transportation of crude oil by rail. The first is that the majority of the rail cars transporting this oil are DOT-111’s which have been deemed unsafe due to their tendency to rupture in accidents. The second is that Bakken crude oil can be explosive and isn’t being properly classified for transport.  

Since Lac-Megantic we have heard many calls for increased rail safety. In August of 2013, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote a letter to the Federal Railway Adminstration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Adminstration (PHMSA) requesting that the agency begin a phase out of the DOT-111 rail cars. Senator Schumer also referenced a March 2012 letter written by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman requesting safety upgrades to existing DOT-111 rail cars.

On January 15th, 2014, Representative Corrinne Brown (D-FL) wrote a letter to Jeff Denham (R-CA), who is Chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Wastes Congressional Subcommittee, requesting a hearing be held regarding rail safety.  In her letter she mentions that several members of the Subcommittee have already written letters requesting a hearing on rail safety as far back as August 2013.  Brown wrote:

“Again, we urge the subcommittee to hold a hearing immediately on rail safety.  We believe the hearing should, at a minimum, include representatives from the NTSB, FRA, PHMSA, the rail industry, and rail labor.  Thank you in advance for consideration of this request.”

Additionally, there are concerned elected officials across the country who have requested action on rail safety. Even Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago has joined the chorus of people requesting improved rail safety.

Last week, the PHMSA released the first results regarding the testing of Bakken Crude. This testing began in November 2013 and is one of the few changes that have been made since the explosion in Lac-Megantic. The results were not good as over 50% of the samples taken were found to be improperly classified. The offenders paid fines ranging from $12,000 to $51,530.

More Crude Spilled in 2013 Than Previous Four Decades Combined

By Jacob Chamberlain - Common Dreams, January 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.

More crude oil spilled from train accidents in 2013 alone than in the previous four decades combined—an alarming number reported by McClatchy News on Monday that points towards a drastic shift in the highly toxic, yet growing, crude oil business to rail transport.

According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in the four decades that such records have been taken between 1975 to 2012, U.S. rail spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. This pales in comparison to the damage done in the 12 months of 2013, in which 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled.

In total, U.S. railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013, or over 11.5 billion gallons.

"The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom," McClatchy reports.

A Train Bound for Tragedy

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 18, 2013 (used by permission)

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 July 6, a derailed oil train crashed into the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people. The tragedy highlighted a distressing practice in the freight train industry: Namely, that thanks to technological developments over the last few decades, a single engineer might now be expected to operate a 100-car train. Because of the lack of oversight, say many railroad workers, that lone man’s mistake could end in disaster.

“The Canada accident really put the spotlight on what can happen if you have one person responsible for such a big piece of machinery,” says J.P. Wright, a locomotive engineer with CSX Transportation in Kentucky and organizer with Railroad Workers United, a national group of progressive labor activists including members from different rail unions, in an interview with In These Times.

RWU, along with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), has highlighted the Montreal disaster as an example of potential tragedies workers think will increase if the industry continues its push for one-man trains. 

However, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways, the company running the Quebec train, tells In These Times that one-man crews had nothing to do with the July accident. He argues that the derailment, which occurred when the train’s sole operator left it parked unmanned to spend the night at an inn, could have happened with a two-man crew as well.

“This was a situation where the hand brakes were not properly applied. An employee failed in his duties there. It could be an employee of a two-man crew just as well as an employee of a one-man crew,” Burkhardt says.

But rail workers say that inevitable human errors or unforeseeable accidents will become more frequent and more deadly with only one person running a train.

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