You are here

railroad workers

Power Failure: Appalachia Plans for Life Beyond Coal

By Keith Griffith - Equal Voice News, May 3, 2016

Harlan County, Kentucky -- On his first shift in the coal mine, Brandon Farley closed his eyes to steady his nerves as the powered cart he was riding disappeared into the mountainside. A third-generation coal miner in this Appalachian corner of Eastern Kentucky, Farley began working in the mines right out of high school and kept at it for 15 years, until he was laid off in late February.

Farley, now 32 and a married father of two, worked his way up in the Appalachian coal mines to a job as an underground electrician, running the high voltage cables that power heavy, specialized equipment at the mining face. Mining is the only work he knows.

In 2010, Farley was working at the Abner Branch mine when the roof collapsed, killing his friend Travis Brock, who was 29. Farley escaped serious injury in his own years as a miner, but his hands bear a miscellany of scars from minor accidents. 

"The juice is worth the squeeze," he says, glancing at his palms with a chuckle. "I never did look at the dangers as much as I did the money."

The money, for a while, was very good. Farley was making $25 an hour in the mines. With plenty of overtime -- Farley often worked 60-hour weeks -- experienced miners like him routinely made $80,000 to $100,000 a year. In Harlan County, which has about 28,000 residents, the median household income is $25,000.

Over 50 years ago, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson toured Appalachia to kick off his "War on Poverty." Harlan County's poverty rate, which tracks roughly with the region's, was then 55 percent. It remains more than double the national average, at 32 percent, although those numbers typically don't account for government transfer payments, such as Social Security, safety net and veterans' benefits. (In 2014, Eastern Kentucky received $13.4 billion in government entitlements, making up more than a third of the region's income.)

Though it's long been a region of economic hardship, Appalachian Kentucky now faces a crisis of alarming proportions. Since the end of 2008, the region has lost more than 10,000 coal mining jobs, a decline of more than two-thirds. Kentucky's coal production is now at its lowest level since 1954, according to the state government. Other coal mining regions have been hit by the national decline in coal production, but none as hard as this one.

Locally, the collapse of coal is often blamed on President Barack Obama and environmental safeguards, which some residents say are needed to protect water, air and families. "This all began when Obama started his 'war on coal' -- and he did," says Farley, the laid-off miner. "If they are gonna do away with coal, why not put

Experts believe that the coal industry's decline in Kentucky has more to do with the abundance of cheap natural gas and drastically cheaper coal from surface mines in Wyoming. Regardless, there is a growing sense in Harlan County that coal isn't coming back.

After his latest layoff, Farley is now reluctantly looking for other kinds of work. "That's all we ever done is mine coal, though," he says. "It's the best job I ever had."

Farley finds the prospect of taking a significantly lower-paying job unpalatable, though even finding one is a challenge. After getting career counseling from the Harlan County Community Action Agency, Farley applied for work with railroad shipper CSX. But coal makes up the bulk of CSX's shipping business, and the company announced new rounds of layoffs the week that Farley applied.

"It's strange to hear the lonesome horn of a train anymore," says HCCAA Executive Director Donna Pace. "Used to be, that's all you heard."

Carbon Bubble News #103

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 9, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Bubble News #102

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 3, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Other Carbon Bubble News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Carbon Bubble News #100

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 19, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Bubble News #98

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 4, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Other Carbon Bubble News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Interview With John Paul Wright

By John Carico - Fifth Column, March 26, 2016

John Carico: What got you involved in social justice and labor organizing?

John Paul Wright: I got involved in social justice activism as a result of my mother going to college late in life. In my teens my mother went to the University Of Louisville and found herself. She joined an organization called The Progressive Student Leauge. I looked up to her new friends. They had organizing meetings in our home while they were fighting to have the university divest funds from companies that supported South African Apartheid. I joined a group at my high school called Youth for Peace at this time and also got involved in another group called Nuclear Free Zone of Louisville.
My union work started when I became a member of The United Transportation Union when I was hired on with the railroad. I grew up in a very union family. My father is an IBEW 369 electrical contractor and my grandmother worked at the union hall.

John Carico: What do you see as priorities in terms of securing a liberated and sustainable future?

John Paul Wright: Wow! What a question! I see as a priority a focus on human need to be at the focus of the what some are calling a just transition. Over a hundred years ago Upton Sinclair said this in his book Profits of Religion…

What I would like to say to young radicals–if there is any way to say it without seeming a prig–is that in choosing their own path through life, they will need not merely enthusiasm and radical fervor, but wisdom and judgment and hard study.

So, to move to a sustainable future, I think we as a people are going to need to study what has worked from the many movements and social shifts of the past. I think many times we as a people are looking for “new” ways to approach very complex issues, when many times there are plenty of examples of successes that can be drawn upon. Specifically, it is my experience in many a situation, basic communication skills seem to be where the problem lies when folks start to enter very difficult territory. For years language and culture has been born at the foot of a capitalist model that has taught people how to fight and take sides. Our media, that should be ours, has created a myth of who we are, our history has been re-written for profit and people make laws and decisions based on moral codes that are drawn from corporate entity myth makers. Media is owned by very large empires that have a culture package to sell… so I guess what I am trying to say is a liberated future depends on a very serious re-settling of how we see ourselves as a people. As inhabitants of a planet, members of communities, and free thinking compassionate individuals who have a real need of each other to exist. Especially in these days as the machine get closer and closer to being able to wage war by drones and computer driven models.

John Carico: What are some of your favorite labor stories?

John Paul Wright: The story of Joe Hill because of how much myth it has with it. There are so many stories about who Joe was as a person. What I like about his story is how important he really was to the process of culture and the I.W.W. Joe Hill was a journalist, organizer and songwriter. His skills at organizing are mostly myth or, one would have to do extensive research into the drives that he worked on. But his music is a very big insight to what he was thinking back in the 1910s. There were many writers that were writing the Socialist/Communist literature such as Upton Sinclair and Eugene V. Debs. We can only imagine how connected as people they really were, but their muckraking style was very similar. I also think Upton Sinclair’s EPIC (End Poverty In California) campaign is something very interesting.

As for labor issues today, without a doubt, the story about CORE (caucus of rank and file educators) and the Chicago Teachers Union rise of Karen Lewis, is one of the greatest labor stories of my lifetime. Especially as someone who has been very involved in many reform movements. What Labor Notes Magazine has done to keep a more radical element to the labor movement alive is nothing to shake a stick at either.

Railroaders’ Group Supports Rule to Ban Single Employee Train Operations

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 15, 2016

Railroad Workers United (RWU) – a coalition of railroad workers drawn from all crafts across North America – applauds the efforts by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to restrict the use of single employee train operations, and demand a two-person crew as a minimum staffing requirement on trains.

RWU has taken an unequivocal stand against single employee operations since our founding convention in 2008. In 2010, the RWU Steering Committee reiterated our position in a formal resolution in opposition to single mployee train crews (see attached). And in 2012, we initiated a campaign of activities designed to build opposition to the carriers’ plans for universal single employee train operations.

“Our efforts - together with those of the unions of the rail operating crafts in the last few years - have brought this issue before the general public and the government”, states locomotive engineer and RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow. “The proposed rule by the FRA released on Monday is a major step forward in the fight against the dangerous and reckless proposal by the nation’s rail carriers to run trains with a lone employee. While the FRA Proposed Rule is far from perfect, providing loopholes and allowing for exemptions in too many instances, it is certainly a major stride in the right direction.”

RWU - along with the rail unions and various citizens groups - have also been pushing on the legislative front at both the state and federal levels for a law that would outlaw single employee train crew operations. A number of states - most recently California - have outlawed single employee train operations, while a dozen or so more have bills pending. At the federal level, HR #1763 if adopted, would make the minimum train crew size of two employees - a certified engineer and a certified conductor - the law of the land. Opinion polls that have been conducted on the question find that more than 80% of the U.S. population favor such a law.

RWU will prepare a written statement in the coming weeks to submit to the FRA in the hope of improving the Proposed Rule. In addition, the organization plans to keep up its educational work and continue to mobilize railroad workers, citizens groups and environmental organizations to get behind efforts to outlaw single crew operations of trains.

CP Rail conductor in Banff derailment to return to work (and) An Open Letter to HH, CEO of CP RAIL

Video by Stephanie Katelnikoff; article excerpt by Kyle Bakx - CBC News, February 26, 2016

Fourteen months after a CP Rail train derailed in Banff National Park, the conductor of that locomotive will return to work for the railway.

Stephanie Katelnikoff was dismissed after the incident, but she took her case to arbitration and won.

Arbitrator Maureen Flynn ruled this month that Katelnikoff should be reinstated and CP Rail should give her compensation for lost wages and benefits.

"There was some jumping and then some screaming and there might have been a little bit of happy crying," Katelnikoff said of her reaction.  "I like the job itself and I really liked my coworkers."...

...The Banff derailment was her second trip as a conductor for CP Rail. She said her training didn't teach her how to react in the event of a derailment. She also alleged the derailment was the reason she was fired from the railway.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada ultimately ruled the derailment was caused by a fracture in the heel block assembly of the north switch-point rail... (read the full article here)

If You Care About Railroad Safety You Must Defend Tom Harding

Editorial - Railroad Workers United, Highball, Winter 2016

Practically every North American railroader now knows about the tragic train wreck in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July, 2013. With its tremendous loss of life and destruction, the disaster made headlines around the world. In the aftermath of that accident, as we discussed it amongst ourselves, details became known. One of those details was that within days of the wreck the locomotive engineer of the runaway train, Tom Harding, was arrested and ultimately charged. He and his Dispatcher face the possibility of life in prison if found guilty as charged. No company official of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) – the railroad upon which the wreck took place - nor the company itself have faced criminal charges.

To this day, there is confusion and disinformation circulated about that matter. For those of us in the fight for rail safety, it is imperative that we know the facts. This is key not just to prevent a grave injustice, but to prevent future repetitions of that incident and to stop the dangerous push by the rail carriers to deflect all liability for the consequences of their policy decisions and simply blame-the-worker every and any time there is an accident or injury, fatality or disaster.

Some railroaders – even a few known as safety conscious can get this issue wrong. Because conscientious trainmen and engineers take safety on the job so seriously, taking personal responsibility comes as second nature to us. No one wants to be seen as making excuses for a co-worker who doesn't take his/her job or their co-workers' safety seriously. As a result, some raise arguments that perhaps Tom Harding is guilty of something, that maybe he deserves to be charged. Therefore, it is crucial that we examine the facts.

When Railroad Carriers Threaten to Strike, the State Cowers

Editorial - Railroad Workers United, Highball, Winter 2016

Back in the fall of 2008, in the face of yet another horrendous and preventable catastrophic train wreck, the US Congress passed the Railroad Safety Improvement Act (RSIA). Among its many provisions, it mandated that the railroad carriers implement Positive Train Control (PTC), a technology that ensures train separation and can enforce safety despite possible mistakes and/or oversights by the train’s operating crew. The deadline for its installation was set for December 31, 2015, allowing the carriers more than seven years within which to comply. With that deadline looming, and most carriers not even close to implementation, on October 27th, 2015, Congress passed legislation that allows the railroads another three years (and now it looks more like five) to meet the new deadline.

Whether this is the fault of the federal government, the railroad corporations, the FCC, or whoever, we will not argue the point here. What we do want to take issue with is this: Once the U.S. rail carriers claimed that they could not possibly meet the deadline, they basically stated their collective intentions to severely restrict the movement of both freight and passengers, in effect, holding the country hostage. Their actions – had they been effected on January 1st – certainly would have induced a major recession if not outright collapse of the U.S. economy, possibly leading to a worldwide depression. Without any debate whatsoever, the U.S. Congress swiftly moved into action. Without a whimper of dissent, they did their corporate masters’ bidding and granted the carte blanche PTC extension.

Just as Congress bailed out the big banks and major corporations back in 2008 who were “too big to fail”, they were quick to view the unfolding scenario as one that could be catastrophic to the economy and the American people. And they were right. Had the major rail carriers made good on their threat, and embargoed freight and passengers as promised (all in the name of safety, of course), the consequences for all of us would have been dire. But these two choices – extension and relief on one hand, or no extension and ensuing chaos on the other -- were not necessarily the only two options available.

Pages