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Labor Beat: Railroad Safety--Workers, Community & the Environment

By Milo Wolf - Labor Beat, October 26, 2015

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.

Motivated by the need to prevent dangerous and toxic railroad accidents, railroad workers, environmental and community activists met on Sept. 19, 2015 in Chicago for a conference organized by Railroad Workers United. A recurring topic was the 2013 railroad disaster in Lac-Megantic, Canada involving what is known as a "bomb train" of oil tanker cars that wiped out a significant part of that community. That doomed train in fact went through Chicago on its way to Lac-Megantic.​

This video demonstrates how squeezing increased productivity from rail workers produces negative effects that extend into the community and environment, in addition to the problem of exploiting workers.

After years of debating with management, retired locomotive engineer Fritz Edler concluded: "We demanded that they produce the evidence that you could do these [work] schedules and have it not be unsafe. And what they would do is stand up in the room and say 'fatigue is not a safety factor'. This is why we can't have this discussion just inside the railroad. We can't do that because they would never say that out in public."

Interviews and speakers featured: Ron Kaminkow, General Secretary of RWU; Dr. Lora Chamberlain, Chicago Oil by Rail; Jeff Kurtz, former BLET Iowa State Legislative Chair; Rozalinda Borcila, Artist, Compass; Ed Michael, RWU; Fritz Edler, BLET Div. 482 Local Chair (ret.); Vince Hardt, Chicagoland Oil by Rail.

RWU Resolution of Support for Charged Railroad Workers

Resolution passed by Railroad Workers United - October 7, 2015

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 Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A) had a record of compromising the safety and security of employees and the communities through which the railroad operated, scoring very low on the indicators of what makes for a safe railroad; and

Whereas the MM&A Railway did not keep its equipment in a state of good repair; operated with single employee crews; did not effectively manage crew fatigue; and had a poor “safety culture”; and

Whereas the MM&A Railway is primarily responsible for the disaster by placing Tom Harding and the residents of Lac-Mégantic in a hazardous situation, placing profit over safety; and

Whereas, MM&A former CEO Ed Burkhart has had a history of buying and selling railroads around the world, attacking the existent unions, and degrading safety and working conditions of the employees; and

Whereas Transport Canada did not effectively enforce its own railroad safety rules through proper oversight, inspections, or relevant operations testing: and

Whereas the relevant laws, operating rules and policies in place at the time of the Lac Megantic, Quebec disaster allowed for that a very heavy train carrying a highly dangerous substance could legally and operationally be left on the main line with an unlocked cab on a steep grade, unattended, with only one faulty locomotive running in order to keep the braking system charged; and

Whereas the failure of an employee to perfectly perform all job functions at all times might be grounds for discipline and/or dismissal by the company, but should not never be grounds for a civil trial and a murder charge; and

Whereas RWU has continually advocated for railroad safety programs that eliminate hazards rather than blaming victims of railroad accidents; and

Therefore, Be it Resolved that RWU once again calls on all North American railroaders and our unions to take an active role in making our nations’ rail networks and communities safer by insisting upon rail safety programs which focus on hazard elimination rather than simply worker behavior; and

Be it Further Resolved that RWU believes that in the aftermath of this tragedy, railroaders and our unions must focus on how to prevent future tragedies such as Lac-Mégantic through such efforts as: eliminating hazards; strengthening rules governing movements of trains carrying hazardous materials; restricting the length and tonnage of trains; reducing crew fatigue; and supporting measures to ensure two person operations of freight trains; and

Be it Further Resolved that while RWU does not take a position on their possible role in the train’s runaway, RWU considers the civil charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie to be outrageous and absurd, an attack on all railroad workers that could set a dangerous precedent for all workers involved in future accidents and as such, these charges should be dropped; and

Be it Finally Resolved, that RWU demands an immediate end to the injustice of this witch hunt and this attempt to scapegoat these fellow workers, and insists that any criminal charges should start with Transport Canada and MM&A CEO Ed Burkhardt.

Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation

By Jon Flanders - CounterPunch, October 13, 2015

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.

With the unprecedented scrutiny freight railroads are now under due to oil train wrecks, and with record profits on the books, you would think that the major carriers would be unusually solicitous of their mechanical maintenance workforce, the people that are the doctors in the shop “hospitals” that treat the defects of locomotives. But you would be wrong.

One leading class 1 carrier, CSX, is demanding unprecedented changes in the working agreement of its
machinists and pipefitters, changes that could potentially turn the lives of these workers upside down. A “Master Mechanic” tentative agreement (TA) is currently being discussed in its locomotive shops.

In a promotional press release a CSX spokesman said: “This agreement is part of CSX’s focus on promoting a flexible workforce to meet changing business demands, and developing opportunities to retain and support our highly skilled workforce,” said Cressie Brown, vice president-labor relations, CSX.

The CSX press release quoted the head of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 19 in support of the agreement. “This tentative agreement provides new options for CSX employees, giving them more control of their careers, by expanding on the efficiencies gained from our previous partnership at Huntington, West Virginia while providing CSX with the tools they need to have the most efficient locomotive maintenance team in the industry,” said Jeff Doerr, IAM President and Directing General Chairman.

The Huntington “partnership” saw machinists and pipefitters foregoing former job descriptions in return for keeping locomotive rebuilding from outsourcing. There was no merging of union representation however, a “ratio” of machinists to pipefitters assured the two unions of their dues. The same ratio deal goes along with the proposed tentative agreement. So for example perhaps 85 percent of the jobs going forward would be machinists, 15 percent pipefitters.

Threatening major layoffs if the machinists and pipefitters, members of the International Association of Machinists(IAM) and the the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMART) fail to ratify it, CSX is pulling out all the stops to see the TA passed.

Railroad Work Is Getting More and More Dangerous. These Workers Want To Change That

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 10, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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—Railroad workers from around the country and Chicago residents stood on an overpass on a recent bright September Sunday, watching a seemingly endless line of black tanker cars pass on the railroad tracks below. The train was likely carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota, judging by the red hazard placards on the cars and widely documented trends in crude oil shipment.

Chicagoans have become increasingly worried about oil trains carrying the highly explosive Bakken crude through the city, a major transport hub on the way to East Coast refineries. A conference hosted by the progressive labor group Railroad Workers United in Chicago Sept. 19 brought together railroad workers and local residents and train buffs to discuss how railroad workers’ safety and labor rights issues dovetail with safety and environmental concerns for the larger public.

Oil trains are a perfect example, speakers and participants at the conference noted. Just look at the July 6, 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when a parked oil train dislodged and plowed into the town, killing 47 and causing massive destruction and ecological devastation.

The train was operated by a single crew member, engineer Thomas Harding, who now faces the possibility of life in prison, with trial starting in November.

While prosecutors and the now-defunct Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway have blamed Harding and several other railroad employees for the disaster, labor unions and other advocates say such tragedies are bound to happen more often if railroads are allowed to operate trains with single-man-crews and otherwise make staffing and management decisions driven by the bottom line rather than the needs and rights of railroad employees plus public safety.

This weekend, October 11-12, there will be rallies in Lac-Mégantic and Chicago, demanding freedom for Harding and railroad traffic conductor Richard Labrie, accountability from railroads and government regulators including bans on one-man-crews and a continued ban on shipping crude oil through Lac-Mégantic. A flier for the Chicago rally, held at noon on October 12 outside the Canadian consulate at 180 N. Stetson Drive, calls on “environmentalists, neighborhood organizations, railroad workers, steel workers, firemen, all unions and all justice-loving people” to support Harding and Labrie and demand strict safety regulations from the federal government.

Declaration of the 44th Annual Convention of Doro-Chiba

By Doro Chiba - Translated into English by Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, September 27, 2015

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.

Doro-Chiba adopted unanimously a new policy of struggle on the 44th Annual Convention today held in the Union Hall. We resolutely confront with the second round offensive of the Division and Privatization by the JR Companies and also advance the fight against the rejection of a final appeal for the Japan Railways' employment discrimination at the time of the Division and Privatization of JNR in 1987.

Doro-Chiba made a final appeal in regard to the above case to the Supreme Court in 2013, but on June 30 of this year, the Court denied the appeal. This reactionary decision of the Supreme Court was an attempt to peremptorily put a period to the National Railway Struggle. Under the explosive situation of railroading the war legislation, the state power was finally forced to make a decision of dismantling militant labor movement at large. However, our consistent struggle has driven the Supreme Court into the corner. The Court was obliged to admit that the JR and the state power itself had committed unfair labor practices in its policy making of discriminating re-employment and dismissal at the time of the Division and Privatization. At last the bedrock of the assault of Division and Privatization of National Railway was shaken! This is a significant victory.

Our thirty year-long struggle has never let the Division and Privatization of JNR slide by as a past issue and prevented the completion of Rengo (system-friendly Japanese Trade Union Confederation) which was established to destroy militant labor movements in 1989.

Our persistent struggle against the Division and Privatization of JNR has defended labor movements and the rights of workers in the nick of time. Now we launch a fresh struggle to have the unfair dismissal withdrawn and laid-off workers reinstated.

We are now drawing up a strike plan to protest against the planned outsourcing toward October 1, the day our members were forced to go on loan to the subcontractor three years ago. We claim; “Cancel immediately our outsourcing contract and reinstate all jobs to JR!” The privatizing and outsourcing issues have not at all been settled yet. An all-out struggle starts from now on.

We denounce Abe administration with fierce anger for railroading the war legislation. However, this historic abominable onslaught has released millions of workers’ anger and let them swing into action, On August 30, more than 120,000 people occupied and liberated the closed area in front of the Diet building, breaking through the police’s cordon. The corrupt knots of Japan Communist Party (JCP) and Rengo became terrified and tried to calm the situation within the framework of co-opted opposition forces. But the protest action grew more and more militant every day and sparked a heavy clash with police power for a week. The history began to change then.

RailCon15: Chicagoland Conference Reflections

By Hieronymous - LibCom.Org, September 30, 2015

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 his 1914 poem, “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg called the city a “Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.” Others have called it the “Rome of Railroads,” as in all railroads lead to Chicago. It’s the biggest, busiest and most complex rail hub in the world, with at least 1,300 passengers and freight trains passing through it daily. It remains the central node of the North American rail transportation system. Despite the city’s vast size, you can’t visit a neighborhood without seeing traces of how railroads developed the city – in the process connected the eastern U.S. with all of the West through this major portal. And it’s not just railroads, as barges, tractor-trailers, and bellies of planes make Chicago a hub that ranks just behind Singapore and Hong Kong for the world’s highest intermodal volume – not to mention the pipelines that carry liquid commodities into the city.

So Chicago couldn’t have been more fitting for the third Railroad Safety Conference. I arrived the day before, Friday, September 18th to help prepare. From O’Hare Airport I took the CTA "L" Blue Line to the Loop downtown, strolled over to Millennium Park and immediately discovered it was built a decade ago on a steel superstructure over Illinois Central’s original Chicago rail yard. An RWU member met me at Union Station and gave me a tour of its once grand interior, detailing its demise. Until 1969 Chicago had six intercity passenger rail terminals; Union Station is the only one that is in any way close to its original form.

The conference location at the union hall of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) couldn’t have been more appropriate either. In response to McCarthyism inspired raids by competing unions, UE left the CIO in 1949. By 1950 eleven unions left or were expelled from the CIO; only two remain today, UE and the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Both remain strong unions, with democratic governance, and have led some of the most inspiring recent struggles. For the UE, it was the week-long occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory on Goose Island in Chicago in December 2008. For the ILWU it has been the willingness to take political stands, like the work stoppage on May Day 2008 when all 29 ports on the West Coast ceased operating for the day.

The conference, titled Railroad Safety: Workers, Community and the Environment, carried on the agenda of the previous two conferences in California and Washington State with around 80 in attendance. Carl Rosen, President of UE, gave us a warm welcome to the hall, then RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow gave a brief history of RWU and mentioned the recent defeat of a union proposal for single-person crews at BNSF. Conference attendees introduced themselves, showing how far some had traveled to attend, from as far as New York, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco and Quebec, Canada; in addition, each cluster of tables came up with their goals for the conference. Most concerned educating affected communities about the realities of fossil fuel transport, especially rail, as well as upholding the principle of keeping energy resources “in the ground.” Next RWU members gave two sessions about the safety concerns of railroad workers. Included in the first were Single Employee Train Crews, Teamwork, Chronic Fatigue and Scheduling. In the second they were Long & Heavy Trains, Track Maintenance, and Rail Safety Programs. A guest, Michael Termini from the Government Accountability Project, talked about legal protections for whistleblowers.

RailCon15 Announcement - Chicago Conference

By John Paul Wright - YouTube, September 16, 2015

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.

Framed-up rail workers win support in Quebec town

By John Studer - The Militant, September 21, 2015

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.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec — After less that 15 minutes, Judge François Tôth ordered further delay in the Canadian government’s frame-up campaign against rail workers Thomas Harding and Richard Labrie, as well as company operating manager Jean DeMaître. They are threatened with life in prison, as scapegoats for the July 6, 2013, disaster where a crewless Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled down a grade, derailed and burst into flame, destroying the downtown here and killing 47 people.

Tôth set a Dec. 1 court “management hearing” where lawyers for the government and the defendants would discuss potential witnesses and possible trial dates, and debate a government proposal to move the trial from Lac-Mégantic to Sherbrooke, a college town some 100 miles away.

“The crown doesn’t want the trial in Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for Harding, told the Militant, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other media after the hearing. “But it is the people here who were affected. They are in the best position to judge. All they want is justice.”

And many know Harding, who has been running trains through the area for years. They think the wrong people are in the dock.

“The big bosses should be charged. They’re the ones that gave the orders to the workers who had to carry them out,” Sylvie Carrier, an auxiliary nurse at the local hospital and member of the Quebec nurses union, told Communist League member John Steele from Montreal and this reporter as we went door to door showing people coverage on the defense campaign from the Militant and asking them what they thought.

Rail workers score big safety win in California

By Mark Gruenberg - People's World, August 26, 2015

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.

Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART - the former United Transportation Union - and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation's largest state - home to one of every eight Americans - to be operated with "an adequate crew size," reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

RailCon 15 coming to Chicago

By Ron Kaminkow and Mark Burrows - Railroad Workers United, August 24, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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 Saturday, September 19th, the cross-craft solidarity group Railroad Workers United (RWU) will sponsor a conference on rail safety. RWU is partnering with other labor, citizens and environmental groups to organize this innovative and cutting edge conference, entitled “Railroads Safety, Workers, Community and the Environment.” The Chicago conference is a follow up to two earlier conferences held in March of this year in Richmond, CA and Olympia, WA. All interested parties concerned about the safety and the future of railroads are invited to attend.

In the past two years, public attention has focused on the railroad in a way not seen for decades. In the wake of Lac Megantic and other train derailments, resulting fires and explosions, the public is alarmed about the movement of trains through their communities. Environmental activists are up-in-arms about the amount of fossil fuels moving by rail. Farmers and other shippers are concerned about the recent oil train congestion. All this attention gives railroad workers an invaluable opportunity to educate the public about the railroad, its inherent efficiencies and value to society, its great potential, and also the challenging situation that railroad workers face on the job every day.

The public has little idea what railroads are all about. These conferences will shed light on worker issues such as crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, short staffing, limited time off work and more. These are safety concerns not just for railroaders, but for society in general. Non-railroaders in attendance at the conference will come away with a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of the issues facing rail and railroad workers. Railroaders will gain insight into the environmental movement and learn how to forge alliances with public citizens. And all participants will come away with a better understanding of how all of us can work together to build a safer, greener and more just railroad that meets the needs of current and future generations.

Tentative workshops and discussion topics at the conference include:

  • Single employee train crews and the hazards they pose for workers, communities and the environment.
  • Excessively long and heavy trains and their inherent problems and dangers.
  • Crew fatigue and “task overload” and the need for well-rested, well-trained, alert and safe train crews.
  • Building worker-to-worker alliances along the supply chain of all transport workers and communities.
  • Chicagoland citizen efforts to deal with the dangers and hazards of trains moving through their community.
  • A history of worker-community-environmental alliances and how to build one around the railroad industry.

The conference is planned for Saturday, September 19th at the United Electrical (UE) Union Hall at 37 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60607. Registration Fee is $20.00 and includes a healthy lunch. For those interested, a banquet at a nearby restaurant will follow in the evening. Scholarships are available. For more information and/or to register, check the official conference website at www.railroadconference.org; and the RWU website at www.railroadworkersunited.org.

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