You are here

railroad workers

EcoUnionist News #52

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 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.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Fracking the EPA:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

1267-Watch:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism

Railroad Workers United to Observe 7th Annual Railroad Workers Memorial Day On Friday, June 19th 2015

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United Blog, June 9, 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.

On Friday, June 19th 2015 railroad workers are encouraged to wear black to work as a sign of remembrance and recognition of our fallen brothers and sisters who were killed on the job over the course of the previous year. Sponsored by Railroad Workers United, each year the event focuses on a specific theme. Because of the large number of contract and non-union railroaders who were killed the past 12 months, this year’s Railroad Workers Memorial Day will focus on these workers and their plight.

Those non-union and contract workers killed this past year include: a contract worker involved in track work on Canadian Pacific near Forreston, IL; a train crew member of The Western Group, while operating a train near Roswell, NM on former BNSF territory; two employees of a contract railcar servicing outfit while performing service in Omaha, NE; a trainman spotting cars at an industry in Pine Bluff, AR; a contract worker for BNSF unloading rail cars in Kansas City, KS; a conductor making a switch move for Alabama Warrior Railway in Birmingham, AL.

Throughout our history, railroad workers have organized into unions to improve our wages, benefits and working conditions. Improved safety has always been a major reason for railroad workers to organize. Rail carriers – like other corporations - have historically resisted employee organization and the associated demands for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

In recent decades, rail carriers – once again like many modern corporations – have devised a means by which they can circumvent the largely unionized railroad workforce. It is known as “contracting out”. Rather than keep the work in-house, the big rail carriers have opted to farm out all types of jobs to smaller, mostly non-union outfits that all-too-often offer their employees low pay, few benefits, and miserable unsafe working conditions.

Class I railroads have contracted out everything from locomotive servicing to track construction, weed spraying and brush trimming to car repair, rail inspection and train crew transport. It is hard to say just how many jobs have been contracted in this manner, in the tens of thousands perhaps. This is bad news for all railroad workers and it is an issue of grave concern to the future of our industry, our working conditions, pension, and crucially, our safety and health.

The railroad industry proudly touts its safety programs, the declining numbers of on-the-job “reportable” injuries and so forth. However, this disingenuous posturing ignores the fact that the railroad is engaged in contracting out work to outfits that often have poor safety standards and records. These contract companies employ workers – usually on the railroad’s property -- to perform the exact same work that was once performed by railroad employees. But now cynically, the railroad takes no responsibility for these workers because they are no longer in the railroad’s direct employ. The rail carriers’ attitude towards these workers is that the company is not responsible for their health and safety – even though they are on railroad property, performing the same essential work that was once done by our own employees, working in safety sensitive jobs, and making profit for the company’s bottom line. Also, the carriers know that many accidents and injuries of contract workers do not have to be reported to the FRA.

Just because the people servicing the locomotives, cutting the brush or driving the train crews are no longer directly employed by the railroad does not mean that union railroaders should turn our backs on them. Not only are they our fellow workers who work right alongside us, but our very ability to thrive and prosper is intrinsically linked to theirs! The rail labor unions must resist this “de-unionization” of these jobs, and begin to aggressively organize these contract workers.

Therefore, RWU will continue to reach out and support the efforts of all contract railroad workers to organize into a union, and we hope that all railroad union members understand that our safety is directly linked to the safety of our brothers and sisters in the contract sector.

IWW Mobile Rail Workers Win AGAIN!

Press Release - Mobile Rail Workers Union, May 20, 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.

The workers from the Mobile Rail Workers Union have won ONCE AGAIN another round of ULP's in 2015 (Unfair Labor Practices) The full settlement details are below. We continue to fight and bargain for our first contract.

UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN THE MATTER OF Mobile Rail Solutions, Inc.

  • Case 13-CA-129684
  • 13-CA-130242
  • 13-CA-130243
  • 13-CA-132704
  • 13-CA-137168

Subject to the approval of the Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board, the Charged Party and the Charging Party HEREBY AGREE TO SETTLE THE ABOVE MATTER AS FOLLOWS:

POSTING AND MAILING OF NOTICE — After the Regional Director has approved this Agreement, the Regional Office will send copies of the approved Notice to the Charged Party in English and in Spanish. A responsible official of the Charged Party will then sign and date those Notices and immediately post them at the following Mobile Rail Solutions, Inc locations: Chicago (Storage Bay), G1 – Chicago (locations where notices to employees are regularly posted), G2 – Melrose Park (Storage Container), G3 – Rochelle (Storage Container).

The Charged Party will keep all Notices posted for 60 consecutive days after the initial posting. The Charged Party will also copy and mail, at its own expense, a copy of the attached Notice to all current employees and former employees who were employed at any time since December 1, 2013. Those Notices will be signed by a responsible official of the Charged Party and show the date of mailing.

The Charged Party will provide the Regional Director written confirmation of the date of mailing and a list of names and addresses of employees to whom the Notices were mailed.

COMPLIANCE WITH NOTICE — The Charged Party will comply with all the terms and provisions of said Notice.

PAYMENT OF WAGES AND BENEFITS — Within 21 days from approval of this agreement, the Charged Party will make whole the employee(s) named below by payment to each of them of the amount opposite each name. The amount payable to Ahern is for back pay and front pay wages, and as consideration, Ahern has agreed to waive any right to reinstatement.

The Charged Party will make appropriate withholdings for each named employee. No withholdings should be made from the interest portion of the backpay.

The Charged Party will also file a report with the Social Security Administration allocating the payment(s) to the appropriate time periods.

BNSF CEO Keynote Interrupted Over Oil Trains in Chicago at North American Rail Shippers Conference

By Angie Viands - Rising Tide Chicago, May 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.

Chicago, ILMembers of Rising Tide Chicago disrupted the North American Rail Shippers Association, held Wednesday at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, by interrupting a speech by the Burlington-Northern Santa-Fe (BNSF) CEO and dropping a banner in the hotel. These actions drew attention to BNSF’s role in the continued transport of high volumes of dangerous crude through the Chicagoland area.

Burlington-Northern Santa-Fe President Carl Ice was interrupted by two protesters who stood up and chanted, “oil trains kill, shame on you Carl Ice,” while they held a banner that read “BNSF: Bomb Trains Kill.” Just minutes earlier a banner was dropped behind the registration table of the event that had the BNSF logo and read “BNSF: Profits over Safety,” referring to the company’s role in shipping oil and their actions to undermine their rail workers’ safety.

Chicago is a major hub of the nation’s rail traffic, including a recent spike in the transport of crude oil from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. Obtained by the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, Bakken oil has proven to be highly volatile. Local concerns were raised when a unit train carrying 103 cars of Bakken crude derailed near Galina, Illinois while in route to Chicago. Had the resulting explosion occurred in a more populated area like Chicago, there would be mass fatalities.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, is responsible for the transport of the majority of Bakken crude coming into Chicago. Despite the public claims of working towards safer transportation of their cargo, BNSF continues to lobby behind closed doors, opposing reforms designed to protect workers and the communities along the tracks. BNSF has opposed new regulations requiring more stringent speed limits and improved braking technology, as well as launching attacks against requiring multi-person crews.

Participant in the disruption, Kevin Oliver, addressed the cradle-to-grave impacts of developing the Bakken. “From the violence and environmental devastation caused by the extreme extraction of Bakken shale, along the rail lines that cut through our communities on the way to the coasts for export, and to the burning of fossil fuels that contribute to climate chaos, we need to rethink our reliance on the forms of energy that harm our people and planet. BNSF makes billions of dollars putting our communities and climate at risk, so we took this action to take a stand against the obscene wealth that is being generated at the expense of our safety.

Rising Tide Chicago promotes local solutions that empower communities to democratically confront the climate crisis. We believe that our rails should move people, and not dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.

EcoUnionist News #49

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 26, 2015 (Image: Judi Bari stands defiant outside of the Oakland Federal Building, ca: 1996).

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.

Special Note: Due to the recent (voluntarily, fortunately) location of this site's main administrator, some of these stories are a little delayed. We apologize for any delay in timely reporting. Bear with us; we're all working class volunteers. ;-)

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Gulf South Rising:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Railroad Workers United statement on The Wreck of #AMTRAK188

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, May 19, 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.

It has been a week now since Amtrak Train #188 derailed at speed east of Philadelphia, PA. The last week has witnessed endless speculation as the official investigation into the cause of the derailment continues apace. Those of us in the rail industry anxiously await the findings. Meantime, regardless of what the NTSB, the FBI and other agencies discover and conclude about the tragic wreck, there are a number of facts that are worth considering.

1. It is roundly agreed by railroad executives, union officials and industry insiders that had Positive Train Control (PTC) been in place and in effect on this section of track, the wreck would most likely not have been possible. PTC would have resulted in a train brake application in order to slow the train, recognizing that its speed was excessive and therefore unable to negotiate the tight curve ahead. PTC has been mandated by Congress, but its complete implementation has been delayed on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere for a myriad of reasons. In Amtrak’s case, one of these reasons is a lack of adequate funding from Congress.

2. Amtrak has been underfunded for decades and forced to scrape by, cutting corners and deferring maintenance, even under the microscope by a budget cutting Congress more concerned with ideological purity and political expediency than with safety and security. On the busy Northeast Corridor where the recent wreck took place, Amtrak faces a backlog of drastically needed repairs to bridges and tunnels, obsolete rail interlockings, and trains that rely at times on 1930s-era components. Repairs for the Northeast Corridor are estimated at 4.3 billion over the next 45 years, while federal funding is expected to dwindle to $872 million.

3. As a result of this constant pressure to reduce costs, on March 23rd, 2015, just six weeks prior to the wreck, Amtrak had unilaterally implemented a new scheduling arrangement for Corridor (NEC) train and engine crews over the vehement objections of its operating craft unions. the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLET) and the United Transportation Union (UTU, now known as SMART-TD). The new schedule arrangements. designed to save the company $3 million by reducing scheduled layovers -- were condemned by both unions as a disaster in the making. Amtrak overturned a tried and true couplet system (trains paired out and back) for working crews in the NEC that had been in effect, with little modification, for decades. Prior to March 23, couplets adhered to the 90-minute layover minimum and took into account other factors including difficulty of the train in question, duration of trip, number and location of stops, timeliness etc. Now, not only has the 90-minute layover been scrapped, but crews have no guarantee of any break whatsoever!  In addition, the new arrangement allows for a different on-duty time each day of the work week, and these start times are no longer restricted to within a few hours of one another -- they can be any time of the day!

4. Simple technology has existed for nearly a century now that can aid and assist in preventing accidents such as this one. As with the wreck at Spuyten-Duyvil, NY on the Metro North railroad on December 1st, 2013, a simple transponder could have easily been located west of the curve that would have prevented the train from entering it at such an excess speed (in fact, such a transponder is in place on the approach to the curve in the westbound direction). This being one the tightest and most restricted curves on the corridor, it seems an appropriate location for such a life-saving device. Note: Since the above referenced MN wreck of, such a transponder has in fact been placed on the section of track leading to the 30 mph curve where that train derailed.

5. Amtrak Train #188. operated by lone engineer Brandon Bostian, entered the permanent speed restriction at the curve, rated for 55, at over 100 mph. Whether it was fatigue, the result of a projectile that hit the train, inattentiveness on the part of the engineer, or other factors at play, it is expected that the investigation will eventually pinpoint the cause. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that we may never know. But we know this: had there been a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive that day, it is very likely that such a second qualified crew member would have taken action to prevent the tragedy that. for whatever reason. the engineer at the controls was not able to avert.

In the past half dozen years or so we have witnessed a series of tragic train wrecks, all of which have resulted in countless injuries and loss of life. Four wrecks. Chatsworth, CA (9/12/08); Lac Megantic, Quebec (7/6/13); Spuyten-Duyvil, NY (12/1/13); and now Frankfurt Junction, PA (5/12/15) have all been attributed to some form of “operator error”. (It is worthy of mention a factor that all four of these incidents had in common; i.e. the employee in question was working alone in the cab of the locomotive or was the lone crew member). While operator error may in fact be the case, simply pointing the finger at the worker does little or nothing to assist in understanding why the error was made in the first place; nor does it help us to prevent similar such wrecks in the future. Since workers are human beings and as such, are prone to make mistakes (regardless of how many rules are written up, what discipline may be threatened or how many observation cameras may be installed), we must implement safety features that take this reality into account and thereby prevent tragedies of this nature.

A neoliberal train wreck?

By Guy Miller - Socialist Worker, May 20, 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.

The media coverage of the deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, which killed eight people and injured more than 200, focused on the engineer, but there is a long history of cutbacks and cost-cutting that set the stage for this catastrophe. Guy Miller, a railroad worker for 38 years with Chicago Northwestern and Union Pacific and a retired member of United Transportation Union Local 577, looks at where the blame for this tragedy really lies.

EVERY INDUSTRIAL accident is different in its details, but depressingly similar in the cover-up.

Before the dust settles and the debris is cleared away, the company spokesperson is busy framing the story and assigning blame. The media are quick to join the feeding frenzy--and the responsibility always stops at the employee farthest down the food chain. On the railroads, that employee is often the engineer.

On Amtrak run 188 on May 12, that engineer was named Brandon Bostian. Brandon's public trial began almost immediately. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter didn't have--or seem to care about--any evidence, but he knew where to point the finger: "Clearly, he was reckless and irresponsible in his actions. I don't know what was going on with him. I don't know what was going on in the cab. But there's really no excuse."

At this point, the engineer's safety record is usually trotted out. In the operating department, "safety violations" litter the records of even the most conscientious employees. Improper footwear, stepping on a rail, failure to ring the bell over one of the hundreds of grade crossings--all of these mean violations placed in a personnel file. Citations are easy to come by. Like a hound dog picks up fleas, conductors and engineers pick up safety violations.

The problem with Brandon Bostian is that his record was spotless. So something else had to be dragged into the equation. That something proved to be Brandon's sexual orientation, which conservative radio host Sandy Rios and later other right-wing media incredibly declared was a "factor" in the crash.

While most people now know that Brandon was a supporter of marriage equality, few know he was a safety fanatic. In addition to the normal routine, he had his own procedures. "At work, I run through a five-item checklist after I check my engine, and before I touch anything," he wrote on Facebook. "Then a 10-item checklist before I move the train an inch."

On the day of the accident, because of over-scheduling and a delayed inbound train, Bostian had only 30 minutes between runs. When it's to their advantage, trainmasters and other company officials put constant pressure on workers to short-circuit safety inspections and "get out of Dodge." May 12 may well have been such a day.

Clearly, brother Bostian was a model employee. Just before hitting the curve at Frankford Junction, he was complying with the rulebook and ringing the engine bell through the 30th Street Station. This isn't the behavior of a reckless and irresponsible engineer. This isn't the action of someone about to accelerate from the posted speed to 106 miles per hour less than a minute later.

Whatever happened to Bostian--after suffering a concussion in the crash, he has said that he remembers little about what took place in the minutes before the derailment--we must look elsewhere to place the blame for this tragic accident.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN 2008, Congress instructed the nation's railroads to install Positive Train Control (PTC) by 2015. Positive Train Control is a sophisticated system for monitoring and controlling train speed, separation and collision avoidance.

From the start, the carriers dragged their feet. Rather than spend money on making it happen, they invested in a small army of lobbyists to make sure the mandate would take as long as possible to implement. The list of lobbyists is a Who's Who of Washington insiders, including former Democratic Rep. William Lipinski and Linda Daschle, wife of highly connected former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Heedless of safety concerns and unmoved by the Metro-North accident of 2013 that killed four people in the Bronx--another accident that PTC could have prevented--these lobbyists have succeeded in buying time. Under legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee and now pending before Congress, the deadline for implementing Positive Train Control would be extended five years until 2020.

Within hours of the crash on May 12, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that slashed Amtrak's budget for the next fiscal year by $251 million, to $1.1 billion.

Short of PTC, there are other, older forms of train control dating back to the 1960s. In my 38 years on the railroad, I worked with two of them: Automatic Train Control (ATC) and Automatic Train Stop (ATS). Either of these systems would have prevented the derailment of Amtrak 188.

ATC was already in use on the southbound track, just on the other side of the same deadly curve that train number 188 hit at twice the speed limit. If the system had been positioned in advance of the accident site, the train would have stopped automatically if the engineer didn't respond immediately to a warning bell.

The railroad knew just how dangerous this curve was. The Frankford wreck--which is legendary among East Coast railroaders--occurred on that same curve 72 years before. On Labor Day weekend in 1943, the inbound Congressional Limited derailed at the exact same spot, resulting in the death of 79 people. So why wasn't the ATC system in place?

As recently as the late 1980s, every commuter train in the Chicago Metra system had a second person in the engine cab. Although still known as a "fireman," this second employee was in reality a second engineer. Having just one person in the cab leaves no room for unforeseen events that can have disastrous consequences. What happens if the engineer has a heart attack, a seizure, an aneurysm--or, yes, simply falls asleep?

In March 1987, during the effort to eliminate the fireman's position in the cab, Metra spokesperson Christopher Knapton told the Chicago Tribune, "One-person crews have shown no decline in safety." I doubt if the eight dead passengers in Philadelphia would second Knapton's opinion; at any rate, it's too late to ask them.

Challenging the Industrial Narrative: Railroad workers are increasingly rejecting the old “jobs versus environment” story

By Trish Kahle - Jacobin, April 25, 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 July 6, 2013, the air brakes failed on an unmanned, seventy-four-car train carrying Bakken crude oil, sending the train cascading into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, where it derailed and exploded. Forty-seven people were killed, and nearly half of the downtown was destroyed in the initial blast. In total, twenty-six thousand gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Chaudière River, and soil around the town was toxic to depths of several feet.

The catastrophe in Lac-Mégantic proved to be only the first in a series of high-profile explosions. Last year, there were thirty-eight derailments across the United States and Canada that caused blasts or tank ruptures. With scenes of toxic black smoke billowing above the nation’s grasslands and residents fleeing in terror, the vehicles at the center of the lethal phenomenon were given a new name: “bomb trains.

Yet rarely did the workers conducting and maintaining the North American rail system enter the conversation. Railroad Workers United (RWU) — a solidarity organization for railroaders across the industry’s dozen or so unions — saw an opportunity to fight for safer working conditions and build alliances with a public that fears further derailments, deaths, and ecological devastation.

One early result of that effort came last month, when the RWU brought railroad workers, environmentalists, and other labor and community activists together for two conferences — one in Richmond, California, the other in Olympia, Washington — to discuss the intersection of labor and environmental justice issues.

The conferences, as organizers readily noted, weren’t necessarily breaking new ground. They drew inspiration from earlier labor-environmental coalitions, which have a rich if overlooked history, particularly in heavy industry.

But even with the guidance the past can provide, workers and environmentalists must live in the present, where a ravaged labor movement has struggled even to win defensive battles and the environmental movement debates its strategy and future. Forging solidarity across traditional divides will be crucial in revivifying the labor movement and fighting climate change.

To that end, I recently interviewed three conference participants — RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow; Sierra Club community organizer Ratha Lai; and Ross Grooters, an Iowa-based locomotive engineer, environmentalist, and RWU member — about the state of the labor-environmental alliance, the working conditions on the nation’s railroads, and their vision for the future. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s Not Forget Our Brothers on the W&LE - Fighting for All of Us!

J. P. Wright - Railroad Workers United, April 23, 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.

While the fight against the BNSF attempt at engineer only operations was big time news amongst rail workers, our brothers at the Wheeling and Lake Erie (W&LE) remain on the front lines of this critical battle, soldiering on in relative obscurity.

For several years the W&LE has been aggressively pushing engineer-only trains, and the conductors and engineers said “no thanks”. On September 13, 2013, the carrier began to run engineer-only with a manager behind the throttle, no less. In response, the BLET represented members of BOTH crafts – conductors and engineers - went on strike September 20, 2013. The strike shut down the regional carrier’s operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania before the 100+ union members were ordered back to work by a temporary restraining order.

Since that time, the W&LE remains intransigent on the engineer-only issue. The workers there remain defiant, but they have now gone seven years without a raise. Simply put, the W&LE is attempting to economically bludgeon our brothers and sisters into submission. They are no doubt feeling the pain; who wouldn’t? This is an outrage!!!

If the W&LE has their way, the major Class 1 railroads will get a much needed boost in their attempts to run engineer-only. So the stakes for all of us rail workers is a no-brainer. By logical extension, the general public has a vested interest in safe railroading operations. As some state legislatures and corporations are trying to housebreak our unions at best and bust them at worst, this is one of several battlefronts that the entire working class has a stake in. They deserve and need the solidarity and support from all of us -- rails, other workers, and the general public.

At the BLET convention last October, a rank & file delegate proposed the following resolution from the floor. It carried with unanimous support (minus one “No” vote). RWU encourages all railroaders of all unions - BLET or otherwise - to push adoption of similar resolutions in your respective locals. Then forward them on to RWU. We will send them on to the Local #292 leadership to let them know they are not alone, and that we all have their backs.

EcoUnionist News #48

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 20, 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.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

May Day:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Bread and Roses:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Pages