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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

EcoUnionist News #47

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 14, 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:

USW Refinery Strike:

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

Future Blast Zones? How Crude-By-Rail Puts U.S. Communities At Risk

By Steve Early - Telesur, March 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.

The transport of petroleum via rail is now a well-known and unwelcome sight in many other U.S. communities. Its long distance rail transport has resulted in five major train fires and explosions in the last 16 months alone.

Now a diverse industrial city of 100,000, Richmond is still crisscrossed with tracks, both main lines and shorter ones, serving its deep-water port, huge Chevron oil refinery, and other local businesses.

Trains just arriving or being readied for their next trip, move in and out of a sprawling Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail yard located right next to the oldest part of town. Some train formations are more than 100 cars long. The traffic stalls they create on nearby streets and related use of loud horns, both day and night, have long been a source of neighborhood complaints. Persistent city hall pressure has succeeded in cutting horn blasts by about 1,000 a day, through the creation of several dozen much appreciated “quiet zones.” No other municipality in California has established so many, but only after many years of wrestling with the industry.

Despite progress on the noise front, many trackside residents continue to experience “quality of life” problems related to the air they breath. Some of their complaints arise from Richmond’s role as a transfer point for coal and petroleum coke (aka “pet coke”) being exported to Asia. As one Richmond official explained at a community meeting in March, these “climate wrecking materials” wend their way through the city in open cars—leaving, in their wake, houses, backyards, and even parked cars covered with a thick film of grimy, coal dust. Coal train fall-out has become so noisome in Richmond that its seven-member city council—now dominated by environmental activists— wants the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to mandate the use of enclosed cars.

This would seem to be a no-brainer, public health-wise. But the track record of this particular governmental agency—in any area related to public health and safety—has not been confidence inspiring lately. The BAAQMD is already complicit with the creation of Richmond’s most troubling new fossil fuel hazard in recent memory. For the last year, that threat has been on display, as far as the eye can see, at BNSF, which is owned by Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett. Buffett’s rail yard has been filled with hundreds of black, tubular metal tank cars containing a particularly volatile form of crude oil that’s come all the way to Richmond from the new energy boomtowns of North Dakota.

EcoUnionist News #44

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, March 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.

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

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Health and Safety:

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

RWU Out West: Our Conferences are Starting to Make People Think!

By J.P. Wright - Railroad Workers United Blog, 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.

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