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Railroad Workers United (RWU)

A Major Strike May be Coming and I Promise You No One is Ready for it if it Does!

By Xaxnar - Daily Kos, July 14, 2022

Breaking July 15, 2022 — The Strike has been put on hold by presidential order — see the UPDATE story here.

The news about people who work for a living has featured some recent breakthrough stories, where previously immune companies have seen their workers organize and form unions. But what about an industry that remains one where unions have a long history and are still active? 

Very few people pay attention the way we should to railroads in America. That may be about to change, and not in a good way.

Sure, news about expanding Amtrak seems like a good thing, and there are plenty of High-Speed Rail (HSR) proposals — usually accompanied by reports on how expensive they are and how long they will take to build — if they can get past the NIMBY folks, the highway and airline lobbies, and the fossil fuel interests.

People freak out about bomb trains (understandable), and derailments — but how many people pay attention otherwise to the condition of our rail corridors, how much the industry is investing in itself, how much of the national economy depends on rail service, and the conditions for the people who work for the railroads?

Or the public good for that matter?

California Climate Jobs Plan Continues to Gain Union Endorsements

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus - March 11, 2022

The California Climate Jobs Plan, popularly known as "the Pollin Report"--which has been described as a "sholvel ready just transition/Green New Deal" plan--and was immediately endorsed by nineteen California based labor unions, including three United Staeelworkers Union locals which primarily represent refinery workers upon its unveiling has since gained the support of many additional unions. The following unions (so far) have since endorsed the plan (knowing that while the plan isn't perfect, it's at least a step in a positive direction):

November 2021:

  • Inland Boatmen's Union (IBU), SF Bay Region (an affiliate of the ILWU)
  • Railroad Workers United
  • IWW San Francisco Bay Area General Membership Branch

February 2022:

  • International Lonshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Northern California District Council (NCDC)

The council is composed of delegates from the following ILWU Locals:

  • ILWU Local 6 (Bay Area Warehouse)
  • ILWU Local 10 (Bay Area Longshore)
  • ILWU Local 34 (Bay Area Shipping Clerks)
  • ILWU Local 75 (Bay Area Dock Security Guards)
  • ILWU Local 91 (Bay Area “Walking Bosses”)
  • ILWU Local 14 (Eureka; combined)
  • ILWU Local 18 (Sacramento; ditto)
  • ILWU Local 54 (Stockton)
  • Bay Area IBU (already endorsed individually)
  • and the pensioners from all of the above.

However, the NCDC's endorsement does not automatically mean that each of its constituent locals have individually endorsed the plan.

The more unions that endorse and take an active role in motivating the proposal either by lobbying at the California state level, engaging in public actions to promote the goals of the plan, or even engaging in workplace actions (whereaver relevant and practiceble), the greater chances the plan has of being realized.

(That said, it should be noted that this is not an IWW organizing project, although IWW members have been active in securing additional union endorsements).

A sample resolution (a copy of the text adopted by the SF Bay Area IBU) is available here.

Download the plan - here.

Unions and Climate Activists Find Common Cause in Opposing Airport Expansion

By Dayton Martindale - Truthout, September 27, 2021

Airport employees and community allies protest a proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport on September 14, 2021; image by author.

“Are you scared you’re going to lose all your jobs ’cause there will be no planes?”

The audience chuckled at MSNBC host Chris Hayes’s first question for Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, at a March 2019 special on the Green New Deal. Nelson, an ardent climate advocate, dismissed the notion out of hand: “We still have to get around.” The real threat to flights, she insisted, is an increase in extreme weather events. It is climate inaction, then, that could keep planes from flying, rather than climate action.

Across the Atlantic, the messaging is notably different. Environmentalists across the U.K. and France have campaigned against airport expansions, and the Swedish language now has a word (flygskam) for the climate shame felt by those who fly. In August 2019, Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg chose to ride a boat to New York to reduce emissions and draw attention to the crisis.

So, will we have to keep any airplanes on the ground? The answer is complicated, depending on how quickly certain technologies become widespread, how willing we are to tolerate financial and environmental costs of jet fuel alternatives, and whether we aim to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions entirely or merely reach “net-zero” emissions (in which scenario we would continue to emit, but attempt to offset the climate impact through carbon capture and storage).

But there is a growing consensus that even in technologically optimistic scenarios, some constraints on demand will be necessary to curtail the expected growth in flights over the decades to come. Many climate activists argue that because these technologies are uncertain, we should start reducing flights as soon as possible. And some early indications — such as an ongoing union-led fight against an airport expansion in Los Angeles — suggests that the climate movement’s most powerful ally against rampant growth in air travel may be labor.

Few demonstrators at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during a September 14 rally held greenhouse gas emission foremost in their minds as they decried the proposed expansion. The 50 or so protesters — most wearing the shirt of either SEIU United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) or Unite Here Local 11 — were more vocal about issues such as health care, wages, and the impact of air pollution and traffic congestion at their jobs and in their neighborhoods. The two unions, representing thousands of food, custodial and passenger service employees at the airport, were joined by Sunrise LA and other community and environmental groups outside a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC).

An SEIU-USSW press release argues that the current plans to expand LAX “ignore the needs of workers at the airport as well as those who are most impacted by it: nearby neighborhood residents,” but they do not oppose the expansion outright. Instead, the labor groups want to see a community benefits agreement — an enforceable contract between the airport and community groups that allows workers and residents to provide substantive input, ensuring any airport development respects economic and environmental justice. If this demand is not met, SEIU-USWW President David Huerta tells Truthout, the union “could transition into direct opposition.”

Any solution must ensure worker voices are heard, says Sunrise LA spokesperson Josiah Edwards. Airport employees kept LAX running through the pandemic for inadequate pay, and already bear a heavy environmental burden. That they are not invited to the BOAC’s closed-door meetings is “a clear instance of environmental injustice,” Edwards says.

RWU Resolution on Rail Improvement/Development in North America

By RWU Steering Committe - Railroad Workers United, June 2, 2021

Whereas, the US, Canada, and Mexico have a vast existing rail network, with the U.S. rail network alone at more than 140,000 miles, the world’s largest: and

Whereas, this vast network can be vastly improved in the coming years - through electrification, multiple tracking, higher speed limits, grade crossing eliminations, and increased train frequencies - to serve a far greater number of shippers and passengers than at present; and

Whereas, these improvements can be made cheaper, be implemented far quicker, and serve a far greater constituency than would the construction of an entirely new network; and

Whereas, making use of existing right-of-way can avoid many of the controversies (e.g. land condemnations, environmental concerns, high price tags, etc.), construction delays, and cost overruns that can be associated with “high speed rail” (HSR) projects; and

Whereas, the North American public conversation across society more than ever supports transportation infrastructure repair and improvement projects, especially rail, that include everyone who lives here; and

Whereas, the decisions we make regarding these projects now will highly affect our future health, safety, and economic prosperity for generations to come; and

Whereas, railroaders know from experience around the world that true HSR can and must be a critical part of 21st century sustainable environmentally sound transportation future; and

Whereas, High Speed Rail projects that only serve elites or which dismiss problems of climate, access, safety, and justice will leave the public hostile towards rail solutions; and

Whereas, the majority of the currently proposed HSR projects are exclusively passenger service projects that principally serve communities who already have access; and

Whereas, available funding for these “HSR” projects has the potential to absorb significant financial resources that could otherwise be made available to upgrade, expand, and develop our existing rail network that serves both passenger and freight; and

Whereas, rail lines that currently exist in unconnected communities are now often at risk for abandonment, and once they are gone, recovering them for public benefit will be difficult if not impossible to accomplish; and

Whereas, railroad workers want to have a safe and secure future, and therefore must not leave the key policy decisions about that future up to those who regard them as disposable in an industry dominated by finance and Wall Street; and

Whereas, many so-called HSR passenger-only projects are designed to substitute glitzy technology for trained and skilled railroad workers, putting communities at risk;

Therefore, be it Resolved that Railroad Workers United calls for rail development projects that up-grade low as well as high end speed for both passenger and freight trains, remove barriers like road crossings at grade and build capacity and environmentally sustainable safe rail transport for the future of all stakeholders (workers, passengers, shippers, trackside communities, etc); and

Be it Further Resolved, that Railroad Workers United does not support “high speed rail” projects that exclude freight service trains and do not reconnect excluded communities; and

Be it Further Resolved, that RWU opposes diverting crucial funding necessary to upgrade existing rail infrastructure to “high speed” experiments that only serve elites; and

Be it Finally Resolved that RWU calls upon railroaders, trade unions, rail advocates and allies to join with RWU in advocating for a broad array of integrated rail solutions that will make railroads a key part of the Green transportation future that serves our whole society.

‘It’s Going to End Up Like Boeing’: How Freight Rail Is Courting Catastrophe

By Aaron Gordon - Vice, March 22, 2021

Just before 5 a.m. on August 2, 2017, Alice Murray was fast asleep when her entire house shook, almost as if a freight train had crashed into the block, she told the Cumberland Times-News.

That's exactly what happened.

About 30 yards away, just off Cleveland Street in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, 33 cars in a 178-car freight train belonging to CSX Corporation derailed. The train crashed into one house and damaged two others. The entire town had to be evacuated. Miraculously, no one was killed. 

As scary as the derailment in Hyndman was, it could have been much worse. Of the 178 cars on that train, 70 contained hazardous material, including 15 of the derailed cars, according to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation. Luckily, just three of them—which contained molten asphalt, molten sulfur, and propane—either leaked or lit on fire. 

The town was evacuated because molten asphalt, if released, can create vapors that, according to the NTSB, are an "explosive mixture with air." Some of the other derailed cars contained liquified petroleum gas, and one car that did not derail contained Sodium Chlorate, which is potentially poisonous to inhale.

Oil Trains: Are Profits Worth Our Risk?

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 2021

At first glance, the casual observer from outside of the rail industry is prone to say that single employee train operation sounds dangerous. “What if the engineer has a heart attack?” is an often heard question. And while this question has merit, there are many other and far more complex and unanswered questions about just how single employee train operations could be accomplished safely and efficiently for the train crew, the railroad and the general public. How will the train make a back-up move? What happens when the train hits a vehicle or pedestrian? How will the train crew member deal with “bad-order” equipment in his/her train, or make pick-ups and set-outs en route? What about job briefings and calling signals, copying mandatory directives and reminders of slow orders? These are just some questions that we take up in this article.

Remote Control and “Utility Conductors”

In recent years, the Class I rail carriers have been biding their time, slowly but surely inserting language into recent contracts with both unions of the operating crafts that will facilitate their schemes to run over the road trains with a lone employee. They have made arrangements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) to allow the BLET represented crew member to make use remote controlled locomotives. With this scenario, the lone operator would strap on a belt pack, dismount from the locomotive, and run the locomotive by remote control operation (RCO) using radio control from the ground. And the carriers have also made deals with the United Transportation Union (UTU) to allow for “utility conductors”; i.e. a conductor who can “attach” to one or more over-the-road trains during the course of a single tour of duty. Between the two arrangements, the rail carriers apparently believe they can safely and efficiently operate road trains with just one employee aboard as opposed to the current standard of two. We disagree.

RWU Statement to Pipelines & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in Regard to Proposal to Ship LNG by Rail

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, August 6, 2019

Docket Management System
U.S. Department of Transportation
West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12–140, Routing Symbol M–30 1200
New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590

August 6th, 2019

Comment Re: PHMSA–2019–0100, Draft Environmental Assessment for a Special Permit Request for Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail

To William S. Schoonover, Associate Administrator of Hazardous Materials Safety, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:

Railroad Workers United (RWU) urges you to deny the special permit requested by Energy Transport Solutions, LLC to ship large quantities of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) using unit trains of DOT-113C120W tank cars. Rail shipments of LNG would pose dramatic health, safety, and environmental risks to railroad workers and com-munities across the United States. LNG train derailments could cause fires and ex-plosions, property damage, mass injuries and fatalities - impacts that are largely ignored in PHMSA’s cursory, 23-page analysis.

As an organization of working rank & file railroad workers from all crafts and all car-riers, Railroad Workers United is deeply concerned about the casual attitude to-wards shipping LNG by rail. Over the course of the last six years or so we have wit-nessed the danger inherent in shipping Bakken crude oil by rail with limited over-sight and regulation, a danger that continues to this day.

It is obvious that the proposal to ship LNG by rail likewise is inherently dangerous for train crews, trackside communities and the public at large if it is not moved in a safe manner. Most of the oil trains which have crashed over the last six years or so - re-sulting in spills, fires, and explosions – were in fact made up of DOT-113C120W tank cars, ones of the type that apparently are being proposed now for LNG trains. Therefore, before any LNG is moved in unit trains across the U.S., Railroad Workers United recommends the following regulation:

  • LNG shall not be moved by rail unless it is moved in tank cars that have been crash tested to withstand puncturing. Many of the rail cars currently in service are not capable of safely transporting LNG and should not be used in this capacity.
  • Electrically Controlled Pnuematic (ECP) braking should be employed on all unit trains of LNG as a means of possibly preventing a disaster, and/or mitigating the extent of the disaster in the event of a derailment/crash.
  • The longer and heavier the train, the greater the propensity for it to derail, and having derailed, the greater chance of disaster. We recommend all such dangerous trains be limited to no more than 50 cars.
  • All such trains must have a minimum of at least two persons in the cab of the locomotive to ensure safe move-ment and delivery of the product, and to mitigate against disaster throughout its routing, should there be a mishap.
  • Prior to departure from the originating terminal, all such trains must undergo a thorough and proper inspection by host railroad employees who are properly trained and certified to do the work.
  • Prior to movement on the mainline, such trains should have an advance “high-rail” escort service to ensure that the track ahead is clear and in proper condition for the safe passage of the train.
  • After a string of oil train derailments, fires and explosions, crude oil train speed was limited to 40 mph in urban areas. Unit trains of LNG should likewise be so restricted.

Only once these safety features at a minimum are adopted would RWU be comfortable in supporting the proposed shipment of LNG by rail.

Ron Kaminkow
General Secretary
Railroad Workers United

Download (PDF).

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

Fritz Edler on Green Unionism

Fritz Edler interviewed by Labor Network for Sustainability, July 6, 2017

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