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Railroad Workers United (RWU)

The Revolution Will Be On Rail, Part I

By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, June 14, 2016 (image by Jon Flanders)

Trains have the ability to move America into a post-carbon economy with fewer cars, cleaner air and stronger communities. But railroad bosses are telling their workers they have to support more oil and coal extraction, and faster, more dangerous train routes in order to keep their jobs.

John Paul Wright is concerned about this contradiction. The husband and father is a locomotive engineer, union and labor organizer, and a singer of protest songs. As the national lead organizer for [Railroad Workers United] and a member of the organization’s steering committee, part of his job is bringing together railroad unions who’ve been told by the bosses that they have incompatible views and interests. “This is the very nature of big business craft unionism,” he tells me. “The workers are caught in the middle.”

Wright says that “the railroad could be the most efficient way to move anything we move today. But we’ve been sold on an economy that doesn’t represent our best interests.”

Part of our job as storytellers and advocates for a new economy is to articulate how the interests of working people converge with those of a healthy and just planet. Trains are a crucial part of that picture. “The railroads built the small towns, passenger service was the transportation policy before cars,” Wright says, “and small farming communities had access to larger markets.”

But now, the trains and often the land on which they travel are owned by big corporations. “So us workers are forced to move whatever America wants. We move coal, oil, products from sweatshops overseas, fertilizer, plastics, etc,” he says. All because corporate capitalism “sees no profit in a transportation policy built on service and access.”

This isn’t just the market following around people’s preferences like a faithful dog. The story of the decline of public transportation and railways is one of criminal manipulation by capitalists, not honest brokering. In the first half of the 20th century, a group of executives colluded to buy and literally dismantle the electric train systems in many of America’s major cities in order to artificially create a market for oil, cars, trucks and eventually an interstate system.

America’s public transit was like a Library of Alexandria for the United States: if it had survived and been regularly upgraded, we’d have quite a system today, one that would likely be transitioning to completely renewable power, as smaller nations are in the process of doing.

The potential ecological and socioeconomic benefits of rail are overwhelming. For transport of goods, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. They also reduce highway gridlock, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce pollution. For personal travel, trains emit on average between 80 and 90 percent less carbon output than airplanes per passenger.

Although some trains still run on diesel and oil, and a growing number of cars are hybrid or totally electric, trains could make the jump forward by going totally renewable, as they have in other countries. And a well-planned and executed mass transit system could make travel virtually free, replacing vehicles that are expensive to buy and maintain.

As usual it comes down to who makes the decisions: citizens and railway workers, or corporate shareholders and bosses. The corporations are in control now, and the results are unsafe trains that are about to become even less safe due to labor-saving proposals to decrease crew members; trains speeding through ecologically sensitive areas carrying lethal crude oil and frequently causing spills and explosions; and a passenger transit system that doesn’t come close to living up to its efficiency potential. Contrary to what the railway bosses are telling workers and the public, these issues are interrelated and must be part of an agenda for economic and ecological justice.

Railroad Workers United Former Co-Chair and Organizer Mark Burrows Speaks at Chicago Break Free Rally

On Sunday, May 15th in Whiting, Indiana, former RWU Co-Chair Mark Burrows was invited to speak to a group of community members and environmental activists about rail safety. Mark touched on the Lac Megantic tragedy and frame-up of railroad workers in Canada, crew fatigue and single employee train crews.

Appeal from Railroad Workers United: No Single Employee Crews!

Public Comment Period Extended to June 15th at 11:59 PM EDT 

Tell the FRA:

"No Single Employee Train Crews!"

Email Your Message today!

Dear RWU Members & Supporters:

On March 15th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) offricially announced a Proposed Rule on the whole question of crew staffing for trains in the United States. After careful consideration, RWU has come to the only conclusion possible: the Proposed Rule provides a road map for any and all rail carriers to obtain the FRA's blessing to run trains with a single employee. Therefore, RWU cannot support this Proposed Rule, period.

We continue to agree with the joint statement from nearly 7 years ago that the BLET and the UTU made in a joint Petition filed in June 2009 with the FRA on the question of traincrew  staffing which reads: “No conditions exist where one-person operations are safe.”  And since the Proposed Rule is predicated on the "safe" operation of trains with a single crew member, we must urge the FRA to promulgate a Rule that outlaws the practice. We urge all RWU members and all railroad workers to contact the FRA and tell them in plain language: "No single employee train crews!"

  • To write/FAX the FRA, click HERE.
  • To email the FRA, click HERE.
  • To view the RWU Letter to the FRA on the Proposed Rule, click HERE.
  • To view the FRA Proposed Rule, Click HERE.
  • To view the RWU Editorial on the Proposed Rule Click HERE.
  • To view a comprehensive article entitled "What's Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?" with 21 reasons why they are unsafe and unworkable, click HERE.
  • To view the most recent RWU Resolution to Oppose Single Employe Operating Crews from March 2nd, 2015, see below or click HERE.
  • To view the original RWU Resolution on Single Employee Train crews from January 5th, 2010, click HERE
  •  

A Just Transition: Break Free

By John Paul Wright - RailroadMusic.Org, May 17, 2016

There is a suggestion called a Just Transition that is floating around parts of the labor and environmental communities. To fully understand this term, we as workers, community members, union members and activists would need to explore,

  1. What we used to have.
  2. When and how we transitioned historically.
  3. Where we want to go.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned a U.S Army expedition called the Corps of Discovery. The task was to map and claim the west before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. Part of the mission was to find a water transportation route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition set sight on the Pacific Ocean. After finding no direct water route, they returned to St Louis in 1806. it took industry and the U.S Government sixty-four years after Lewis and Clark returned, to connect the nation by rail, from sea to shining sea.

In 1869, Leland Stanford, railroad baron and co-founder of Stanford University, drove the “golden spike” that connected the rails of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad spike sits in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Before the spike was driven into the ceremonial railroad cross tie at Promontory Point, Utah, the United States had not yet been connected, ocean to ocean with a transportation policy.

As the railroad companies grew and people moved at speeds never before traveled across land, small communities were rapidly becoming connected to larger markets. Farming communities had access to rail transportation and industries popped up in the railroad towns. In 1913, Ford starts mass production on his first assembly line. On June 29th, 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was enacted. It took industry 43 years to get a policy in place, that would give the automobile industry the green light to further transition this country from rail transportation of people, to personally owned vehicles.

The trucking industry was born, the railroad transitioned from steam to diesel fueled locomotives. The movement of industrial commodities replaced the passengers that were owning personal transportation. The nation’s population rapidly grew with the workers needed to build these new innovations and dreams. New industries were created with investment and taxation. The nation was more, so called secure, or was in a better position militarily, hence the name of the government policy that created the nation’s highway system.

Of course, this is a broad over simplification of many ideas, policies, historical facts and timelines. There were many other policies that were discussed and pitched. There were many laws, taxes and industrial failures and successes, as well as, iconic brands, dreams and ways of life that were transitioned or simply disappeared as one industry won favor over another.

Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus: Three Years and Going Strong

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 3, 2016; image by Jon Flanders.

The Bay Area IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus was cofounded in February 2013 by three members of the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch. The group also helped launch the IWW EUC proper shortly after that.

The Bay Area IWW EUC quickly launched ecology.iww.org as well as the EUC social media presence on Facebook & Twitter.

Initially, the group joined in anti-Keystone X-L protests in the Spring of 2013, but also played a minor role in helping organize a labor contingent at the August 6, 2013 "Summer Heat" protest against Chevron in Richmond, CA (on the one year anniversary of the refinery fire which injured several union workers and sent 15,000 residents to the hospital seeking medical care).

Following that event, members of the Bay Area EUC helped launch the Richmond based Sunflower Alliance with several other local working class climate justice and frontline community activists. That group focuses primarily on climate & environmental justice campaigns in the Contra Costa County (northeast Bay Area) refinery corridor, which is one of the most industrial communities in all of California. That group--thanks in part to the presence of IWW members (but also do to the contributions of others) remains very class conscious and continually reaches out to the workers in the fossil fuel projects that it targets, with some degree of success.

Likewise, the Bay Area EUC also helped found and remains active in the Bay Area chapter of System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC). Thanks to open and friendly dialog, that group which is predominantly Eco-socialist is still inclusive of and welcoming to green-syndicalists and remains nonsectarian and inclusive. That group has organized several climate justice marches and rallies (with the help of others) which have included substantial rank & file Union member participation.

In February 2015, the Bay Area EUC, along with the aforementioned groups, Communities for a Better Environment, Movement Generation, the California Nurses Association, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club organized community support for striking refinery workers at the Tesoro refinery in Avon, CA (near Martinez) in Contra Costa County. There was a substantial "green" solidarity presence on the picket lines due to these efforts.

While this was happening, Bay Area IWW EUC members, along with Railroad Workers United, 350, the Sunflower Alliance, and SCnCC helped organize three "Railroad Workers Safety Conferences" that included railroad workers, striking refinery workers, and climate justice activists dialoging on common issues. The conferences were held in Richmond, Olympia, and the Great Lakes region, and were very successful. The website railroadconference.org has the information. More conferences may follow.

Since the conclusion of the railroad conferences, members of the Bay Area EUC have been involved in the "No Coal in Oakland" campaign, which seeks to prevent coal from being exported from a new bulk exports terminal being developed in Oakland by anti-Occupy capitalist, Phil Tagami (that group doesn't oppose the terminal or export of other (non fossil fuel) commodities; just coal). That group has a very strong union member participation, and has managed to get 21 unions (including four ILWU locals, the SEIU port workers local, and Bay Area IWW) to oppose coal exports. These efforts led to the Alameda County AFL-CIO CLC passing a resolution against coal exports (in the face of Teamsters and Building Trades support for coal exports) and the subsequent creation of a "green caucus" of the CLC.

The Bay Area EUC has also participated in conferences organized by the group "Bay Localize" that seek to have unions and clean power advocates work together on Community Choice Aggregation campaigns that challenge the dominance of capitalist investor owned utilities (primarily PG&E).

Bay Area EUC members have also participated in campaigns to save Knowland Park (in the southeast Oakland hills) from creeping privatization); to prevent the eviction of a homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb on the east bay shore; and in the "Occupy the Farm" campaign in the Gill Tract of Albany (northwest of Berkeley).

With the support of Bay Area EUC members, Railroad Workers United passed a resolution on "Just Transition"; those same members are hoping to get the ILWU to pass a similar resolution.

Finally, our group has participated in or organized several showings of Darryl Cherney's film, "Who Bombed Judi Bari?"

Most of these groups, campaigns, and efforts have been well covered on ecology.iww.org.

Railroad Workers United calls for Just Transition

Press Release - Railroad Workers United, April 1, 2016

Whereas, the continued extraction and combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil has been scientifically proven to represent a threat to the environment and the future of the planet; and

Whereas, there is a mass movement domestically and globally to radically reduce the continued use of such fuels to power economic development; and

Whereas, other alternative energy sources – wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric–are developing rapidly and appear to be the wave of the future; and

Whereas, railroad corporations have traditionally hauled large amounts of fossil fuel–especially coal–but the future of this traffic appears uncertain or possibly even non-existent within a few decades; and

Whereas, the burden of shifting from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based upon renewal energy should not be unfairly born by workers, including railroad workers; and

Whereas, to ensure that such a transition to alternative energy does not create an economy of low paid jobs for working people-including railroad workers-whose jobs could conceivably be threatened by such a transition;

Therefore, Be it Resolved that RWU supports a “Just Transition” to an economy based upon renewal and clean energy; and

Be it further Resolved that RWU demand workers who are displaced from environmentally destructive industries be provided living wage income and benefits through public sector jobs or a universal basic income; and

Be it Further Resolved that RWU demand that workers who are displaced from environmentally destructive industries be provided with commensurate rates of pay and benefits while retraining; and

Be it Further Resolved that RWU demands that fossil fuel extraction dependent regions such as Appalachia be locations where investments of alternative energy are made to offset the economic dislocations that workers and communities would face from such a transition; and

Be it Finally Resolved that RWU call upon the rail industry and the rail unions to work together to move away from unsustainable practices - specifically the hauling of environmentally destructive commodities--and work towards expanding the railroads’ business prospects in areas such as mail, passengers, trailers and containers, renewal energy components, etc.

Interview With John Paul Wright

By John Carico - Fifth Column, March 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Railroaders’ Group Supports Rule to Ban Single Employee Train Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Care About Railroad Safety You Must Defend Tom Harding

Editorial - Railroad Workers United, Highball, Winter 2016

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

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

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

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