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How a Railway Workers Union Won New Technology That Improves Jobs and Reduces Greenhouse Gases

By Karl (Fritz) Edler, BLET Div. 482, retired, Special Rep, Railroad Workers United, Washington, DC - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 16, 2016

This is the story of one group of workers who used their union to improve their own conditions – and fight climate change – by proposing and winning their own plan for investment in improved technology. It provides an inspiring example of how workers and their unions can take their own action to reduce their employer’s greenhouse gas emissions while improving their own jobs.

Union railroad workers at Amtrak’s Washington, DC terminal use “small platform” locomotives to make up and service passenger and commuter trains. These diesel-electric locomotives use diesel engines to generate the electricity that is used to provide the motive power.  Their small size is a key advantage in the close quarters of terminal yard operations.  The units that are currently in use are almost a half-century old, and are far behind modern standards and goals for diesel emissions.

Several years ago the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, through its DC State Legislative Board, foresaw a looming dilemma. Without action, these aging diesel-powered locomotives would be kept in service with as little maintenance as possible until they were beyond recovery. At that point they would be replaced — with the lowest price most likely being the prime consideration.

This meant that the workforce and the public would endure ever-worsening diesel particulate emissions as long as the highly-polluting engines were kept in service. When they would finally replaced, the replacement locomotives would not have the kinds of work qualities needed for best practices in train operations.  Replacement units would most likely be harder and more unwieldy to work.

The union’s State Legislative Board devised a plan to modernize the locomotives now with more energy-efficient engines using an advanced technology known as “gen-sets.” That would reduce pollution and provide higher work life quality while reducing fuel costs. It would also preserve the “small platform” that made terminal train operations safer and easier.

The Union approached the Washington, DC area Council of Governments (MWCoG) to put together a proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had an existing grant program to replace diesel powered equipment with less polluting equipment.

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Worker Management of the Barcelona Public Transit System, 1936-1939

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Control, November 24, 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.

In the years leading up to the revolution in Spain in 1936 there had been bitter struggles of the workers...such as the long but defeated streetcar strike in 1935. A number of leading activists in that strike were sent to prison. With the victory of the liberals and social-democrats in Spain's national elections in February 1936, imprisoned unionists were freed, and the workers on the Barcelona transit system began rebuilding their union, which was to play an important role in the city during the revolutionary events of 1936.

In Barcelona in 1936 the main part of the transit system was a large streetcar system, operated by Barcelona Tramways (Tranvias de Barcelona), a company owned mainly by Belgian investors. The streetcar company operated 60 routes that criss-crossed the city and ran into the nearby suburbs. Of the 7,000 workers for this company in 1936, 6,500 belonged to the Transport Union of the National Confederation of Labor, known by its Spanish initials as the CNT. The CNT was a libertarian syndicalist labor organization. The Transport Union was a highly democratic organization, run through worker assemblies (general meetings) and councils of elected shop stewards (delegados). Being syndicalist means that the union was part of a revolutionary social movement that aimed to have the workers take over direct, collective management of the industries, replacing the bosses and the capitalist investors, and creating an economy based on ownership of industry by the whole society.

In response to the mass mobilization and strikes of the Spanish workers, the heads of Spain's army, with direct support of the country's capitalist elite, attempted to overthrow the liberal government, beginning July 19 1936, so as to crush the country's radical labor movement. Union defense groups fought back with the support of much of the rank and file of the police, defeating the army in two thirds of the country initially. The worker unions then formed their own "People's Army" to fight the fascist Spanish army. In the days following the defeat of the army in Barcelona, the unions moved to expropriate most of the country's industry and new organizations of direct worker management were created.

Boston school bus drivers vote in fired union leaders

By Brenda Ryan - Workers World, May 4, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In a stunning victory, the militant, fighting rank and file of the Boston school bus drivers’ union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, voted in the full slate of Team Solidarity candidates, led by four illegally fired leaders, on the union’s Executive Board.

The April 30 election was the largest voter turnout in the history of the local and resulted in an unprecedented landslide vote by more than 3 to 1 for the Team Solidarity ticket. The membership sent a clear message to Veolia/Transdev, the union-busting school bus management company, as well as to Boston Public Schools and Mayor Marty Walsh, that they will fight and win a just contract and the rehiring of their leaders. They will also unite with the communities they serve to struggle for Equal Quality Education.

The new executive board-elect of the 850-strong union, whose members are largely Haitian, Cape Verdean and African-American, includes President Andre Francois, long-time chief steward; Vice President Stevan Kirschbaum, a founder of the local; Treasurer Georgia Scott, veteran of the 1965 Civil Rights battle on Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.; Financial Secretary Steven Gillis, the outgoing vice president and benefits administrator; Recording Secretary Claude “Tou Tou” St. Germain, a Fanmi Lavalas activist; Grievance Committee members Garry Murchison, a three-term past president, Frantz Mendes, two-term president, and Richard Laine; Trustees Frantz “Fan Fan” Cadet, Fred Floreal and Judy Long; Guide Chantal Suffrant Casimir; Guards Adriano Barbosa and Ludnay Pierre; and Accident Review Committee members Jerome Samir Stanley, Kathy Moore and Robert Salley. Murchison led the local’s last five-week strike in 1991, which ended with a 48-hour occupation of the mayor’s office.

Veolia illegally fired Francois, Gillis, Kirschbaum and Murchison in November 2013, following a company-ordered, police department-enforced lockout on Oct. 8, 2013, which occurred after the local requested an emergency meeting. The lockout occurred in the midst of a three-month fight with the new company over wage theft, its refusal to honor the drivers’ long-standing contract and Veolia’s illegal demand — because it’s in violation of the contract — made the day before, that even 40-year veteran drivers must file new hire applications.

A small clique of business-minded, company-inspired opponents, including the current president — who bowed out during the election campaign — tried to turn the membership against Team Solidarity’s fighting slate. They bombarded members with the message: “Don’t vote for the people who were fired. They won’t do you any good.”

The climax of year-long bargaining over a new concessionary contract was the company’s divisive campaign that included pushing a “final” proposal with no amnesty for the fired leaders and using false “retro-pay” payroll documents produced by management. But the members voted for the new board based on their personal experience with Team Solidarity’s leaders, who have filed hundreds of their grievances, administered and defended their benefits, and fiercely fought for them and the union’s survival during the nearly two years since Veolia and the mayor’s office began their union-busting assault.

EcoUnionist News #15

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 30, 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.

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

Lead Stories:

Other News of Interest:

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

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, July 29, 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.

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.

São Paulo Unions Threaten General Strike for World Cup Amid Subway Protests

Days of subway strikes raise fears of transport chaos during tournament in Brazil; union leaders say other sectors could join industrial action

By Hannah Strange - The Telegraph, June 11, 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.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Saturday claimed that protests ahead of the World Cup were part of a “systematic campaign” against her government, as São Paulo union leaders threatened a general strike to coincide with the opening of the tournament in the city.

São Paulo, which is due to host the opening match on Thursday, has been paralysed by days of strikes and protests by subway workers which have led to clashes with police and deepened fears of chaos for visiting fans.

The cost of staging the event - at an estimated $11.5 billion (£6.9 billion) the most expensive World Cup ever - has ignited public anger at economic woes, corruption and poor social provisions. But Ms Rousseff said that criticism of spending amounted to “disinformation”.

“Today there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup - or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us,” she said, without revealing who she believed to be behind it.

Police fired tear gas and beat back protesters at one São Paulo subway station on Friday night, leading Altino de Melo Prazeres Júnior, the head of the Union of São Paulo Subway Workers, to insist members would not be deterred and instead would reinforce their presence at key interchanges in the city.

Why Passengers Cheered a Vermont Bus Strike

By Ellen David Friedman - Labor Notes, April 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.

An 18-day bus drivers’ strike in Burlington, Vermont, ended in a win April 3 when drivers ratified a new contract 53-6.

Strikes are rare these days, and fewer still result in victories—so why was this one different? What generated public support for the strike, despite management’s aggressive plan to blame drivers for the loss of bus service for nearly three weeks?

This strike succeeded through a powerful combination of workers organizing on the job and organized community solidarity, the roots of which go back to at least 2009.

Reinvent Transport for Reduced Emissions and More Jobs

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.

By Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, February 16, 2014 (used by permission)

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will throw millions of people out of work! That claim has made many working people reluctant to support action to slow climate change. But is it true?

Our Jobs, Our Planet, a report written in 2011 by Jonathan Neale for the European Transport Workers Federation, argues the opposite, that changing the ways that goods and people are moved can reduce emissions from the transport sector by 80% while creating over 12 million new jobs – 7 million in transportation and 5 million in renewable energy.

The author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World writes that such a program will be a big win for workers and for the planet: “there are more than 40 million people out of work in Europe now. The planet needs help. They need work. If we succeed, we can solve both problems at once.”

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