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Eco Wobbles: the Lesser Known Story about the Delta 5 Case

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 22, 2016

By now, dear readers, you may have heard about the victory of the Delta 5, but in case you hadn't, here's a short review: In September 2014 five activists, Patrick Mazza, Mike LaPoint, Abby Brockway, Liz Spoerri and Jackie Minchew, entered the BNSF Delta railyard in Everett, Washington, and blocked an oil train with a tripod of steel rods to which they locked themselves. Motivated by frustration about the climate, workers safety and public health from the recklessness of the oil and railroad industries, they stayed on the tracks for eight hours before BNSF police arrested and charged them with trespassing and obstructing a train.

At their trial, during the first half of January 2016, they introduced the "necessity defense." They argued that their actions were not a crime because they were necessary to prevent a much greater harm, climate disruption and the immediate threat of oil train derailments, spills, and explosions.

To establish the necessity of their action the defense brought in expert witnesses to testify about the urgency of climate disruption, the danger from oil trains, railroad industry’s disregard for worker safety and the fact that pollution from trains is already killing people. Their testimony went largely unchallenged by the prosecution. Judge Anthony E Howard, who presided over the case, even expressed some sympathy for the activists, but at the end of the trial ruled that the jury would have to disregard these arguments because the defense had not sufficiently demonstrated that there was no other legal alternative to achieve the same ends. "Frankly the court is convinced that the defendants are far from the problem and are part of the solution to the problem of climate change," Howard said from the bench. But, he added: "I am bound by legal precedent, no matter what my personal beliefs might be." With those very narrow set of instructions, the jury returned with their verdict -- finding the Delta 5 guilty of trespassing, but not guilty of obstructing a train. The obstructing a train charge carried a potentially much more serious penalty.

After the trial was over and the Delta 5 and jury were released three of the six jurors came back into the courthouse, hugged the defendants, and sat with them and their supporters while they were sentenced by the judge.

While the ruling can still be appealed by BNSF, for now climate justice activists are celebrating the ruling as a partial victory, though not a resounding victory, because Judge Howard ruled out the possibility of using the "Neccessity Defense".

What's less talked about, however, is that this case represents another small victory, in this case (no pun intended) a victory for Green Unionism. During the blockade, Abby Brockway (shown in the accompanying image) sat atop a tripod which bore a sign which read: "Cut Oil Trains, Not Conductors - #Greens4Rails" which was in reference to a concurrent rank and file BNSF railroad workers' struggle (aided in large part by the organizers of Railroad Workers United (RWU)) to beat-back a concessionary contract proposal (detailed on ecology.iww.org) which would have allowed for the reduction in train-crew size from two to one employee. This was directly relevant to the Delta 5's blockade, because the latter were concerned about stopping any future disasters like the crude-by-rail train derailment which killed 47 people and devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, in which an overworked and poorly trained Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway engineer, Tom Harding, had been the single employee on the train in question.

The rank and file railroad workers' fight against concessions succeeded. The Delta 5's soldiarity with railroad workers (in addition to support from many other enviornmental activists) sent a clear message that these climate justice activists do not blame railroad workers for the careless profiteering of the fossil fuel corporations or the railroad bosses, and see the workers as potential allies. Indeed, partly as a result of such overtures, BNSF whistleblower and railroad worker, Mike Elliot, testified at the trial of the Delta 5 on behalf of the defendants, and though his testimony was ultimately not allowed by the judge to be used as evidence, it still offers a glimpse of the potential strength that both the labor and environmental movements can bring to each other.

There's still much to be worked out in the case of railroad workers and climate justice activists opposed to crude-by-rail, including matters of railroad workers' working conditions and just transition. And far too many railroad workers believe the lies their bosses tell them about environmentalists being responsible for the current downturn in railroad work (which is primarily due to the crash of the shale oil boom and the economic meltdown currently unfolding in China, both of which are typical busts in the boom-bust cycle of the capitalist market). Some initial groundwork took place during three conferences organized by RWU and others last year, called "Railroad Safety: Workers, Community & the Environment". On the heels of the Delta 5 victory, there's no better time to think about continuing that work. An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

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 #16

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 31, 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:

Railroad Workers, Safety, and the Environment:

Other News of Interest:

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

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

Railroad Workers United Steve Klak speaks to Pullman, IL Labor Day 2014

By Steve Klak - Railroad Workers United Blog, October 8, 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.

120 years ago Eugene Victor Debs stood six blocks from here at Langley Park and pledged the support of his brand new union, the American Railway Union to the struggle of the Pullman car builders. The ARU had just decisively defeated the Great Northern Railway in 18 days preventing a 10% wage cut. Now, this same company the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, is demanding concessions just as drastic. I came here today to ask you to help these present day rail workers in this fight.

Blood on the Tracks: Saying No to Warren Buffett

By Guy Miller; image by Mike Konopacki - CounterPunch, September 26, 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 City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman is a loving tribute to an era gone-by. Steve mourned what he perceived to be ”the disappearing railroad blues.” He takes a nostalgic look back at an America that looks better through the sepia tones of memory than it actually was. Steve Goodman was unquestionably a great song writer, but for all that, he was a lousy economist. America’s railroads are anything but disappearing. Rather than a relic from another time, they are at the forefront of American capital’s plan for the 21st century. If you don’t live along the major corridors of rail traffic, it is easy to miss this vital aspect of the US economy.

For people that live in, or near, one of the cities that stretch from Boston to Washington, when they think about railroads at all, they generally think first about Amtrak. Everyone who uses Amtrak has a horror story to tell. Even the premium Acela train is seen as not measuring up to the trains of Europe or China. The primary reason high speed passenger trains aren’t a priority in the US is simple: freight traffic makes too damn much money. Wherever in the world there are fast and efficient passenger trains, freight traffic is secondary, or non existent. There was a time in the United States when freight traffic was shunted to the side to make room for passenger trains. To the major railroads that was a waste of time and money.

If high speed passenger service were to be successful two essential things would be needed: 1. Government subsidies (or better yet total nationalization) and 2. A huge upgrade in infrastructure. File the first requirement under the category of “come the revolution,” and the second under unlikely. The infrastructure is just fine for what the major carriers want to accomplish. They do not want, or need tracks, or roadbeds, that can safely move 15,000 tons of freight at 100 miles per hour, sixty MPH will do nicely, thank you. Building and maintaining the right-of-way is an expensive and labor intensive proposition. Even with cost-cutting machinery it is viewed by railroads as something to be kept to a minimum.

In the decade before the crash of 2008 railroad freight traffic exploded. From 1996 to 2006 railroad and truck traffic both grew, but railroad traffic grew faster. Using the metric of ton miles, the industry’s standard measurement, that decade saw rail traffic grow 25.1% and truck traffic grow 21.8%. This boom is still being fueled by the growth of “unit trains.” Unit trains, as opposed to manifest trains, are a one trick pony. For example a train consisting solely of crude oil, or grain or coal are of unit trains. Such trains go from point A to point B with no stops in between. No setting out a cut of cars in Podunk, Iowa or picking up cars of lumber in Rochester, Minnesota. Much of America has become not only flyover country, but also roll-by country as well. This contrasts with the once more common manifest train. Such trains required switching at various points along the route. This change brought with it the loss of thousands of switching jobs, those jobs did indeed go the way of Steve Goodman’s disappearing railroad.

After years of consolidation American railroad evolved into five large carriers. With the aid of this monopoly the railroads were on track for bigger and bigger payoffs. My old boss, the Union Pacific has over 32,000 miles of tracks resulting from mergers and takeovers. In the second quarter of 2014 the Union Pacific saw its profits jump 17%.  This in the midst of an economy that is, at best, sputtering along.

Rank-and-File Rail Workers Rebel Against Single-Person Crews

By Kari Lyderson - In These Times, September 15, 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.

Railroad workers scored a victory last week in a years-long battle over the introduction of single-person crews on freight trains, a move that railroad workers say is a recipe for disaster. On September 10, a unit of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air and Rail Transportation Workers (SMART) union announced that members had voted down a proposed contract which would have allowed the railroad company BNSF to run more than half its trains with just one worker on board.

BNSF and other railroad companies assert that automation and modern controls on tracks mean freight trains can be safely and efficiently operated by only one engineer, a change that would essentially eliminate the position of the conductor.

Railroad workers, however, say that having only one person on trains that are often more than a mile long is a safety risk for workers and communities alike, especially as more and more trains are involved in carrying explosive crude oil cross-country. The introduction of single-person crews would further a longstanding push by industry to reduce the number of workers needed to operate trains; currently most freight trains have a conductor and an engineer, but in decades past crews of three to five people were common. An industry shift to single-person crews would likely mean significant job losses, and significant savings for railroads on labor costs.

Currently the major railroads like BNSF are not using single-person crews, but smaller railroads are. The July 2013 Lac-Megantic disaster in Quebec, in which a train derailed and caused a deadly explosion, brought increased scrutiny of single-person crews. 

The contract between the union and BNSF had been negotiated by a union leadership body known as the district committee, SMART GO-001, representing about 3,000 conductors, brakemen and switchmen in multiple states. Leaders of Railroad Workers United (RWU), a national organization that includes members from the country’s 13 different railroad labor unions, said that SMART GO-001 leadership had pushed for approval of the single-person crew provision, apparently as a way to gain other concessions from BNSF.

SMART’s national leadership opposes single-person crews, and supports proposed federal legislation on the issue. The Rail Safety Improvement Act (S. 2784) just introduced in the Senate on September 10, and the Safe Freight Act (HR 3040), introduced in August 2013 in the House, would require two workers on any freight train.

In a statement on SMART’s website, SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich says: “No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though they can fly themselves. Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different.”

In an email notifying union members that the proposed contract had been voted down, SMART GO-001 committee general chairperson Randall Knutson said, “Moving forward, this office will notify BNSF Labor Relations that we remain open to informal conversation regarding these matters, but will oppose any formal attempt by BNSF to serve notice to change our existing crew consist agreements prior to the attrition of all protected employees.”

In other words, the leadership indicated that it would not cooperate with the company in pushing single-person crews any longer. Knutson’s email also said the leadership would be in touch with more details about the contract fight in coming weeks.

SMART GO-001 district committee leaders did not return a phone message or emails for this story.

The Battle has Just Begun!

By J.P Wright - Railroad Workers United Blog, September 13, 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.

I have been numb for a couple of days about "our" and "their" victory on the BNSF against a contract that would have allowed for one person trains. I feel like David has hit Goliath squarely on the face and yes... he is hit, and.... Railroad Workers United played a very serious roll in this campaign, but I am reluctant for our organization to take credit for the "action." While I do know that many of our activist, some who put their jobs on the line, were seriously helping to fan a flame that has long been smoldering, analysis and strategy is needed.

Who is Goliath?

Is it Warren Buffet, the Berkshire-Hathaway hedge fund owner of the BNSF railroad? Is it the "Business" union structure that created the environment that allowed this contract to come about? Is it a membership that has become very apathetic and reluctant to "get involved." Is it a Federal Railroad Administration that has historically been very reluctant to make strong regulations. Is it a "robber barron" industry that has long controlled Washington?

All of the above and more, is Goliath. Who is David? that is the question!

The motive of the railroad industry for decades has been a reduction of crew size. You can bet that the strategy sessions are going on at the labor relations level. There is a union political environment that is also at work here. This is a "war on workers" and there will be a "last man standing." The wheel of history is turning and there will be massive changes to work rules. There will be more battles to wage. There is a fire burning and we must keep it lit.

I am inspired, and i can feel it in my blood. There is a power that comes from a victory, but the forces we are up against are very,very powerful. The BNSF conceded, and said they will respect the workers mandate. But fellow railroaders don't be fooled. Remember from where this attack came. The union and the company, think about that.

It would be SMART to remember that the Brotherhood is at an impasse on the W&LE out in Ohio. Goliath has been on a rampage against 100 Teamster represented fellow railroad workers there for may years now. Now that the front has quieted in the west, shouldn't we turn our slingshots in that direction? If an arbi "traitor" settles that fight.. We are in serious trouble. The W&LE has not conceded.

Brothers and Sisters, Fellow Railroaders.. the fight ain't over.. it has just begun. In our hands is placed a power and there is no greater power than the union. Are you ready David? Goliath will be back.

Solidarity!

SMART Railroad Workers Rejection of Single Employee Crews is a Victory for Workers AND the Environment

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 14, 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.

On Tuesday, September 10, 2014, the rank and file union members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers (SMART) General Committee GO—001 overwhelmingly voted down a concessionary proposal to reduce train crew size from 2 to 1 by a margin of 2 to 1 against the proposal.

The proposed change would have resulted in conductorless train operations over more than half of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest rail carrier in the U.S. According to Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank and file union members from various railroad workers' unions, this was part of a campaign by the major rail carriers to weaken the already weak and divided rail unions further. Over the past half-century, the railroad bosses have taken advantage of the craft divisions among their workers to reduce crew sizes from a standard of 5 to 2. Now they're pushing to reduce that number to 1. The fact that BNSF was able to convince the leadership of one local to go along shows just how beaten down these unions are.

Fortunately, rank and file militants--some of them dues paying members of the IWW--formed RWU to beat back just such an offensive by the bosses, and--perhaps--turn the tide in what has hitherto been a one-sided class war waged against the workers by the bosses.

The RWU strategy mixed a whole variety of tactics, both old (including "silent agitators" and graffiti) and new (social media), many of them pioneered by the IWW:

Upon learning of the BNSF TA, RWU convened an “emergency meeting” of the Steering Committee and instantly mobilized the network. Thousands of buttons and sticker, flyers and leaflets, “Talking Points” and more were disseminated to BNSF railroad workers in the following weeks. A press release was issued that was picked up by a number of newspapers. RWU members spoke out on radio and TV stations, and organized rallies, pickets and demonstrations at numerous terminals, from large cities like Chicago and Seattle to small towns like Creston, Iowa. RWU members intervened in the debate at the SMART Convention in August, and held a series of telephone conference calls open to all railroad workers to voice their concerns, ask questions, and devise strategies and tactics. A regular e-newsletter with the latest flyers, leaflets, stickers, articles, songs, graffiti and cartoons were issued weekly.

In the end, the workers beat back the bosses attack, and this campaign should provide (the beginnings, at least, of) a model for rank and file workers in business unions to overcome entrenched bureaucratic interests that serve the bosses and not the workers. It can also serve as a model for the IWW's "dual card" strategy.

The vote was also a small victory for the environment and efforts to build bridges between environmental activists and workers. As has been widely reported, the accident that blew up Lac Magentic was the result of a single employee train, and while derailments involving two employee crude-by-rail trains have occurred, the chances of them happening are substantially greater if the crew size were to be reduced to one. Further, the push to reduce crew sizes is part of the ongoing efforts by the rail carriers to maximize their profits by cutting corners on labor costs, safety procedures, and best practices. The workers' victory will likely embolden them to take stronger stands against other initiatives by the bosses that would increase the risk of accident or derailment, and should the workers gain sufficient momentum, they can actually go on the offensive and force the carriers to increase safety, which will reduce environmental impacts significantly.

The BNSF Single Crew Initiative Defeated!

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

The members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers (SMART) General Committee GO—001 have spoken. In a loud and clear mandate, they have told the BNSF railway, their union leaders, and the world, that they do not support single employee train crews. By 2-to-1, the rank and file voted down a tentative agreement, that – had it been ratified – would have resulted in conductorless train operations over more than half of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest rail carrier in the U.S.

The major rail carriers have been seeking to run trains with a single employee for nearly a decade now. This latest attempt was by far the most blatant and confrontational effort to date. Railroad workers know that there are grave dangers and inefficiencies should such practice be implemented. According to Railroad Workers United General Secretary Ron Kaminkow, “Single employee train operations – with or without Positive Train Control (PTC) – would compromise the safety and security of train crews, motorists, pedestrians, trackside communities, the environment and the general public. Railroad workers are ready, willing and able to fight this concept with everything we have.”

In voting down this contract, the SMART GO-001 rank and file have won a decisive victory, not just for the trainmen and engineers on the BNSF, but for every railroad worker in North America. While the victory belongs to them, it is of course shared by all those who assisted – engineers (both UTU and BLET); union brothers and sisters from other crafts and carriers who rose to the occasion and helped out; family members who took part in pickets, rallies and demonstrations; fellow unionists and citizens who grasped the importance of the struggle and pitched in to help.

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