You are here

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)

Rail Worker Previews Next Round of Union Negotiations

Has anything changed one year after the derailment in East Palestine?

The Impact of Commute Times on the Fatigue and Safety of Locomotive Engineers and Conductors

By Naomi J. Dunn and Susan Soccolich - US Department of Transportation, Fereal Railroad Administration, June 2023

The survey showed that not only did locomotive engineers and conductors frequently experience fatigue, but it also indicated fatigue affected their operation of a locomotive train. Self-identified highly fatigued locomotive engineers and conductors were:

  • Twice as likely to experience any type of fatigue-related safety event while operating a locomotive compared to those who were not highly fatigued
  • Four times more likely to have missed a required stop compared to conductors not feeling highly fatigued
  • 3.4 times more likely to have had a near miss while operating a locomotive than locomotive engineers who reported not feeling highly fatigued

Just under 40 percent of participating locomotive engineers and conductors fit the classification of being highly fatigued; over 60 percent of locomotive engineers and conductors were classified as not being highly fatigued.

Fatigue also increased the odds of locomotive engineers and conductors being involved in fatigue-related driving events during their commute to and from work. The risk was higher for those who reported having long commute times (i.e., over one hour). The major contributors to fatigue were related to scheduling, or lack thereof in the case of irregular work. Variability in start times and frequent switching from day to night work were associated with increased risk of fatigue for locomotive engineers and conductors. Shiftwork, long-duration tasks, and disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle are well-documented contributors to fatigue and key risk factors identified in this survey for safety incidents both in the workplace and on the roads.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Rail Workers Union Wins 'Trailblazing' Paid Sick Leave Deal With Norfolk Southern

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, May 19, 2023

"The BLET is currently working to secure similar sick leave agreements with the other Class 1 railroads," said the union's national president, "and I hope this settlement will help bring those negotiations to a positive conclusion."

A leading railroad workers' union this week struck a landmark deal with industry giant Norfolk Southern to provide more than 3,300 employees up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.

"This is a big day for the BLET," declared Scott Bunten, a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen general chairman. "Our members are the heart of the railroad, and this agreement is a major win in our tireless efforts to improve the quality of their experience on and off the job."

Similarly describing the union's engineers as "the hardest-working folks on the railroad," fellow BLET chairman Jerry Sturdivant said the agreement "recognizes the critical contributions our members make to keep the railroad and the American economy running."

Under the deal, Norfolk Southern engineers will get five paid sick days annually, plus they will be able to use up to two additional days of existing paid time off as sick leave. The new policy will take effect once union members ratify an accompanying quality-of-life agreement, which they are expected to vote on within the next month.

Rail Updates: New Legislation & Company Corruption

Rail Workers Warn Safety Bill Loopholes Are Big Enough to 'Run a Freight Train Through'

By Bret Wilkins - Common Dreams, March 3, 2023

"If the language is not precise, the Class 1 railroads will avoid the scope of the law without violating the law, yet again putting the safety of our members and American communities into harm's way," said one union leader.

Amid heightened national focus on railway safety in the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio disaster and other recent accidents, one railroad workers' union warned Friday that, while welcome, a bipartisan rail safety bill has "loopholes big enough to operate a 7,000-foot train through."

The Railway Safety Act of 2023—introduced earlier this week by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Fetterman(D-Pa.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—is meant to "prevent future train disasters like the derailment that devastated East Palestine."

The legislation would impose limits on freight train lengths—which in some cases currently exceed three miles. The measure was introduced a day after Democratic U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna(D-Calif.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) put forth a billthat would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to impose stricter regulations on trains carrying hazardous materials.

"We welcome greater federal oversight and a crackdown on railroads that seem all too willing to trade safety for higher profits," Eddie Hall, national president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), said in a statement.

Railroad Working Conditions, Disasters, and Workers’ Organizing: Reflections of a former rail worker

By Robert Bartlett - Solidarity, February 22, 2023

In the wake of the bipartisan congressional imposition of a rail contract in December, there has been a focus on the inability to at least provide some sick days for rail workers, a “privilege” they have never had. What is lost in centering the dispute on that admittedly absurd denial is the overall deterioration of work conditions in an industry which has always been known for its focus on profits over safety for both workers and the communities through which trains pass.

The train derailment in eastern Ohio has brought the consequences of putting profit over safety into sharp focus for those willing to look beyond the catastrophic predictions of doom should rail workers be allowed to strike. Before going into the detailed analysis of the Ohio disaster provided by the cross-craft group Railroad Workers United (RWU) https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Special-Report–Monster-Train-Wreck-in-Ohio.html?soid=1116509035139&aid=fzMOujXbqBo let me describe some of the trends in how the railroads have traditionally operated from when I first hired out as a brakeman on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (now consolidated into the Union Pacific) in 1974. I speak with the most familiarity of what train crews coped with every day.

In 1974 when decent paying industrial jobs were relatively easy to find, the turnover on my railroad was constant. My first week on the job consisted of being in a training class with about 15 other new hires. We spent a week learning some rudiments of the job and the “Rule Book” which detailed all the safety rules that we were supposed to follow. People used to joke that every rule was based upon some accident that either caused an injury or death to a rail worker and there was certainly truth to that. The skill that they focused on was on how to get on and off moving equipment, i.e. engines and rail cars. This is an inherently dangerous thing to do under any circumstance, since if you miss getting your foot into the “stirrup” at the bottom of the ladder on the side of a boxcar you at best might be dragged alongside the car until you extracted yourself or in the worst case you might be run over by the wheels and either dismembered or killed. You were expected to do this at all times of the day or night, in conditions of rain, sleet, or snow.

Once you got on, you were expected to climb to the top of boxcars to tighten or loosen manual brakes -all while the train was moving. Newer boxcars were safer in that the brakes were only about 5 feet off the ground, while older rolling stock had brakes at the top of the car. These antiquated cars should have either been retired or retrofitted with lower brakes, but the practice of railroads was to use the equipment until it wore out. Eventually in the 1990s the rules changed and to get on and off the car or engine, it needed to be standing.

In a class of 15, like the one I was in, more than half of the people quit the job within months. It wasn’t the dangerous conditions so much that forced people to look for another job, it was the irregular schedule of never knowing when you were going to be called into work. When a recession hit the economy around 1980, and with the decline of industries like steel and auto, those other high paying semi-skilled union jobs largely disappeared and then the turnover slowed down. Recently, with the worsening of conditions in all the rail crafts, turnover has increased even in rural areas where a rail job used to be highly coveted and clung to in the midst of the depopulation of small towns. 

'Too Many Holes': Rail Workers Say Buttigieg Plan of Action Is Not Enough

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, February 21, 2023

"Rank-and-file railroad workers can diagnose and fix the problems. We will believe Pete Buttigieg is serious when he starts talking about public ownership of critical railroad infrastructure and enacting some of our solutions."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's newly unveiled plan to improve railroad safety is inadequate, an inter-union alliance of rail workers declared Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) blueprint for holding rail corporations accountable and protecting the well-being of workers and affected communities comes after a Norfolk Southern-owned train overloaded with vinyl chloride and other carcinogenic chemicals crashed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, precipitating a toxic spill and fire that has sparked fears of air pollution and groundwater contamination.

In contrast to the hundreds of U.S. derailments that go largely unnoticed each year, the unfolding environmental and public health disaster on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border has helped expose the dangerous consequences of the Wall Street-driven transformation and deregulation of the freight rail industry—a long-standing process intensified by the Trump administration and so far unchallenged by the Biden administration.

"Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people," Buttigieg—who has yet to exercise his authority to restore previously gutted rules and was mulling an industry-backed proposal to further weaken federal oversight of train braking systems as recently as February 10, according toThe Lever—said Tuesday in a statement.

"We at USDOT are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety," said Buttigieg, "and we insist that the rail industry do the same—while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar."

USDOT called on Norfolk Southern and other rail carriers to "provide proactive advance notification to state emergency response teams when they are transporting hazardous gas tank cars through their states instead of expecting first responders to look up this information after an incident occurs" and to "provide paid sick leave," among other things.

The department also urged Congress to increase how much it can penalize companies for safety violations, noting that "the current maximum fine, even for an egregious violation involving hazardous materials and resulting in fatalities, is $225,455." As Buttigieg tweeted, "This is not enough to drive changes at a multibillion-dollar company like Norfolk Southern."

Finally, USDOT committed to strengthening its regulation of the rail industry by "advancing the train crew staffing rule, which will require a minimum of two crew members for most railroad operations," and by "initiating a focused safety inspection program on routes over which high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) and other trains carrying large volumes of hazardous material travel," among other proposals.

"Each of these steps," the agency said, "will enhance rail safety in the United States."

But according to Railroad Workers United (RWU), which focused in particular on the issue of train crew staffing, "there are too many holes" in Buttigieg's plan to ensure the safety of the nation's rail system.

"As currently written, the proposed rule could allow for numerous instances of single-crew operations in the coming years," RWU tweeted. The alliance also shared a letter it sent to USDOT last September accusing the Federal Railroad Administration of "attempting to placate unions, community groups, and the general public on the one hand with a 'two-person train crew rule' while, on the other hand, signaling a green light to the industry to run trains with a single crew member."

The Case for Nationalizing the Railroads: Workers say now is the time to do the impossible

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, February 16, 2023

Railroad workers packed themselves into hotel conference rooms near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in June 2022 to talk fervently about a momentous event potentially on the horizon: the first industry-wide rail strike in three decades. 

“All 12 railroad unions have proclaimed themselves united,” said Ron Kaminkow, Railroad Workers United (RWU) general secretary, during a conference session about chokepoints in the supply chain. ​“There could actually be a national railroad strike for the first time in almost 30 years.” 

Contract negotiations between those 12 unions and the country’s major freight railroad companies had ground to a halt by the conference, which was organized by RWU and the pro-union group Labor Notes. 

In July, 99.5% of the membership of the union representing railroad engineers — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen — voted to authorize a strike if legal hurdles were cleared.

The possibility presented a challenge for the Biden administration. President Joe Biden had become known as the most labor-friendly president in recent history, while a walkout threatened to paralyze the economy with a potential cost of $2 billion per day. The administration eventually negotiated a deal with union leaders and company leaders, announced Sept. 15, 2022, requiring a significant pay raise for workers without meaningfully addressing their primary concerns: short-staffing and a lack of paid sick days.

Many elected officials and pundits lauded the deal, but it still needed to be ratified by each union’s rank and file.

Three unions representing railroad workers voted down the proposed contract, while others voted for it. Then, in November, the country’s largest rail union — the SMART Transportation Division, which represents conductors and brakemen — rejected the deal, and a national rail strike was firmly on the table. Even unions that approved of the deal pledged to honor any picket lines.

On December 1, 2022, at Biden’s urging, Congress intervened, passing a law to force the unions to agree to the deal. Many railroad workers were furious — and felt betrayed.

“It was very frustrating, from the ​‘most pro-labor president America’s ever had,’” says Matt Weaver, legislative director for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the nation’s third-largest railroad union. ​“When [railroads] have record profits and profit margins, and yet this deal is imposed, we’ve seen that our labor is expendable.”

The ordeal has also led many railroad workers and industry watchers to consider a vastly increased role for government in freight railroads: nationalization.

Where Do Railroad Workers Go from Here?

By Jay, Marilee Taylor, John Tormey, Matt Parker, and Maximillian Alvarez - In These Times, February 10, 2023

After a three-year saga of stalled contract negotiations between the country’s freight rail carriers and the 12 unions representing over 100,000 railroad workers, ​“pro-union” President Biden and Congress ​“averted” a national rail shutdown by overriding the democratic will of rail workers and forcing a contract down their throats. So, what happens now? 

In December, shortly after the Biden administration and Congress intervened, Working People convened a special all-railroader panel to break down the events of the last week and to discuss where railroad workers and the labor movement go from here.

Panelists include: Jay, a qualified conductor who was licensed to operate locomotives at 19 years old, and who became a qualified train dispatcher before he was 23; Marilee Taylor, who worked on the railroads for over 30 years and retired earlier this year from her post as an engineer for BNSF Railway, but is still an active member of Railroad Workers United; John Tormey, a writer and BMWED-IBT member who works as a track laborer for the commuter rail in Massachusetts; and Matt Parker, a full-time locomotive engineer who’s worked on the railroads for 19 years and also serves part-time as Chairman on the Nevada State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.