You are here

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)

Fritz Edler on Green Unionism

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

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.

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.

Rail workers score big safety win in California

By Mark Gruenberg - People's World, August 26, 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.

Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART - the former United Transportation Union - and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation's largest state - home to one of every eight Americans - to be operated with "an adequate crew size," reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

Oil on the Tracks: Pacific Northwest Rises for Rail Safety

By Nartha Baskin - Truthout, November 6, 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.

If there were ever any question about how the public feels about "moving time bombs," or oil trains carrying volatile crude through the state's coastal estuaries, aquifers, population centers and tribal lands, the answers began at the crack of dawn and ricocheted into the night. At a five-hour-plus hearing, the public weighed in on a draft report on oil train safety and spill response issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Raging Grannies, chained together in rocking chairs, started the day by blocking the entrance to Ecology offices. The Department of Ecology, said the Grannies, was closed for a workshop on "How to Say No to Oil." By evening, the stand-off was over, but the public hearing had just begun. Longshoreman, railroad workers, and first responders expressed concerns about safety, crew capacity, and training. Tribes spoke of threats to drinking water and fishing rights. Millennials and boomers demanded fossil fuels stay in the ground. Mayors and county commissioners, including some who had passed resolutions against any oil trains moving through their communities, demanded clean energy alternatives.

Oil train safety: A whole lot of worry among Washingtonians

By John Stang - CrossCut, October 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 subject was oil train traffic, and most of a roughly 750-person crowd Thursday night opposed the increasing transportation of crude oil by rail across Washington.

And if more oil trains do surface, the crowd at an Olympia hearing on draft oil spill prevention and response plan wanted dramatically stricter rules that what the state plan proposes. 

"We must stop these trains and the tankers they feed," said Nathaniel Jones, mayor pro tempore of Olympia. Vancouver small business owner Don Orange, representing the Main Street Business Alliance, said oil trains are "great for Big Oil. It stinks for us."

"We shouldn't be moving this stuff through our populated area," Orange said.

The draft state report says, "There has been an unprecedented increase in the transportation of crude oil by rail from virtually none in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013. The amount may reach 2.87 billion gallons by the end 2014 or during 2015."

Even that amount could increase with construction of proposed new rail facilities and the potential lifting of a federal ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, the report says.

Rail Workers Revolt against Driving Solo

By Alexandra Bradbury - Labor Notes, August 12, 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.

“There’s a real rank-and-file rebellion going on right now,” says Jen Wallis, a Seattle switchman-conductor for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. “People who’ve never been involved in the union, never went to a union meeting, they are showing up and they’re joining Railroad Workers United in droves.

“People are saying, ‘We have to take action now to stop it. We can’t let our union officers do this to us.’”

What’s all the fuss? On July 16, thousands of railroaders abruptly learned their union officers had held secret negotiations with BNSF, one of the country’s biggest freight carriers, and reached a deal to allow single-person train crews: a safety disaster.

Ballots on the tentative agreement went out in early August, and are due back in early September. If the vote goes up, huge freight trains could rumble through towns across the western U.S. with just an engineer onboard, no conductor.

This would be a first on a major railway, and a foot in the door for the whole industry. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people.

“Members had no clue this was even coming,” said John Paul Wright, a locomotive engineer working out of Louisville, Kentucky. “The membership is basically saying, “What in the hell is going on? We never thought our own union would sell us out.’”

Wright is co-chair of the cross-union, rank-and-file group Railroad Workers United, which has been campaigning against the looming threat of single-person crews for a decade. With just weeks to go, its members are suddenly busy sending out “vote no” stickers and appealing to local labor councils to pass resolutions backing two-person crews.

“We weren’t expecting it this soon,” says Robert Hill, a BNSF engineer in Spokane, Washington. “We were expecting it.”

Railroaders are seeking out RWU and a new Facebook group, “Spouses & Families Against One-Man Crews,” to get information and coordinate the push for a “No” vote. Much of the opposition is being led by railroaders’ family members.

Engineers and conductors are represented by separate unions. The conductors, members of SMART, are the ones voting on this contract.

“This vote will affect far more people than just the ones that vote on it,” said James Wallace, a BNSF conductor in Lincoln, Nebraska, and RWU co-chair, “because it is going to set a precedent for all freight railroads in the U.S., and potentially endanger the job of every conductor in this country.”

Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch Resolution in Opposition to Single Employee Train Crews

Passed Unanimously on Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whereas, the BLET and the SMART have joined forces and have been working hand in hand to outlaw Single Employee Train Crews; and

Whereas, railroad workers universally support a minimum of two crew members on every train, an engineer and a conductor; and

Whereas, in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy and numerous other train wrecks in the last year, we have an historic opportunity to build alliances with community and environmental groups to outlaw single employee train crews;

Whereas, a rogue general committee of the SMART TD has recently announced an tentative agreement, that would, if implemented, eliminate the road conductor on through freight and allow single employee crews;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW affirms our opposition to single employee train operations and that we support an engineer and a conductor on every train; and

Be it further resolved, that we condemn the backroom deal recently made between the SMART TD and the BNSF as it would undermine the national union strategy to outlaw single employee operations; and

Be it further resolved, that the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge all rail, transportation, and other union members to actively oppose contracts that would allow single employee operations of trains; and

Be it finally resolved, that Local the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW urge trainmen on the BNSF GC-001 in the strongest possible terms to stand up and fight back standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of labor and to vote NO on this tentativeagreement. 

Adopted by the members of the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW on August 7, 2014

The Fight For Railway Safety & The Case Of IBT BLET BNSF Railroad Worker Jen Wallis

Jen Wallis, a railroad worker and member of IBT BLET Division 238, who works at the BNSF railroad in the state of Washington talks about her struggle for health and safety and the retaliation against her for reporting a personal injury. Wallis won a lawsuit against the railroad which is owned by Warren Buffet. This video was done on 4/5/2014 when conference of the Railroad Workers United RWU convention was taking place in conjunction with Labor Notes in Chicago.

Production Of Labor Video Project www.laborvideo.org

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.