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An Open Letter to Our Allies in the Fight for Safe Rails and a Sustainable Environment

Open Letter - By Railroad Workers United, June 7, 2017

No More Lac-Mégantics – Drop the Charges

July 6th marks four years since a runaway train carrying volatile Bakken crude crashed and burned in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 and destroying half the town. It’s time to recommit to making sure tragedies like this don’t happen again. It’s also the right time to speak up against the criminal trial beginning in early September this year, that unfairly and inaccurately hangs the Lac-Mégantic crash on two railroad workers.

Some of us focus on how dangerous this kind of cargo is. Trains carrying volatile crude are called “Bomb Trains” for a reason. Some of us focus more on rail safety, no matter what or who is on the train. We push for safer work schedules and big enough train crews to handle an unusual situation or an emergency. Railroad managers push hard to squeeze every dollar they can out of every train run. The Lac-Mégantic train had a dangerous cargo, a single crew-member and work rules that cut the margin of safety down to just about zero. The result was a disaster that still impacts the Lac-Mégantic community.

You’d expect railroaders to point the finger at management. But we’re not the only ones. Multiple government safety investigations and independent journalists looked at what happened in Lac-Mégantic and came to the same conclusion. Railroad management policies made this kind of runaway train crash likely to happen sooner or later. Lax government oversight looked the other way until it did.

You would think that four years later there would be stronger safety regulations on every railroad, with extra layers of protection for dangerous cargo. Sadly, this is not the case. Railroad policymakers are still cutting corners and government regulators are still looking the other way. They want people to believe that the big safety problem is a few careless railroad workers.

Even after all the reports and exposes, the Canadian and Quebec governments are still not going after the railroad policy makers and their unsafe policies. Instead railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie will be on trial this fall in Quebec. The managers who made the critical policies will not even get a slap on the wrist. That’s just wrong, and it guarantees that the danger continues. Every year since the crash, the number of reported runaway trains in Canada has increased. That’s a sign of a reckless culture, not the actions of two rail-road workers one night in Quebec.

Whether your main issue is the environment, community safety, rail safety, or worker’s rights, it comes down to stronger government regulations and stronger railroad safety policies, with real community and labor enforcement. The two railroad workers were not the cause of the Lac-Mégantic crash or any of the runaway trains since then. They are not the ones still running trains right through the town of Lac-Mégantic, ignoring the demands of the survivors for a simple rail bypass. The people in Lac-Mégantic know that sending Harding and Labrie to prison won’t address any of their problems with the railroad. But if that happens, you can bet the government will close the book as the official verdict on Lac-Mégantic and railroad management will be standing there with them.

Railroad Workers United is going to mark the Lac-Mégantic anniversary wherever we are. We’ll stand in solidarity with the people of Lac-Mégantic like we have for four years, and talk about rail safety. That’s who we are. But we’ll make sure to point out that scapegoating two railroad workers for this tragedy will make railroads and communities across the continent less safe.

When you hold public commemorations this year, we ask you to make this point your way. Blaming Harding and Labrie for the Lac-Mégantic tragedy weakens all of us and all our causes. So all of us have to speak up.

Justice for Lac-Mégantic requires Dropping the Charges Against Harding & Labrie

Sign on to this appeal! - Contact: (202) 798-3327 | info@railroadworkersunited.org

Sacrifice Zones

By Barbara Bernstein - Locus Focus, KBOO FM, June 5, 2017

As the fossil fuel industry turns up its pressure to turn the Pacific Northwest into a fossil fuel export hub, a Thin Green Line stands in its way. On this special one-hour edition of Locus Focus, we premiere Locus Focus host Barbara Bernstein's latest radio documentary, SACRIFICE ZONES.

Since 2003 a rash of proposals have surfaced in communities throughout the Northwest to export vast amounts of fossil fuels to Asian markets via Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. If these plans go through the Northwest would become home to the largest oil terminal in North America, the largest coal export facility in North America and the largest methanol refinery in the world.

SACRIFICE ZONES is a story about the pressure to transform a region of iconic landscapes and environmental stewardship into a global center for shipping fossil fuels. This one-hour radio documentary investigates how petrochemical development of the scale being proposed for the Pacific Northwest threatens the region’s core cultural, social and environmental values. And it shows how opposition to these proposals has inspired the broadest and most vocal coalition of individuals and groups ever assembled in the Northwest, a Thin Green Line of opposition that has so far slowed or stopped all the fossil fuel projects being proposed.

In SACRIFICE ZONES we hear from Native American tribes, longshoremen, environmentalists, business leaders, health care professionals, first responders and local residents along the blast zones of oil trains and terminals, who are raising their voices in public hearings, court proceedings, rallies and marches.

This program was funded in part by the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Puffin Foundation.

Listen Here.

Gov’t prepares trial of framed-up Quebec rail workers

By John Steele - The Militant, February 20, 2017

At a Jan. 26-27 hearing here, Superior Court judge Gaétan Dumas began to set the stage for the September trials of framed-up union locomotive engineer Tom Harding and dispatcher Richard Labrie, along with Jean Demaitre, a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway manager.

The rail workers are being framed by the government for the July 2013 derailment and explosion of a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic crude oil train in downtown Lac-Mégantic, a city of 6,000 near the Quebec-Maine border. The disaster killed 47 people and leveled the town center. All three are charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence and could face life in prison if convicted. Harding and Labrie are members of United Steelworkers Local 1976.

The judge ruled that the bankrupt and dissolved railroad, which has no assets or legal counsel, will be tried separately.

“The prosecution has absolutely no intention of going after the MMA,” Thomas Walsh, one of Harding’s lawyers, told the Militant Jan. 30. “They want to go after Tom Harding. The charges against the MMA are window dressing.”

An exposé in the Toronto Globe and Mail and the official report of the Transportation Safety Board have made it crystal clear that it was the railway bosses’ profit-driven disregard for safety, and complicity of the federal government agency Transport Canada, that were responsible for the disaster.

Under a strict Montreal, Maine and Atlantic policy to save time and money, the Globe showed, Harding was forbidden from activating the train’s automatic air brakes, which would have prevented the parked train from rolling into Lac-Mégantic that night. And Transport Canada gave the MMA approval to run their dangerous oil trains with a bare bones “crew” of one.

Separating the railroad out for its own trial is reasonable, Charles Shearson, who spoke for Harding at the hearing, told the Militant. “The jury will have more focus on the trial of Harding and the others.”

“We believe the judge should call the prosecutors’ bluff and hold the trial of the MMA before the trial of Harding, Labrie and Demaitre,” Walsh said.

Shearson said another pretrial hearing set for April will address a motion by Walsh to enter the Transportation Safety Board report and supporting documents as evidence, and to let the defense call board officials to question them.

Robert Bellefleur, spokesperson for the Citizens’ and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic, which is campaigning for the government to build a rail bypass around the town, attended the hearing to show the widespread support for Harding in Lac-Mégantic.

Anne-Marie Saint-Cerny, a writer who is working on a book about the disaster, also came. “One cannot but wonder how justice can be totally served in such a tragedy, when only low-ranking employees are on the stand for the death of 47 people,” she told the Militant. “Those who gave the orders, set the rules and ran the training — those who own the company — are all off limits, holed up in United States.”

“The fight against the frame-up of Harding and Labrie is important for working people across the country and elsewhere,” said Philippe Tessier, Communist League candidate for mayor of Montreal, who attended the hearing in solidarity. “Defeating this frame-up will strengthen the ongoing fight by rail workers everywhere who are struggling for rail safety, for themselves and all those who live and work along the tracks.”

Messages in support of Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9.

Bosses’ profit drive caused Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

By John Steele - The Militant, February 6, 2017

“We have a very strong defense, which will show that Harding was not criminally responsible for what happened and get at the truth of who is really responsible for the disaster at Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for locomotive engineer Thomas Harding, told the Militant Jan. 5. Because of continual delays, which have stretched over three years, Walsh and Harding had considered demanding the charges be tossed out. “But the people of Lac-Mégantic and Harding want and deserve a trial,” he said.

Harding and train controller Richard Labrie — both members of United Steelworkers Local 1976 — and Jean Demaitre, operations manager for the now defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, face frame-up charges of 47 counts of criminal negligence in relation to the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster that killed 47 people and burned out the downtown core. If convicted, the three could face life in prison.

Walsh said that at the upcoming Jan. 26-27 court hearing in Sherbrooke, Quebec, he will demand a court order to give the defense access to the original reports and documents that the federal Transportation Safety Board used to prepare its report, as well as a separate English-language trial for Harding.

Since the disaster, the official report of the board and a hard-hitting series of articles in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s English-language daily, have shown that the cost-cutting profit drive of the rail bosses, along with complicity from Ottawa’s Transport Canada agency, was the cause of the deadly disaster.

“Company rules prevented Harding from using a 10-second procedure to activate the automatic air brakes that would have prevented the disaster, in order to save 15 minutes of start-up time the next day,” Brian Stevens, National Railway director of Canada’s largest private sector union Unifor, told a Dec. 8 University of Ottawa conference on the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In addition, company bosses with permission from Transport Canada forced workers to run the railroad’s trains with only a single person, the engineer.

“Train accidents happen regularly all over the world,” Walsh told La Tribune Sherbrooke. “Most of the time it’s the engineer who is fingered in these rail catastrophes.”

The rail bosses’ utter disregard for safety in their drive for profits was highlighted again when Transport Canada officials laid charges Nov. 15 against the Canadian Pacific Railway and two former CP managers under the Railway Safety Act. They are charged with illegally ordering a freight train crew — over strenuous objections from the conductor and engineer — to park a 57-car train carrying dangerous goods on a slope above the town of Revelstoke, British Columbia, and leave it unattended without the handbrakes applied.

This was a direct breach of emergency directives by the government established after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Transport Canada says.

The incident took place on Feb. 15, 2015, hours before the Teamsters union strike deadline at the railroad.

Some 3,000 Canadian Pacific rail workers went out on a Canada-wide strike against the rail bosses’ moves that endanger workers and those who live along the tracks. Union pickets wore vests saying “fatigue kills,” pointing to Canadian Pacific’s efforts to increase work hours between rest periods. The union ended the strike after one day when the government threatened to impose strike-breaking legislation.

CP representatives and the two former managers are set to appear in court in Revelstoke Feb. 1.

Solidarity messages for Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9 or thomaspwalsh@hotmail.com.

What Have We Learned From the Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster?

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, December 21, 2016

Brian Stevens first learned about the Lac-Megantic disaster — in which an unattended oil train caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people in the Quebec town — when he saw the news reports on TV.

Stevens is currently National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, but he previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains. At a recent conference in Ottawa examining lessons from the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster, he recounted his reaction to seeing those initial scenes of destruction.  

That ain’t Canada, that can’t happen in North America because our brake systems won’t allow that,” he said when he eventually learned the images he was seeing were from Canada. “My heart sank … It was crushing.”  

Stevens went on to explain his opinion of the root cause of the problem, summing up the challenges in Canada with one simple statement: “The railways write the rules.” 

He also placed blame on the deregulation of the Canadian rail industry that began more than three decades ago.

Lac Megantic started in 1984. It was destined to happen,” said Stevens, referring to the start of that deregulation.

One example of the effects of deregulation can be seen in the cuts to the number of people conducting inspections, from over 7,000 railway and rail car inspectors in 1984, down to “less than 2,000” now, according to Stevens. 

He didn't mince words about what he's seen change in the three years since Canada's worst rail accident.

“The railway barons continue to exist and continue to drive the industry and the government,” said Stevens.

People Vs Big Oil, Part I: Washington Victory Over Shell Oil Trains Signals A Turning Tide

By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, October 17, 2016

A Bad Month for the Earth-Burners

From Standing Rock Reservation to the Florida Everglades, 2016 has been an unprecedented year in people’s resistance to the fossil fuel economy. October especially has been a banner month: Mass convergence around the indigenous-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests, activists in three states audaciously (and illegally) shutting down three pipeline valve systems, and groups in the state of Washington forcing Shell to abandon a dangerous oil train unloading facility it had proposed in Anacortes in the northwest corner of the state. The earth-burners have had a difficult month.

I asked Rebecca Ponzio, Oil Campaign Director at the Washington Environmental Council, what it took to accomplish that last goal: How does a group of citizens stop one of the most powerful, frequently vile and ruthless companies from doing something as routine as unloading rail-transported crude oil?

“We sued,” she answered, and through the lawsuit, WEC, Earthjustice, and other groups “won the ability for a more thorough and comprehensive environmental review.” That Environmental Impact Statement in turn concluded: “The proposed project would result in an increased probability of rail accidents that could result in a release of oil to the environment and a subsequent fire or explosion... [that] could have unavoidable significant impacts.”

The EIS wasn’t bullshitting about that. Oil train transport is disastrous, and companies lie about their safety records. Shockingly, trains racing at unsafe speeds with volatile, difficult-to-contain oil is incredibly dangerous. Accident risk is extremely high. Magnitude of impact of such an accident is also extremely high.

“This review process created the space to really evaluate the impacts of the project and to engage the public on how this project would impact them – from Spokane, the Columbia River Gorge, through Vancouver and the entire Puget Sound," Ponzio said. And upon the release of the draft EIS, Shell pulled the project. “Once the public had the chance to engage and evaluate this project for themselves, the level of risk became clear and the opposition only grew in a way that couldn’t be ignored."

Puget Sound refinery officials claimed the decision was purely market-driven, but the subtext was clear: Activists had forced a scientific review, and the review cast the project in the worst possible light. Fighting back worked this time.

NO! Single Employee Train Crews

By Karl (Fritz) Edler - Railroad Music, July 15, 2016

Oral comments on Train Crew Staffing
Docket Number FRA-2014-0033
RIN 2130-AC48

Good Morning,

My name is Fritz Edler. I recently retired after more than 37 years working for railroads, the last 25 years on the engine. I’m here for the literally millions of passengers who entrusted their safety to me and the other members of my train crews. I’m also here as a Special Representative for Railroad Workers United, an international cross-craft solidarity and advocacy organization. Our membership extends over most major and many lessor railroad systems in North America, passenger and freight. Nobody cares more about train safety than the men and women who work on the railroad.

I feel obliged to mention a third group as well. I just returned from the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. I was one of the speakers at the 3rd anniversary commemoration of the rail tragedy. Three years ago this month, 47 people died when a runaway oil train crashed and burned. I can’t presume to speak for them, or for the 27 Lac-Mégantic orphans.

But the truth is, this hearing is happening because of that train tragedy. The Lac-Mégantic wreck was the biggest international exposé of the dangers of single crew operations, although there was a long history leading to that incident. Lac-Mégantic is why there is FRA consideration of a Train Crew Staffing rule. The evidence is now clear from multiple investigations that single crew operation at Mégantic was a proximal cause of that wreck.

Safety rules are sadly often forged in fire. Fire safety rules in tall buildings came after 146 garment workers perished in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City. Now new Train Crew Rules will come from 47 graves in Lac-Mégantic in 2013.

I have appended the full statement submitted by Railroad Workers United to my remarks here. Let me summarize. One-person train operations are NOT safe.

The FRA should not be in the business of making rules for the unsafe operation of trains. The FRA should not be telling carriers that there might be some circumstances that would allow more risky operation of trains. The FRA should not be producing a roadmap or a manual on how to get “special” approval to run unsafe trains. That is a specific lesson of Lac-Mégantic.

No carrier promises or new operating rules and procedures change the basic fact that one-person trains are LESS SAFE. The FRA should not be working with the carriers to make them just a little bit less unsafe. The record is clear. The rail industry is incapable of self-regulating to eliminate the real risk of death from single crew operation. There are no credible authorities that support single crewmember operations as being as safe as multiple crewmember operations over time. Every time a one-person train goes out it is a high-risk gamble.

Former FRA Director Szabo was right when he said, “… safety dictates you never allow a single point of failure.” Not rarely allow, NEVER.

The FRA already has all the evidence demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that one-person trains are more unsafe. All railroaders know it. The airlines use co-pilots. Nobody would fly on a 777 that had a one-person crew. Freight trains are twenty times longer than the biggest 777. They are often longer than the airport runway and there is no autopilot for trains.

Even the carriers will say they don’t plan to run many one-person crew trains, but they want the flexibility, just in case. Just in case of what? A tight deadline? A drop in stock prices? Upcoming negotiations with the unions? Failure to fill vacant jobs?

There are already too many commonplace problems in regular rail operations that require more than one crewmember. At Lac-Mégantic single crew operations were accompanied by a simultaneous reduction of qualified backup crewmembers available for safety assurance. Carrier cost cutting and lax regulatory enforcement are a recipe for disaster

I wish I could have told the Lac-Mégantic survivors that the United States government has commemorated this tragedy by making sure no one-person train runs on any US railroad. We could even call it the “Lac-Mégantic Rule.”

It is not too late. The final FRA rule should not be a yellow light with an arrow saying, This Way To 1-Person Crew Trains. It should be a bright red light, a Stop Signal. If sometime in the future there is some new development in train operation that meets a strong scientific standard for train safety, the FRA should convene a new hearing and develop new rules. But today there is no safe way to operate trains with one-person crews. So the only rule called for is no one-person trains.

If the FRA fails, as did their Canadian counterparts, to guarantee minimum crew standards that prohibit single crew operations, it is absolutely certain that more people will die. In Canada in the aftermath of the disaster, the Trudeau government is scrambling to try to make up for the industry self-regulation that led to an industry that has reported more runaway trains each year since 2013, the year of the wreck. Communities and rail workers across the continent are watching and expecting the FRA to act to prevent even more deaths from such risky operations.

EcoUnionist News #113

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 19, 2016

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

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistleblowers:

Wobbles:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

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.

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
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