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Railroad Shop Workers Vote No on Merging Jobs

By Jon Flanders - Labor Notes, February 18, 2016

Image, right: A boilermaker works on a locomotive plow, a part that often gets damaged in operation. Railroad workers recently voted down a concessionary deal that would have blended machinists' and pipefitters' jobs together. Photo by the author.

Union members have become used to a certain pattern: threats of plant closings and layoffs, followed by a vote to reopen the contract and make concessions to “save jobs.”

In the railroad shops of the CSX corporation, this pattern has been broken.

Last fall CSX made an offer to its machinists and pipefitters—backed by their unions, the Machinists (IAM) and SMART. The tentative agreement would merge the two crafts into a single job, “Master Mechanic.” For instance, the master mechanic would install both power assemblies (previously machinists’ work) and radiators (previously pipefitters’ work).

Management painted the concessionary deal in glowing terms. But in December, workers in both crafts bucked the threat and overwhelmingly voted no.

FIXING ENGINES

Nationally there are around 8,000 railroad machinists. They rebuild locomotives from the ground up and do preventative maintenance such as replacing power assemblies, turbos, traction motors, and other mechanical items.

Pipefitters work on the extensive pipe systems on locomotives: air, fuel, and oil.

Collectively, these railroad shop workers maintain the locomotive fleet for all the major railroads in the U.S.

The critical role they play got front-page attention after a defective locomotive led to a 2013 disaster in the town of Lac Mégantic, Quebec. A runaway train carrying crude oil exploded, killing 47 people.

MORE WORK, SAME PAY

CSX Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Mancini claimed in a September press release that the contract deal reflected the unions’ and company’s “collective commitment to finding innovative ways to support our employees while driving long-term efficiency.”

Needless to say, the affected workers saw things a little differently. It looked to them like more work for the same pay.

Machinists and pipefitters would have to learn each other’s jobs. Previously, if a job called for both piping and mechanical, the two crafts might have worked together on a team. Now the whole job might be done by whoever was at hand—leading to job losses all around.

CSX was promising to guarantee jobs for two years, but not many thought the guarantee would last much longer.

The agreement would have given up not only traditional job jurisdictions, but also seniority and employee-protection agreements, where laid-off machinists are paid a percentage of their wages for a period of time based on years of service.

Layoffs are a particular concern for these workers—who might otherwise be forced to move rather than spend time looking for another job near home.

RAUCOUS MEETINGS

The initial proposal met with resistance; meetings reportedly went very badly. Workers who’d always been quiet before were making ominous-sounding threats against union officers.

Next CSX closed the 100-year-old Corbin locomotive shop in Kentucky and the Erwin railyard in Tennessee, citing the decline in coal shipments.

Many machinists and pipefitters lost jobs in these shops. Layoffs of other crafts, such as the boilermakers, followed. Obviously management hoped this would bring pressure to bear.

In reality, despite the decline in coal shipments, CSX has yet to go in the red. Last summer, while it was negotiating the concessions, the company announced its profits had risen 4.5 percent in the second quarter and it had beaten its own expectations for earnings. In the full year 2015, the company made $3.6 billion in operating profit.

Railroad Workers United calls Chicago rail safety conference

By Maggie Trowe - The Militant, September 14, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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 United will sponsor a one-day conference titled “Railroad Safety: Workers, Community and the Environment” Sept. 19 in Chicago. The RWU is organizing the event with labor and environmental groups, including United Steelworkers Local 1527, Frack Free Illinois and the Southeast Environmental Task Force. It is a follow-up to earlier conferences in Richmond, California, and Olympia, Washington.

“The 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster put a spotlight on how rail bosses put profits ahead of safety and made these conferences necessary and possible,” Mark Burrows, a steering committee member of Railroad Workers United and delegate in SMART TD Local 1433 union, told the Militant in a phone interview Sept. 1.

On July 6, 2013, an unmanned runaway 72-car Montreal, Main and Atlantic train carrying volatile crude oil derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, destroying the downtown area and dumping millions of gallons of oil into the soil and lake there. The catastrophe commanded worldwide attention and spurred concern about the dangers posed by the massive increase of North American oil production and its transport by train through the centers of cities and towns across the continent.

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.

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

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.

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.

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