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International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)

Rail Workers May Strike Next Month

By Paul KD - Tempest, August 12, 2022

Paul KD: President Biden just appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to help resolve the current negotiations around a national rail contract. What is the PEB, and what is its role in the negotiations?

Ross Grooters: A PEB is a U.S. president-appointed group of three mediators. These three people typically have experience in labor case law and mediation. They will look at the merits of the United Rail Unions’ Coordinated Bargaining Coalition proposal and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee proposal, and from there they have 30 days to make a non-binding contract recommendation based on their findings. Their recommendation should occur in the middle of August (the 18th, I believe).

PKD: What can rail workers do to put pressure on the PEB? What are the unions and the companies doing to lobby the PEB, and the Biden Administration more broadly?

RG: Both the unions and the companies are waging narrative battles in the press. It’s a tale as old as labor and capital. While it’s important, at least as far as rank and file railroad workers are concerned, I believe the PEB is the wrong point of pressure. What’s done is done and we can’t necessarily impact the PEB recommendation directly. Besides both the unions or the carriers (railroad companies) can reject the PEB recommendation. I believe this is a likely outcome. Once this occurs there is a 30 day cooling-off period before a work stoppage—lockout or strike—could occur. The timeline for this is mid to late September. Because of this I believe our best course of action is to continue building support for a strike. Organize our locals and community support, and hold rallies. Under the Railway Labor Act, an act of Congress can force us back to work. Our congressional members would then legislate an agreement—that’s where we can lobby. Until that happens, we have the ability to threaten a work stoppage. We need to leverage that power.

A Railroad Worker Strike Could Shake the Economy’s Foundations

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, August 2, 2022

Once a coveted job, conditions for railroad workers have badly deteriorated. But railroad workers are central to our economy — so central that a current impasse between railroad companies and associated unions has prompted Joe Biden to intervene.

Six months ago, the spouses of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corporation (BNSF) employees detailed the toll the job was taking on their families. A letter containing twenty-five of their stories portrays a climate where workers find it impossible to maintain a personal life.

Nichole Bischoff, who has taken the lead in organizing railroad worker spouses, said to a local news outlet, “So many parents wanna be at every trick-or-treating event, every school function, baseball game and they just can’t, and our kids learn to live with it.”

“My husband can’t even attend any of his appointments,” one anonymous spouse complained. “He has already gotten dropped from a couple [health care] providers for poor compliance.”

Now conditions for railroad workers are poised to take center stage nationally. On Friday, July 15, President Joe Biden intervened in a labor dispute that could have a dramatic impact on the nation’s economy. Contract negotiations between the major freight railroad companies and their associated unions, representing 115,000 railway workers, have reached an impasse. Utilizing the procedures of the Railway Labor Act, the president stepped in to form a presidential emergency board that will hold hearings and issue recommendations during a thirty-day “cooling-off” period.

But there are no guarantees that this mediation will produce a settlement, as railworkers have been pushed to the brink by decades of brutal corporate cost-cutting measures.

What If Rail Workers Struck? A Talk with RWU

U.S. Railroad Workers Inch Closer to a Possible National Strike

By Jeff Schuhrke - In These Times, July 25, 2022

After Biden appointed an emergency board to help resolve the labor dispute, rail workers warn: “We have the ability to stop the trains from moving.”

After waiting over two years to secure a new union contract, and still reeling from the impacts of Wall Street-ordered cost-cutting measures, 115,000 beleaguered workers who operate the nation’s freight railroads are inching closer towards a possible strike, which could come as soon as September. 

In an effort to drive down operating expenses and reward their wealthy shareholders, in recent years railroad companies have implemented ​“precision scheduled railroading,” or PSR — a version of just-in-time, lean production that centers on reducing the workforce and closing facilities. 

“For years, they cut and cut and cut. It didn’t matter which department or terminal, it was indiscriminate,” said Michael Paul Lindsey, an Idaho-based locomotive engineer with Union Pacific.

Over the past six years, the major Class I railroads like BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern have slashed their collective workforce by 29 percent (around 45,000 workers), leaving the industry woefully understaffed and putting extra strain on workers already accustomed to long, irregular hours. 

Lindsey said the severe staffing shortages have resulted in ​“constant chaos and crisis,” with workers being called at all hours, day and night, expected to take on assignments they were not initially scheduled for. 

Cost-cutting has also meant freight trains are running with more cars and more cargo than existing infrastructure is equipped to handle, or else misrouting rail cars just to get them moving. This cost-cutting, along with a labor shortage, have been major contributors to the supply-chain crisis. 

Meanwhile, the railroad companies remain highly profitable, with owners raking in $183 billion in stock buybacks and dividends since 2010.

A Major Strike May be Coming and I Promise You No One is Ready for it if it Does!

By Xaxnar - Daily Kos, July 14, 2022

Breaking July 15, 2022 — The Strike has been put on hold by presidential order — see the UPDATE story here.

The news about people who work for a living has featured some recent breakthrough stories, where previously immune companies have seen their workers organize and form unions. But what about an industry that remains one where unions have a long history and are still active? 

Very few people pay attention the way we should to railroads in America. That may be about to change, and not in a good way.

Sure, news about expanding Amtrak seems like a good thing, and there are plenty of High-Speed Rail (HSR) proposals — usually accompanied by reports on how expensive they are and how long they will take to build — if they can get past the NIMBY folks, the highway and airline lobbies, and the fossil fuel interests.

People freak out about bomb trains (understandable), and derailments — but how many people pay attention otherwise to the condition of our rail corridors, how much the industry is investing in itself, how much of the national economy depends on rail service, and the conditions for the people who work for the railroads?

Or the public good for that matter?

Rally Against New Attendance Policy

Electric Bus Makers Pave the Way to Union Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers

By Lary Buhl - Capital and Main, April 27, 2022

Last year Armando (who requested that his last name not be used) was working as an addiction counselor when a parole officer came to his office with a flyer announcing a new nine-week training course in electric bus manufacturing technology. The company promised not to discriminate against the formerly incarcerated, among whom are some of his clients. “I wanted to see the class so I could explain it to my clients and maybe recommend it, and make sure they understood the opportunity,” Armando told Capital & Main. “And then I thought, ‘Man, this is a good company with good pay and benefits, and it’s in a growing field.’”

Armando signed up for the class himself, and after completing it last October, he was offered a position as a battery technician at Proterra at over $20 an hour, an entry level salary higher than he was earning as a counselor, with a potential to increase quickly. True to its word, the company didn’t discriminate against him because of his past drug addiction. Armando, 52, who has been clean for five years, did have to compete with job candidates who didn’t have dings on their record and had experience in manufacturing. Now, after only six months, Armando’s eyeing a supervisory position. He’s also been helping the company screen candidates and mentoring those taking the pilot course.

“I want [students] to understand that you can’t be late or get high or do anything stupid on the job,” Armando said. “There’s expensive equipment, and you could kill yourself if you’re careless. Some of these students never had real jobs, and I like people to get a second chance. But you have to take the nine-week course seriously.” The gratitude Armando feels toward the company that gave him a chance has made him work even harder, he said.

The program at Proterra is the fruit of a community benefit agreement (CBA) between the company, United Steelworkers Local 675, L.A.-based nonprofit Jobs to Move America, and a coalition of community organizations that established standards for training, supporting and hiring job candidates from nontraditional backgrounds. They give them a chance at skilled union jobs in the growing field of green manufacturing.

Workers Say They Breathe Polluted Air at “Green” Insulation Facility

By Mindy Isser - In These Times - March 3, 2022

As the acceptance of climate change becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more companies will be created or adapted to ​“fight” or ​“solve” it — or, at the very least, minimize its effects. Kingspan Group, which began as an engineering and contracting business in 1965 in Ireland, has since grown into a global company with more than 15,000 employees focused on green insulation and other sustainable building materials. Its mission is to ​“accelerate a zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart.” 

But workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, Calif. don’t feel that the company has their wellbeing at its heart — and they say they have documented the indoor air pollution in their workplace to prove it. Differences between Kingspan’s mission and its true impact don’t stop there, workers charge: One of its products was used in the flammable cladding system on Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor public housing tower in London that went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people. Kingspan has been the target of protests in the United Kingdom and Ireland for its role in the disaster. Both Kingspan workers and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the company to put public safety over profits.

Since the 1990s, union organizers say there have been multiple attempts from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union to organize employees at Kingspan, but none were successful. The company says its North America branch employs ​“1,600 staff across 16 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States and Canada.” Workers at the Santa Ana plant are tasked with welding, spray painting and assembling fiberglass to produce energy-efficient skylights. During the pandemic, when workers say Covid-19 swept through the facility, employees reached back out to SMART — not just because they wanted to form a union, but because they grew concerned about what they say is poor air quality in the facility. 

While SMART provided support for their campaign for clean air, the workers took control: In the summer of 2021, the Santa Ana workers came into work armed with monitors to measure indoor air pollution. Their goal was to measure airborne particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). Such fine particulate matter constitutes a form of air pollution that is associated with health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with increased mortality. The workers found that the average PM 2.5 concentration inside the facility was nearly seven times higher than outdoors. (To put that in perspective, wildfires usually result in a two- to four-fold increase in PM 2.5.) The majority of monitors found PM 2.5 levels that would rank between ​“unhealthy” and ​“very unhealthy” if measured outdoors, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, the workers reported. 

Because this is the air workers were breathing in for 40 hours per week, in October 2021, they went public with both their campaign to form a union and their fight for a safe workplace — a campaign that continues to this day. 

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

LNS and 45 Environmental Groups Call on the Green Building Community to Stop Partnering with Kingspan

By Sydney Ghazarian - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability is proud to be among 45 climate and environmental justice groups calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan, an international building materials company that’s so-called ‘green’ manufacturing processes are polluting the indoor air and local watershed (learn more here).

We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities.Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here.

This effort is part of Clean up Kingspan, an inspirational campaign led by Kingspan factory workers in Santa Ana, CA who are holding the global manufacturing company accountable for health, safety, and pollution issues in their community and demanding a fair process to decide whether to unionize. In collaboration with UC Irvine pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri, these workers measured unhealthy levels of PM2.5 pollution inside their workplace.They also blew the whistle on Kingspan for misrepresenting its daily operations and water pollution clean-up efforts to the CalEPA.

What this campaign makes clear is that the struggle we face isn’t ‘jobs vs. the environment;’ it’s corporate greed vs. everyone else. LNS is proud to stand with workers, community activists, faith leaders, & environmentalists in this campaign for true economic and environmental justice. It’s time for the green building community to stand with us too.

Join us in calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan: https://cleanupkingspan.org/take-action/

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