Reported by People’s World.
Using safety of workers and communities as their main argument, two top railroad unions and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department strongly argued for mandatory two-person crews on all freight trains.
TTD and unions carried their campaign to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hearing on crews on Dec. 14, a day after rail workers’ rallied nationwide on another top issue, with its own safety component, paid sick and family leave. Congress nixed that when it imposed a new contract on the nation’s 115,000 freight rail workers.
The agency appears to be going in the other direction, for safety and against the freight railroads’ quest for higher profits by reducing crews to one person, the engineer. It received 13,090 comments on its proposed two-person crew mandate, unveiled in July. Most came from rank-and-file rail workers, supporting two-person crews.
By contrast, the carriers, especially the biggest Class I freight railroads, continued their campaign, which prior Republican Trump regime’s appointees at FRA supported, just for the engineer. Top executives at one big freight carrier, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, advocated several years ago for crewless freight trains.
Advance word of that stand brought rail workers out onto an informational picket line, marshalled by Railroad Workers United, in front of the Chicago Loop hotel which hosted the closed-door honchos’ conference where BNSF advocated its scheme.
TTD President Greg Regan, speaking for all his unions, including all 14 rail craft unions, stated the railroads want to cut crews in pursuit of profits to satisfy Wall Street. The cost is worker exhaustion, safety problems, accidents, threats to communities from crashes—especially of tank cars with oil or hazardous chemicals—and declining service.
“Rail workers experience the demands and risks of the job daily, and we need to listen to them when they tell us they need safety protections,” Regan said. He pushed “strong, swift action” by the federal agency, part of the Transportation Department.
“Crew size is fundamentally a safety issue at its core, and two-person crews are inherently necessary to ensure the safe operation of our freight rail and passenger systems. By creating a federal standard across the industry, the FRA can address the significant safety concerns presented by railroads operating with single-person crews.”
While the rail bosses and workers have battled each other for years on two-person crews both in D.C., and in bargaining, rail workers and unions convinced several state legislatures to mandate each freight have both an engineer and a conductor. Key wins in the struggle have been in Illinois, the nation’s rail hub, and Nevada. Most rail freight to and from California passes through there. Other states have followed.
The railroads, Regan explained, claim they don’t need the conductor on freight trains because they now use Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which produces “some of the most reckless and dangerous” conditions in “any industry in the past few years.” PSR also let the railroads cut their workforce by 30%, 45,000 workers, since 2015, and increased hazards to workers and communities.
Further, rail bosses often order the remaining workers to perform tasks, such as freight car inspections, for which they aren’t trained or qualified, Regan explained.
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