LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – APRIL 2011
FRA Regulations on Cell Phones
The new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations on
cell phones and other electronic devices went into effect on
A one-page flyer from the FRA summarizing the new regulations can be found at http://www.blet-org/pr/pdf/FRA_Electronic_Devices_Chart.pdf.
Attack on Labor and the Middle Class
The attack on unions by ultra-conservative politicians that
Several states have introduced legislation to enact “right to work” policies that would cripple the right to organize, and in Texas, already a right-to-work state where public employees do not have collective bargaining rights, a bill has been introduced that aims to outlaw the expenditure of union dues money for political purposes and criminalizes activities such as lobbying for legislation, participating in events that are both social and political in nature, creating political communications, and all other activities that involve a political purpose, if dues money is spent either directly or indirectly. Americans across the nation are fighting back because they understand that if you want a strong middle class, you need organized labor… after all it was the unions that created the middle class in this country.
In some cases, the protests and demonstrations of working
people and those who support them are causing the ultra-conservatives to back
down. Following the passage of
It is apparent that at least some of these conservatives are realizing that Main Street America is against their anti-middle class agenda. Van Jones, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, states: “It is up to Americans to ensure that states do not balance their budgets by gutting important services and attacking public workers in order to deal with the effects of a recession caused by Wall Street’s misdeeds, not those of policemen, firefighters, teachers, students, and other hard working middle class Americans.”
As I am working on this update, I just learned that Wisconsin Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke is one of eight Republicans targeted for recall in that state because of his support for Governor Walker’s anti-union legislation. The movement to remove the eight senators eligible for recall has collected enough signatures for a recall election on Kapanke. The petitions were delivered on April 1 to the Government Accountability Board for review. If the petitions are found to be in order by the board, a recall election could take place in July or August.
H.R. 658, The FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011
On February 11, Representative John Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I Committee) introduced the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011. That bill contained language that would repeal the ruling of the National Mediation Board finalized last year that made union representation elections among airline and railroad workers covered by the Railway Labor Act the same as all other elections in America… where the majority of those who vote make the decision as to whether or not there will be union representation. Prior to last year’s rule change, the NMB rules governing representation elections in the railroad and aviation industries counted workers who did not vote in these elections as having voted against representation. This undemocratic method of conducting the elections meant that widespread apathy and/or carrier intimidation almost always spelled defeat for these organizing efforts.
On March 31, Representative Steve LaTourette (R-OH) offered an amendment to H.R. 654 to strike Section 903 from the bill. Unfortunately, the amendment failed to pass by a recorded vote of 206 - 220.
In the week prior to the final vote on H.R. 658, which passed in the House 223-196 on April 1, the Communication Workers of America released a report that shows that not one member of Congress would have won election if they had to play by the same rules that Representative Mica and his corporate cronies in the transportation industry want to impose on airline and railroad workers.
While the bill was still in committee, Jerry Costello (D-IL)
had introduced an amendment similar to the LaTourette amendment to strip the
anti-union language from H.R. 658. T&I Committee member Candice Miller
(R-MI) voted in favor of the Costello amendment which failed by one vote. In
committee, Ms. Miller argued that union votes should be tallied democratically,
stating to her fellow committee members, “It’s not pro-union, it’s not
anti-union, it’s about fairness.” She went on to say, “Before
I came to Congress, I spent eight years as
The anti-union language is not included in the Senate version of the bill, so hopefully it will be stripped out in conference committee. Additionally, the Obama administration has announced that the President’s senior advisors will recommend that he veto the bill if the final version is presented to him with the provision to overturn fair and democratic election rules for air and rail workers. Will that mean that the FAA will go unfunded due to yet another attempt to break unions?
Federal Employers’ Liability Act Under Attack
Oral arguments were heard on March 28 in the most important
FELA case to reach the Supreme Court in the last 50 years,
FELA was enacted in 1908 to promote safety within the railroad industry and is the exclusive law that protects rail workers who are injured or killed on the job. Railroad workers are not covered by workers compensation laws and, when injured at work, must prove that the railroad was negligent and that the negligence was a “cause in whole or in part” of the injury in order to lawfully recover.
At stake in the Supreme Court’s review of the case of
Locomotive Safety Standards
The BLET and the UTU have called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to improve locomotive cab security, establish climate control regulations in locomotive cabs, and establish safety regulations governing the operation of remote control locomotives. In their joint comments filed on March 14, the unions expressed a number of safety concerns in response to the FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that was filed in January of this year.
With regard to cab security, the unions pointed out that the
lack of air conditioning in hot weather causes crews to choose between their
safety and their security, referring to the
In their comments about locomotive cab temperatures, the unions explained the negative effect of extreme heat as it causes fatigue and lethargy, slows reaction time, and therefore diminishes safety. They argued that the FRA rule should require that newly purchased or reconstructed locomotives, as well as those locomotives already equipped with air conditioning, must be capable of maintaining a climate between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The unions urged the FRA to issue enforceable regulations governing the operation of remote control locomotives (RCLs) and to prohibit the operation of RCLs on mainline tracks. They asked that the FRA’s proposed rules for regulation of remote control operator units require these units to be simple in design and uncluttered with any function not necessary for safe operations. In addition, the unions asked the FRA to develop an improved electronic record keeping system to maintain accurate records of employee on-duty hours in remote control service so that a fair comparison of the number of accidents, incidents, and fatalities that occur during remote control switching operations versus conventional switching operations can be made.
And finally, with regard to locomotive seats, the unions expressed their extreme disappointment that the FRA did not even mention anything about locomotive seats in their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Locomotive Safety Standards. They pointed out unions alleged that “improper and unsafe seats and seat securements have caused many injuries and illnesses to operating crews,” and asked the FRA to “accept the scientific facts and offer requirements for specifications of locomotive seats on occupied locomotives.”
A copy of the complete joint comments can be found at http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/FRA-2009-0094-0015.1.pdf.
Damaged Hazmat Containers Pose Health Risk to Rail Employees
Seven rail labor unions have jointly petitioned the FRA for enhanced safety standards to protect rail workers and the public from hazmat contamination. In their comments filed on March 24, the unions cite that the number of damaged or leaking hazardous materials containers shipped by rail has more than doubled in the past four years. The FRA routinely grants special permission for railroads to transport damaged hazmat containers on mainline tracks to repair facilities. The number of requests from railroads has been steadily increasing over the last 16 years and the unions are concerned about rail workers being subjected to an unacceptable risk of exposure. That risk will only increase if the current rate of movement approvals continues. The unions are asking for advance notification to rail workers who will be called to work in the vicinity of damaged containers transporting hazmat, as well as the provision of protective gear for those employees, including emergency escape breathing apparatus.