Legislative Update February/March 2015


By Kathleen Bisbikis, National Second Vice President, National Legislative Representative, BLET Auxiliary

Below are some of the most recent news items that affect all of us. Please feel free to share these with your local auxiliary. If you have information you would like to share with me for future updates, please send it to me at bletauxiliarylr@gmail.com.

Two Person Crews

The BLET and the SMART unions have joined forces in a joint lobbying campaign to secure laws on the state level mandating a minimum two person crew in locomotives. To date, two person crew legislation has been introduced in 14 states: Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The law would require all trains or light engines used to move freight be operated by at least two crew members. The Quebec derailment of 2013 has brought to light the potential danger of a one man crew and the devastation that can be caused when a train hauling hazardous materials derails. States that have hazardous materials hauled through them via rail are recognizing the potential safety concern of a one person crew and are asking that safety concerns not financial concerns be the number one priority of the railroads.

Utah Bill to Regulate Vans & Shuttles for Railroad Crews

SB127 in Utah addresses a loophole in the law that does not require the state’s department of transportation to regulate safety of vans or that of its drivers for vehicles that shuttle 15 passengers or less. Railroad conductors and engineers are often transported in these vehicles. They have frequently complained that the vehicles have had serious safety issues, as well as drivers who oftentimes have driven already for several hours and have trouble staying awake. The already tired railroad employees feel like they cannot relax and must keep their eyes on the road for their own safety. If this legislation passes to correct this oversight in the law, it will give the Utah Department of Transportation the ability to regulate companies that transport railroad employees and hold them accountable through reporting of incidents, which is not currently being done.

Right to Work Battle

The following was taken directly from the BLET website from February 20, 2015 and I felt that it is an important topic that perhaps some may have missed. Please read the following as it does affect us all.

A perennial threat to organized labor and the American middle class is once again making an appearance in state legislatures throughout the United States.

Our elected officials at the state level have taken it upon themselves to consider anti-union legislation called “Right to Work” or “Freedom to Work.” While this phrase is crafted to appeal to the most patriotic among us, the fact of the matter is that these proposed laws would severely undermine the rights that workers have on the job. “Right to Work” laws eliminate the workers’ financial obligation (dues) to a labor organization, forcing unions to perform their services for free toward the goal of eventually bankrupting the union. A bankrupt union would not be able to defend the true rights workers have.

We as railroaders enjoy decent pay, benefits, safety, retirement, and certainly have a sense of dignity and pride in what we do. These above mentioned benefits aren’t “rights” given to us by gracious corporate benefactors; rather, they are benefits that have been provided to us by the BLET through more than 150 years of negotiating and fighting with the business elite.

It has been documented across the country that these “Right to Work” laws are certainly not beneficial to the blue-collar worker. Some of the negative effects of such legislation can be seen in the following:

  • It creates a situation where unions are legally required by federal law to represent all workers including those who do not contribute their fair share of the cost of that representation.
  • It is meant to eliminate or at least stifle the voices of the workers by cutting off essential funding to our unions.
  • Right To Work deteriorates our communities’ quality-of-life:
  • Workers in Right to Work states make an average of $5,500 less than workers in worker friendly states.
  • With less disposable income workers in our communities will spend less and the economic impact on our state could be disastrous.
  • Fewer people have health care in Right to Work states (higher burden on taxpayers).
  • The poverty rate is higher in Right to Work states (higher burden on taxpayers).
  • Right To Work will bring substantial increases in Medicaid (higher burden on taxpayers).

The following are states that have already passed Right to Work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Positive Train Control

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has stated that he will not allow an extension for commuter railroads to install positive train control and is standing by the December 31st deadline. In an article dated February 11, 2015, Foxx stated his department is “continuing to hold the industry’s feet to the fire in getting PTC done as quickly as possible” instead of allowing “a blanket extension.” PTC is part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated by Congress. It’s believed that PTC will help eliminate collisions like that of the Metrolink accident of 2008 through the use of Wi-Fi signals on a dedicated radio frequency that will prevent trains from passing fixed signals.

Oil Tank Cars

The recent derailments of the CSX train in West Virginia and the Canadian Pacific train in Ontario carrying crude oil will hopefully spur the federal government to announce its proposed new regulations for the building of rail tank cars for safe transport of crude oil and ethanol. The primary goal of the new tank car design will be its ability to stay intact in the event of a derailment. In an article dated February 18, 2015, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking democrat Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, said: The derailment “is just another example of why the federal government must act…. The federal government should not delay further — it must issue the new rules for safer rail tank cars as soon as possible.”

The CSX train was using a newer model of tank car, the CPC-1232, which was introduced in 2011. The CSX reported that at least one of the rail cars appeared to have ruptured and caught fire. The surge in movement of crude oil by rail has grown from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to approximately 500,000 in 2014.