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Legislative Update July 2011

Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act

On June 15, the Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act was introduced by Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), and Chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA). According to Rep. Mica, the plan incorporates competitive bidding and private sector involvement to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor and improve intercity passenger rail service nationwide. A Railway Age editorial deemed it the latest “Let’s Pull Amtrak Apart, Pulverize All the Pieces into a Blender, Dump It Out, and Get People Who Have No Idea What They’re Doing or Talking About Attempt to Mold Something Back Together” bill. Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman stated that the this bill would likely mean the end of Amtrak and the national passenger rail system that Congress authorized nearly 40 years ago. Rep. Corrine Brown, a key Democratic member of the House T&I Committee, stated that the plan could also have an unintended consequence: draining the Railroad Retirement Fund. Amtrak employees make up 10 percent of the national railroad retirement system, providing a large percent of the money in the trust funds.

The BLET strongly opposes this bill that would jeopardize the jobs of 20,000 working men and women employed by Amtrak, seek to eliminate labor protections under the privatized Northeast Corridor, drain the Railroad Retirement Fund, cause serious reductions in passenger service, and cause long distance lines to virtually disappear. Amtrak has experienced a steady rise in ridership in recent years, which should be seen as a sign of growing success. Please encourage your members of the House to stand together in support of Amtrak and its workers.

 

Supreme Court Upholds FELA Negligence Standard in McBride v. CSX

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument of CSX Transportation that would have made it much more difficult for railroad workers to be compensated for on-the-job injuries resulting from a railroad’s negligence. In the case ofCSX v. McBride, filed pursuant to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) by BLET- designated attorney John Kujawski, Mr. McBride was awarded $184,250 in damages for injuries sustained in an accident during his employment by CSXTransportation. CSX appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that the instructions given to the jury did not include one requiring that it apply a higher “proximate cause” standard. In other words, CSX maintained that McBride needed to prove that the railroad’s negligence was the main or direct cause of the accident. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court jury’s verdict in March and CSX then appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the jury instruction “proper in FELA cases … simply tracks the language Congress employed, informing juries that a defendant railroad caused or contributed to a plaintiff employee’s injury if the railroad’s negligence played any part in bringing about the injury.” The Supreme Court also noted that the jury instruction that was “sought by CSX would mislead” a jury in the proper application of the law.

Congratulations to BLET Designated Legal Counsel John Kujawski and the team he assembled to fight for Brother McBride’s rights. This important ruling marks a victory for all of rail labor.

Teamsters Rail Conference Passes Resolution Regarding High-Speed Rail

On June 30, at the Teamsters 28th International Convention, a resolution to support high-speed rail and the union jobs that should go with it was passed by the 1,800 delegates, with full support from its 70,000-member Rail Conference. The resolution states that, “any high-speed passenger rail train that operates in this nation must have a certified and trained locomotive engineer in its cab to ensure its safe operation.” BLET National President Dennis Pierce, who is also President of the Teamsters Rail Conference, stated that current plans in Congress to privatize Amtrak would exempt employees of the privately owned railroads from important labor protections, such as the Railway Labor Act, Railroad Retirement Act, and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.

Fred Simpson, President of the BMWED and IBT International Vice President, and BLET Amtrak Vice General Chairman Craig McDowell also spoke in favor of the resolution.

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