LEGISLATIVE UPDATE JULY 2015
By Kathleen Bisbikis, National 2nd Vice President, National Legislative Rep, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Google and the FRA team up for safety
A partnership between Google the technology company and the Federal Railroad Administration was announced on June 29th. Google will be the first company to begin incorporating railroad crossing information into GPS applications. GPS coordinates for approximately 250,000 rail crossings across the U.S. will be added as both visual and audio alerts to mobile navigation systems in an effort to help reduce the number of grade crossing accidents and fatalities which have grown over the last several years.
FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg released the following written statement:
“Adding railroad crossing data to smartphone mapping applications just makes sense – it means supplying drivers and passengers with additional cues that they are approaching a crossing.
For drivers and passengers who are driving an unfamiliar route, traveling at night, or who lose situational awareness at any given moment, receiving an additional alert about an upcoming crossing could save lives. We know that more and more drivers today use map applications on smartphones to guide them to their destinations. While mobile device maps and applications are trusted sources for directions and guidance, many of them do not notify drivers when they are approaching a rail crossing, or do not identify the rail crossing at all. When drivers are alerted or reminded that there is a rail crossing ahead, they may be more likely to remain alert, use greater caution, and obey the signal crossings.
“From the very beginning of his tenure, Secretary Foxx has pushed all of us to do more to integrate technology to raise the bar on safety across all modes of transportation. This partnership, which will allow us to do just that, is an important development. Secretary Foxx and I are incredibly grateful that Google has quickly agreed to work with us, and we are hopeful that other tech companies that develop map applications will join us too.
Last year, approximately 270 people died in highway-rail collisions that were largely preventable. This is the first time this decade in which that number has actually increased from the previous year. We can—and should—do everything possible to end vehicular-train incidents at rail crossings. With Google and other tech companies’ help, I’m confident that we can achieve this goal even faster.”
Victory In California
Bill SB 730, the Two Person Crew Bill, was passed without amendments on July 8 by a vote of 5-3. It will be voted on two more times by the assembly before making its way to the Governor, where it will be signed into law.
Brothers Tim Smith, California State Legislative Board Chairman, and Ryan Snow, have been working around the clock on this and have done an amazing job. They could use all of our help now. If you are in California, please take the time to call your Assembly member and have your division members, relatives, and neighbors call as well, to ask them for a “yes” vote on SB 730, the Two Person Crew Bill. This bill is authored by State Senator Lois Wolk. We have made it all the way from the Senate committees to the Assembly floor for a final vote, which will be forthcoming.
SB 730 is a safety bill, which safeguards the public, our environment and the current operating employees! It does not add one job, but maintains the current checks and balances we have in the rail industry today with two federally certified and qualified operating personnel (Engineer and Conductor) in the cab of all freight trains and light engines involved in the movement of freight.
NTSB Asks Amtrak to Record Crewmember Actions
The National Transportation Safety Board, in a letter to Amtrak, has said that Amtrak should install crash- and fire-resistant inward- and outward-facing audio and image producing cameras in the cabs of all of its trains and review those films to make sure their crews are following protocol. In addition, the NTSB asked that Amtrak report twice a year on its progress of the installation of the cameras.
NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart stated, “The information that recorders can provide to ensure that crews are consistently operating trains safely is just too valuable to ignore and recordings can provide critical information in understanding crew actions prior to accidents, which can help prevent tragedies like the recent derailment in Philadelphia.”
Whistleblower Awarded $1.25 Million
Michael Elliott, former Legislative Chairman for the BLET’s Washington State Legislative Board, was awarded $1.25 million dollars after a six-day trial in Tacoma Washington. Elliott’s lawyer was able to prove to the eight-person jury that Elliott was targeted and terminated in 2011 after reporting numerous safety violations, first to the BNSF Railroad, and eventually to federal authorities. Elliott reported several complaints about overgrown vegetation blocking the signal system along BNSF-owned tracks between Tacoma and Vancouver, Washington, along with several potentially catastrophic signal malfunctions. The signal system is designed to keep trains from colliding on tracks that are owned by BNSF and shared by passenger and cargo trains. The BNSF was slow to respond to the complaints so Elliot reported the issues to the Federal Railroad Administration who found 375 violations.
Many of the violations were in territory overseen by a BNSF supervisor, Dennis Kautzmann, whom Elliott accused in his lawsuit of plotting a confrontation in the parking lot in which Kautzmann jumped on the hood of Elliott’s vehicle as he tried to leave. A scuffle ensued, and Elliott punched Kautzmann, according to court documents. That March 2011 incident was used as grounds to terminate Elliott and have him charged with criminal assault, according to court documents. Vucinovich said there was evidence that Elliott was set up by Kautzmann, whose story was rejected by a criminal court jury but used by BNSF to fire him.
While that incident was under internal review, BNSF officials claimed they discovered Elliott’s alleged failure to report an earlier felony conviction, and he was fired in April 2011. In September 2011, after its review of the incident with Kautzmann, the company called him in and fired him a second time, according to court documents.
The federal jury awarded him $1 million in compensatory damages, including loss of future pay, and imposed $250,000 in punitive damages against the railroad.
100% of NJ Transit Members Vote To Strike If Agreement Not Reached
The New Jersey Transit (NJT) BLET members have spoken, loudly and unanimously, in favor of striking should the union and railroad fail to come to an agreement to settle their ongoing contract dispute under the process set forth in the the Railway Labor Act. The BLET has been bargaining with the NJT for a new contract for engineers since April 2011 and the dispute has been in National Mediation Board-sponsored mediation since June 2014.
In a July 8, 2015 BLET Newsflash, BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said the unanimous vote in favor of a strike is rare, but indicates a clear mandate from BLET members that they are prepared to fight for a fair agreement. “It is unfortunate that NJT continues to insist that its locomotive engineers accept less than the economic pattern established for other passenger rail engineers in the area,” Pierce said. “The 100 percent majority voting in favor of a strike sends a strong, unified message to New Jersey Transit that over four years without a contract is not acceptable to our membership.
BLET Director of Political & Legislative Affairs Appointed
Effective July 13, Brother Robert F. (Bob) Hagan of BLET Division 757 is the new Director of Political and Legislative Affairs for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. He will be headquartered at the BLET’s National Legislative Office in Washington, D.C. Brother Hagan, a CSX Engineer with over 40 years’ railroad experience, has been a BLET member since 1997. In 1986, he was elected to a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, representing the 53rd Ohio House district, centered on Youngstown, Ohio. Over the next 28 years, he served in both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio State Senate.
Brother Hagan will lobby for legislative issues and handle political education under the direction of BLET National President Pierce and Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman.
Illinois Democrats Rally for PTC
Illinois Democrats Senator Dick Durbin, Representative Mike Quigley and Representative Dan Lipinski joined together at Metra LaSalle’s Street Station in Chicago to call on Congress to help implement positive train control (PTC) on commuter rail lines.
The Metra commuter line is one of the biggest in the U.S. with an average of 150,000 passengers riding it daily. However, like other commuter rail systems Metra is in need of more money and more time to install the PTC technology.
“Implementing [PTC] is vitally important to ensuring that our national rail system provides the utmost level of safety for the millions of passengers that use our passenger railroads each year. But the scary thing is that our nation’s commuter railroads are much farther behind on implementation than Amtrak,” said Rep. Quigley, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Congress has mandated this important rail safety technology but has refused to fund it. With the deadline for implementation just months away, it’s time for Congress to help our commuter railroads employ [PTC] and prevent the kind of tragedies we saw on Amtrak last month.”
Railroad Retirement Board Fall 2015 Schedule of Informational Conferences & Pre-Retirement Seminars
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) offers ongoing Informational Conferences for union officials and their spouses, by invitation only, and Pre-Retirement Seminars to the railroad public in various locations around the country. For more information and dates of upcoming conferences and seminars, please see the BLET Newsflash dated June 8, 2015, at:
or go to the RRB website at:
Pre-registration is required.
Fast Track Legislation Passed
We are sad to report that the controversial Fast Track Legislation that would allow the U.S. President to unilaterally choose trade partners and launch negotiations for the next three to six years and to sign and enter into agreements before Congress approves their contents, and then be guaranteed House and Senate votes in 90 days with no amendments and limited debate, passed late last month in both the Senate and the House and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 29. This legislation allows Congress to give a quick up-or-down vote to trade agreements like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that promotes the corporate agenda over the well being of ordinary citizens and threatens American jobs, wages, food safety, and environmental protections.
Many thanks to those of you who made calls to your congressional representatives in the House and Senate urging them to vote against the passage of this legislation. The bill passed 218-208 in the House on June 16 and 60-38 in the Senate on June 24.