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Legislative Update June 2007

H.R. 2095, The Federal Safety Improvement Act of 2007

H.R. 2095 was filed on May 1st and the first hearing was held on the 8th in the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T & I) Subcommittee on Railroads.  On May 22nd, by voice vote, the Subcommittee sent the bill to the full T & I Committee for consideration.  Full Committee mark up is scheduled for June 13th.

During the Railroad subcommittee mark up, Congressman Oberstar updated some of the provisions of his original bill.  The major differences are as follows:

Limbo Time – Time spent in deadhead transportation from duty assignment to final release is limbo time if there is an emergency such as a casualty, accident, act of God, derailment, major equipment failure, or other delay from a cause unknown and unforeseeable at the time an employee leaves his/her initial terminal;

Hours of Service – the Secretary of Transportation can reduce the maximum hours on duty or increase the minimum hours of rest only if the change is “based on scientific and medical research;”

Positive Train Control – extends the deadline for putting into place PTC;

Prompt Medical Attention – the railroad is required to promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the “nearest” hospital.

Other technical amendments were also approved by the Subcommittee.

If your representative is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO CONTACT THEM BEFORE NEXT WEDNESDAY.  If you live in the same state, call too.  For the complete list of Committee Members, click here.

OUR MESSAGE:  Ask them to support H.R. 2095, in its current form, which has the support of railroad workers in their State.  Express how important this bill is to the safety and well being of railroad workers, their families, and to public safety.

Note:  If you need to refresh your memory regarding the provisions of the bill, please refer to the May 2007 Monthly Legislative Update.

Amtrak, S. 294, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act

On April 25th, the Senate panel passed S. 294, which authorizes $1.4 billion in state grants over six years for passenger-rail capital projects and $1.1 billion for railroad security risk assessments, passenger- and freight-rail security improvements, and upgrades for Amtrak’s tunnels on the Northeast Corridor. The bill also would establish whistleblower protections and security training for rail employees.

The House T & I Subcommittee on Railroads will hold three hearings regarding Amtrak and intercity passenger rail in June. The first hearing scheduled for June 12th concerns Amtrak’s strategic initiatives. On June 19th, the subcommittee has scheduled a hearing regarding the benefits of intercity passenger rail, and on June 26th, the Subcommittee will address Amtrak’s capital needs.

Amtrak employees are in their eighth year of working without a national contract, and several unions have announced the formation of a bargaining coalition for Amtrak negotiations based on the successful model used for the freight rail negotiations.  The coalition is expected to grow as other unions face an evolving situation at Amtrak.

It has been reported that while Amtrak employees will receive a 10 cent COLA raise on July 1st, a number of managers are receiving 10% increases in their salaries in order to fill hard to fill management jobs, as well as 10% wage increases for management residing in high cost of living cities.  The same does not translate to Amtrak employees living and working in those cities.

Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 800, which passed in the House on March 1, was introduced as in the Senate as S.1041, by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) on March 29. Right-wing front groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads in an attempt to mislead the American public about this legislation. Urge your senators to restore a level playing field for workers and employers and restore our nation’s middle class by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

Please call your Senator as soon as possible and ask them to support this issue and to allow the bill to come up for vote.

Close Call Reporting Pilot System Project

Close Call Reporting could be the best thing since canned beer, if the railroads are willing to fully engage.  The pilot project puts in place a system similar to the one that has been in place in the airline industry for years.  It is being tested in North Platte, Nebraska, the largest rail yard in the United States.  Under this system, a close call (whether witnessed by an employee or reported by the employee who actually experienced the close call) is reported via a hotline to specially trained staff with years of experience in the rail industry. These staffers work for the Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and are bound by Federal law to maintain confidentiality of reports.  The employee who reports a close call protects only him or herself and immediate crew members.  Close calls that are reported within the time limits protect those who report from discipline if the incident is a “real time” observable incident, such as an infraction observed by a dispatcher or manager, and if the incident is not FRA reportable (resulting in a set dollar amount of damage, or where an injury occurs).

The purpose of the system is to look for patterns in near accidents or incidents, taking into consideration all of the evidence.  The information is reviewed by a panel, then sanitized, removing all identifying information, and a report is forwarded to management, organizations and the FRA.  At that point, if patterns are identified, then measures are taken to modify training and instruction to avoid repetition of the pattern.  In the first three months the system was in place, 125 close calls were reported in the test area.  More information on this program can be found at http://closecallsrail.org/default.asp.

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