Legislative Update March 2007

Website Legislative Update for March

 

Tentative Agreement on National Contract

On February 28, the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC), comprised of seven rail labor unions, including the BLET, reached a tentative agreement on a national contract with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the organization that represents the interests of America’s freight rail corporations. Ballots for ratification of the agreement will be mailed out to freight rail employees in the next month. The tentative agreement’s five-year term includes wage increases and ensures controls on health care co-payments.

The Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800), supported by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, would enable working people to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions by restoring workers’ freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union, was introduced in the House on February 5. After more than five hours of debate, the bill passed in the House on March 1 by a margin of 241-185. The bill now goes to the Senate.

This legislation, if enacted into law, would also provide protection to short line railroad employees, some of whom have had their employment terminated for actively seeking to organize. The chances that it will become law this year do not look promising, however, as the Senate will probably not be able to muster the 60 votes necessary to break an expected GOP filibuster. Even if it were to pass on the Senate floor, President Bush has stated that he will Veto.

  1. 184.The Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007

  1. 184, an updated version of Rail Security Act of 2005, also includes provisions contained in the SAFE Port Act passed by the Senate during the 109th Congress, which were removed in conference committee.Major provisions pertaining to railroads include:  requiring the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a railroad sector risk assessment and submit prioritized recommendations to improve rail security; provide grants through TSA to Amtrak and freight railroads to upgrade security across the entire freight and intercity passenger railroad system; provide funding through the DOT to upgrade Amtrak tunnels in D.C. and northeast corridor; create a DHS rail security research and development program and encourage the deployment of rail car tracking equipment for hazmat shipments; authorize studies to improve passenger rail security screening and immigration processing along the northern border; require railroads to create a railroad worker security-training program; provide whistle blower protections for reporting security concerns; require railroads to create mitigation plans for high hazard materials; require TSA and DOT to clarify respective roles for rail security (this has been ongoing since 9/11); and require DHS to develop a program to encourage equipping of rail cars transporting high hazard materials.  A total of 22 Senators have now signed on as co-sponsors.  The bill has been voted out of committee and placed on the Senate calendar, but a recent attempt to move the bill forward was withdrawn to consider other 9/11 issues first.  This Act would for the first time rail security was considered a statutory entity under the TSA.  Please contact your Senators to support S. 184, and we will keep you informed as the continues to progress.

Waiver of Compliance for Safety Requirements on Border Trains

In January, Union Pacific (U.P.) petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration to issue a waiver of compliance to allow trains that regularly originate in Mexico to undergo safety inspections before crossing the border, thereby allowing these trains to travel up to 1500 miles into the interior of the United States without an inspection done by qualified UP personnel or FRA oversight. The FRA had scheduled a waiver hearing on the matter on February 7 in Laredo, Texas; however the petition was withdrawn by U.P. before the hearing. We probably haven’t heard the end of this, and will continue to keep you posted as to new developments.

Nuclear Waste Transport

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository’s opening scheduled for 2017, will again be delayed in part because of strong opposition from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. While this may be good news for some, it will not effect transportation by rail of spent nuclear fuel to temporary storage sites, which will begin in approximately 4 years. Temporary sites will probably be located at a DOE facility in either Idaho, Washington State, Wyoming, or South Carolina. According to Scott Palmer, the BLET lead in working with the Department of Energy on radioactive hazardous waste transportation, advised that within five years space for storing spent fuel will be used up, and the fuel will have to be moved to free up storage space and allow refueling of the reactors. The storage crunch affects reactors supplying 5% of the nation’s total power grid. Since no permanent site currently exists, the spent fuel will have to be moved twice; once to the temporary site, then to the permanent one. Dr. Ruth Weiner of the Sandia National Laboratories said, “low level waste shipments may pose the greater health concern due to the lesser amount of shielding in the rail cars.” Chairman Palmer will continue to work with the Department of Energy on behalf of the BLET to make sure our rail workers will be as safe as possible given that rail is still the best way to transport this type of hazardous material.

Hours of Service and Fatigue

Another monster that plague’s our rail workers is the long hours on the job and not enough rest between shifts. If something can be done to benefit our rail workers quality of life, by allowing them more rest between shifts, everyone will win. The BLET Vice President Ed Rodzwicz and Tom Pontilillo, Director of Regulatory Affairs testified before Congress regarding fatigue issues and potential fixes. Also testifying were the head of the FRA and Chairman of the NTSB as to the need to revise the 100-year old hours of service law. All the testimony given agreed that something needs to be done to address fatigue. VP Rodzwicz also encouraged re-authorization of the Federal Rail Safety Program, an ongoing program dealing with main track switches in dark territory.

BLET-DC National Legislative Office Launches New Website

The BLET National Legislative Office in Washington, DC, has recently launched its new website. The website, which can be accessed at www.bletdc.org, contains a ton of information to keep members informed about what’s happening in the legislative area, in addition to our Auxiliary website. The site is intended to be a resource for BLET members, as well as anyone who is interested in the union’s legislative and regulatory activities. Kudos go out to them for the new website!