Rail labor turned out in full force on September 19 for the introduction of a new railroad safety bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Introduced by U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) and Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (D-N.Y.), the Rail Worker and Community Safety Act would make much needed improvements to federal rail safety regulations, including mandates for a two-person crew, changes to ways hazardous materials can be transported, increases funding for rail safety inspectors, and codifies mandatory sick leave for all rail workers.
Vince Verna, BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative, thanked Reps. Stansbury and Bowman for bringing forth this much-needed piece of legislation. Speaking at a press conference in front of Capitol Hill as the bill was introduced, Brother Verna was critical of the politicians who have put partisan politics over people and the rail carriers that have put profits over people. He said: “There are plenty of people in the building behind us who refuse to do their job and vote. Our members deserve a vote. The American people deserve a vote for safety. We have to stop putting precision scheduled profiteering ahead of public safety and ahead of safety for railroad workers.”
The proposed legislation:
• Mandates a two-person crew on all Class I railroads;
• Mandates the creation of a reporting structure for close call incidents, similar to how airlines report close call incidents, so problems are resolved before derailments happen;
• Mandates regulations regarding the use of wayside detection technologies, which are currently not regulated by the federal government; and
• Codifies paid sick leave for rail workers, requiring rail carriers to allow their workers to earn up to 7 days (56 hours) of paid sick leave each year and prohibiting rail carriers from discriminating or retaliating against employees for using their accrued paid sick leave.
During the press conference, Brother Verna explained that rail labor has been able to negotiate paid sick leave agreements with a few railroads, but not all.
“There’s still quite a few Class I railroads where railroad workers can’t get time off when they’re sick,” Verna said. “Can you imagine being told to go to work taking these trains, some of them are four and five miles long, with all kinds of hazardous materials when you’re sick, and being told if you don’t go to work you can be fired for being sick. We want to see that end.”
Verna concluded: “We want to see standards for detectors on the side of the rails to prevent derailments. We want to see a certified locomotive engineer and a certified conductor on every freight train here in America. Let’s get this done in Congress, please. Do your job.”
Members of Congress in support of the legislation who spoke at the September 19 press conference include: Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM); Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY); Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ); Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI); and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX).
In addition to BLET, the bill is supported by AFL-CIO, IBEW, AFGE, American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU (NCFO), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division (SMART-MD), International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM), and Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).