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  • Unions, Safety Advocates Laud Federal Proposal For Two-Member Train Crews
    Updated On: Apr 07, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, March 18, 2016

    The Federal Railroad Administration this week unveiled new proposed regulations mandating at least two crew members on most of the nation’s freight and passenger trains. Unsurprisingly, the American Association of Railroads immediately opposed the requirement, insisting that new technology makes one operator sufficient. Labor unions and safety advocates, however, applauded the long-awaited proposal, with some reservations about loopholes that allow for existing single-employee operations to continue and for other railroads to apply for an exemption. Ron Kaminkow is General Secretary of Railroad Workers United:

    [Ron Kaminkow]: “We would prefer to see a rule that shuts the door completely, once and for all, on any and all single-employee train crew operations. And we will be commenting to that effect.”

    In November of 2004, the National Carriers Conference Committee, the umbrella group that bargains with the various railroad unions, put forward a notice to both the United Transportation Union, now the SMART Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainsmen, saying they wanted to run trains with a single employee. They argued that staffing of two employees on each train was too high, impinging on their ability to make profit and they should be the sole determiner of how much manpower each train has. The workers disagreed:

    [Ron Kaminkow]: “We voted down a recent contract 18 months ago on the BNSF, the nation’s second-biggest railroad...voted down six-to-one, and since then the cat is out of the bag. Every railroad worker in this country now knows that the rail carriers are intent on running single-employee operations. So, the latest line of the American Association of Railroads is ‘We’re content to run trains with a two-person crew, but not once positive train control comes onto the scene.’ And it’s a flat-out lie. They were not content to run trains with a two-person crew ten years ago, and if they had been granted their way, we would have seen single-employee train crews, and I would suspect in the last decade there would have been countless incidents and tragedies and dramatic trainwrecks and loss of lives to both railroad workers and members of the community. But the railroad rank-and-file stepped up and in no uncertain terms we’ve been able to let the carrier s know this is unacceptable, and we’ll go to the wall to stop it.”

    The RWU actually formed around the issue of reducing trains to a single-worker crew:

    [Ron Kaminkow]: “Railroad Workers United, since our founding convention in 2008 has been adamantly opposed to single-employee train crew operations. We want there to be two crew members on every train, and we saw that the only way to keep that two-person crew minimum safe and sound, was to have the operating crafts stick together, conductors and engineers and their two unions. Because, without that, the carriers can simply play one off against the other and have their way with us.”

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