Thursday, April 24, 2014

UTU-SMART, BLET to take two-person crew laws to the state level

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
As part of their ongoing effort to secure a law mandating a minimum of two crew members in all locomotive cabs, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the United Transportation Union-Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (UTU-SMART) have provided their state legislative boards with model legislation to secure minimum crew size laws on the state level.

The state-lobbying campaign was developed jointly by the two unions.

“Significant research and work has gone into developing language that both minimizes the potential for a federal pre-emption challenge and maximizes the likelihood that the legislation will survive any such challenge,” wrote BLET National President Dennis Pierce and UTU-SMART President John Previsich in a cover letter introducing the model legislation to BLET and SMART local officers. “Therefore, when proposing legislation on this subject, it is imperative that you do not deviate from the model.”

Among other items, the legislation stipulates that any person who willfully violates the two-person crew law would be subject to financial penalties.

The unions say that crew size has become an issue following the 2013 derailment and explosion of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic crude oil unit train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. While the cause has not been officially determined, the train involved was operated by a single employee.

“We urge BLET and UTU-SMART officers to work with their counterparts in moving legislation forward on this issue of paramount importance to the members we represent,” Pierce and Previsich wrote.

On the national level, the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 3040) is currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced the legislation on Aug. 2, 2013. The bill currently has 70 co-sponsors.

H.R. 3040 would require that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least two individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135 and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the (FRA) as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.”

On April 9, 2014, the FRA announced its intent to require two-person crews “for most main line train operations including those trains carrying crude oil.”

For further commentary and analysis, see Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s blog, “Data drought haunts FRA crew-size mandate.” An excerpt:

“While the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen now opposes one-person crews, it has, in the past, offered to negotiate engineer-only operation in exchange for additional engineer pay; BLET has a contract on a portion of BNSF that would permit engineer-only operation if UTU-SMART agreed. When promoting one-person crews, the BLET raised no concerns over train safety.”