I wanted to share a video with you by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich that explains why so-called “right to work” laws are wrong and are only intended to undermine labor unions. Currently, 28 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws and that number is only expected to grow including recent efforts in the United States Congress to pass a national “right-to-work” law that would threaten the Railway Labor Act.
While “right-to-work” sounds good on paper, it lets your co-workers enjoy a union contract and representation without paying any dues at your expense. This weakens your ability to negotiate with your employer and threatens wages, benefits, and your right to a safe workplace.
In solidarity, John Risch
National Legislative Director
SMART Transportation Division
New Jersey Transit faces a widening examination of its safety practices after federal regulators discovered hundreds of potential work-hour violations, including altered duty logs and shifts longer than permitted.
Federal Railroad Administration inspectors recommended penalties in September after they found timekeeping irregularities by a small sample of engineers and other on-board crew, according to material obtained by Bloomberg in response to a public-records request.
The lapses, the inspectors wrote, allowed employees “to work longer or more preferred jobs” at the nation’s third-largest mass-transit operator, a crucial link to New York City. The broadening review comes as lawmakers question safety and finances at the agency, which in the 1990s was a model for innovation and service, only to suffer increased breakdowns and more crowded rush hours as the state provided less budget aid.
“Hours-of-service laws are not foolish,” Martin Robins, New Jersey Transit’s deputy executive director when the agency was founded in 1979, said in an interview. “They’re set up for a reason: to protect the public.”
State Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat from West Orange who is co-leading public hearings on the agency, requested details Wednesday afternoon of New Jersey Transit’s scheduling practices and any documents authorizing excess hours.
The reports are crucial to combating fatigue, a factor in deadly train wrecks in recent years in Connecticut, Arkansas and Iowa. In response to a fatal New Jersey Transit crash and a Long Island Rail Road wreck in Brooklyn that injured more than 100 people, five U.S. senators this month urged the National Transportation Safety Board to review railroads’ testing procedures among engineers for sleep disorders.
In the matter of New Jersey Transit’s duty logs, inspectors reviewed two days of handwritten records in June, and alleged 246 instances of improper documentation, including alterations to 42 signed records and 34 instances of insufficient rest time between shifts.
Nancy Snyder, an agency spokeswoman, said most lapses were “record-keeping clerical issues,” and that the agency is considering switching to an electronic system to avoid such errors.
“New Jersey Transit routinely reviews employees’ hours of service to ensure they are in compliance with federal regulations,” Snyder wrote in an e-mail. “Trains are not routinely staffed by individuals working hours beyond what regulations allow.”
Still, disciplinary action has been taken against one employee and proceedings are pending against 35 others, Snyder said. Now, while regulators consider whether to seek penalties against the railroad, federal examiners are looking for widespread discrepancies among handwritten logs submitted daily by New Jersey Transit’s 1,600 engineers and other on-board crew.
McKeon, in a letter to Steve Santoro, the agency’s executive director, requested two years of conductors’ and engineers’ work schedules and all approvals for hours beyond what the law allows. He also asked for names of employees overseeing staffing hours, storage locations for handwritten records and results of any internal audits to ensure timekeeping protocol are followed.
“What actions has NJ Transit taken to ensure that it can manage employee hours, specifically concerning employees with fatigue risks?” McKeon wrote.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s “audit and our enforcement actions remain ongoing,” Matthew Lehner, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department, said in an e-mail. No hours-of-service violation notices have been issued.
The New Jersey Transit workers whose duty logs raised red flags are among the train personnel nationwide at greatest risk of fatigue and most likely to exceed monthly work-hour limits, according to a 2013 report by the Federal Railroad Administration. Sleep disorders, including apnea, also appear to occur at a higher rate among railroad employees than other U.S. workers, the report found.
Earlier research by the federal agency found that crew fatigue had a role in about 25 percent of train accidents attributed to so-called human factors, such as inattentiveness and poor judgment.
New Jersey Transit, with 90 million passengers annually, has been beset in recent years by crowding, more frequent breakdowns and unreliable service. Rail service Tuesday was returning to normal a day after a wind-driven storm took down electrical wires along tracks in Linden, suspending New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains for hours along the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest line.
Snyder said the railroad is cooperating with the expanded railroad administration inquiry, which began in June.
A separate review of operations and finances is under way by New Jersey lawmakers in response to a September wreck in Hoboken that killed a woman on a platform and injured more than 100 passengers. The train’s engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea, his lawyer has said.
At a hearing in Trenton in November, Santoro said lack of funding is at the root of many of New Jersey Transit’s troubles.
From 1990 through fiscal 2017, New Jersey Transit used $7.1 billion intended for capital improvements to cover day-to-day expenses. Forty-two percent of those diversions took place under Republican Governor Chris Christie, more than any other governor.
From January 2011 through July 2016, New Jersey Transit logged the most train accidents and the highest safety-violation fines of any U.S. commuter railroad, federal data show.
At the November hearing, Santoro disclosed instances of forbidden mobile-phone use, locomotives left unattended and missing emergency equipment, all documented by federal inspectors. In response, he said, the railroad was stepping up enforcement and expanding training. He also committed to fully staffing a safety office that was operating without a deputy chief and about a dozen others.
In some cases, the records were missing documented days off or such details as travel time to assignments, which counts toward maximum hours. Each penalty carries a fine of as much as $25,000, though those amounts typically are negotiated down.
McKeon said the Railroad Administration’s findings on duty logs, if proven, are “intolerable to the thousands of people who rely on New Jersey Transit every day.”
“Whether mismanagement or lack of personnel or outright violating of federal safety rules, the FRA being involved, with all its heft, can only help,” he said in an interview.
Please be aware the Carrier is approaching members about HOS Q forms. There are certain things that you must remember about filling out missing or corrected Q forms.
1) These forms can ONLY be filled out while you are at work and on duty, they are considered ” Covered Service”
2) If you have no break in your job they may be filled out at the conclusion of your assignment.
3) If you fill them out on your swing you must have the required time “Off Duty” to comply with HOS.
4) Please contact me if anyone was threatened with a fine from the FRA, this is FALSE, unless the contents are purposely fraudulent.
5) Any time that you spent correcting the forms, fill out a time card that must be signed by NJT manager. If they refuse to sign, email me.
6) You are responsible for the information on this form, nobody can change the info but you. You are signing it, the info must be your own.
Please email me if you have concerns, have already filled them out without a time card, or were not comfortable with the information that was provided to you concerning this issue.
Stephen J. Burkert
I recently spoke with a railroad client and learned about another example of a railroad overreaching its bounds and intruding on the personal rights of its employees – this time with regard to the right of medical confidentiality. Given the importance of this issue, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore this situation in more detail.
I have blogged before about railroad employee’s right under the Federal Rail Safety Act whistleblower provisions to immediate medical treatment under §20109.Specifically, §20109
(c) (1) requires a railroad to promptly arrange to have an injured employee transported to the nearest hospital for appropriate medical care. As stated previously, in order to trigger this provision of the FRSA whistleblower law, the employee must request the transport.
However, what happens when an employee indicates that they do not require transportation? In this recent situation, a railroad employee reported an exposure to fumes in a locomotive, but stated he was not adversely affected. Rather than express a concern about the potential health effects on the employee, the railroad used this opportunity to require him to come into the yard office where he was interrogated by several management employees, including the railroad’s Medical Director by telephone, about his overall health.
For employees in this situation, it is important to understand your right of medical confidentiality. While the railroad may have the right to information regarding your health as it pertains to your ability to safely work on the railroad, it does not mean that they can go on a fishing expedition and require you to reveal information about your overall health to a room full of management employees. That information is confidential and may be used against you in the future. Accordingly, unless the medical condition is relevant to your ability to work safely and requested under appropriate circumstances, an employee in that situation should consider their right of confidentiality before providing this information. Of course, if the railroad employee is given a direct order then a charge of insubordination may be implicated. Therefore, consultation with your Local Chairman or legal counsel is recommended.
This discussion brings to mind another important issue regarding medical confidentiality. In a situation in which the employee does request medical treatment, the railroad is required to transport that employee, if requested, to the closest appropriate medical facility. Once the employee is at that medical facility, the railroad cannot interfere in any way in the employee’s medical treatment. This means that once the employee is under the care of a physician, the railroad’s management has no right to inquire about the employee’s condition or interfere in any way in the employee’s medical treatment.
Should you have any questions regarding this issue or any other related matter, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a consultation. Please visit our website and download our App for Railroad Employees (search “Matt Darby” and “railroad” in App Store). You can also reach us at 800-248-FELA.
Know the facts before you vote – by John Previsich, President, SMART TD
“…Trump and Pence will work to take away from our families the hard-fought benefits, protections and securities that our predecessors worked so hard to secure.” Click link to read the entire article: https://smart-union.org/news/
The outcome of this election will affect your job – by John Risch, National Legislative Director, SMART TD
“We’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, she will support our union, our issues and the progress that unions have made. This is serious stuff and we all need to do our part in making our jobs better not just for us, but for those who follow. And that work starts with this election.”
Click link to read the entire article: https://smart-union.org/news/
Back to basics – by John Lesniewski, Vice President, SMART TD
“When you strip away all of the peripheral political pundit buzz, the bottom line is Donald Trump is unstable, dangerous, and clearly governed by his own ego. “
Click link to read the entire article: https://smart-union.org/news/
A letter to the Honorable Anthony Foxx Secretary U.S. Department of Transportation Washington, DC
A message from our Legislative Representative and SMART-TD