Inward Facing Locomotive Cameras: The Fight Ain’t Over Yet
The fight against inward facing cameras has been dealt a severe one-two punch this past six months. First, the KCS began camera installation in the spring of 2013, and activated them in July once a federal judge ruled the dispute to be “minor”. Then on January 13th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that it will begin the rulemaking process to lead to their wholesale implementation.
So while we are down, we are not out. We believe there are alternatives. And the issue is not simply one of cameras vs. no cameras. If (and we feel that is still if) cameras are fully implemented by the rail carriers, then countless questions remain. And these specifics must be mandatory subjects of bargaining; e.g. How long will the data be retained?
What is the purpose of the data? What actions of a crew caught on camera can be used against them for displiplinary purposes. Can audio be used? Under what circumstances can the data be examined and to what ends? These and countless other questions should have to be worked out with the unions. And while we believe that inward facing cameras can still be barred from locomotives, if/when they are installed, we must still insist on the right to bargain over exactly how they are to be used.
Railroad Workers United believes that the whole camera issue is bogus. There are alternatives. And cameras don’t necessarily fix hazards, they simply blame workers after the fact. See below for a full commentary on the issue.
Inward Facing Cameras: Coming to a Locomotive Near You?
In the wake of the terrible head on collision at Chatsworth, CA more than five years ago now, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made the unfortunate recommendation that inward facing cameras be installed on locomotives to observe crew behavior. Ostensibly, the idea behind this would be to ensure that railroad workers do not use electronic devices (phone and texting) while performing job related duties of train operation. The unions of the operating crafts as well as Railroad Workers United all issued statements opposed to such cameras when the NTSB issued their recommendation in 2011.
Unfortunately, the unions chose to focus their energy on a simple lawsuit that such cameras are a breach of their members' right to privacy. Given that cameras are common practice now in a myriad of workplace settings, and given the public outcry over cell phoning and texting endangering the lives of passengers and citizens, this was probably not the best strategy to win with. And in fact, when Kansas City Southern, earlier this year, unveiled their intention to install inward facing cameras, a federal judge predictably ruled against the right to privacy issue. Ruling it not a “major dispute”, the floodgates were opened to camera installation, the unions lacking any kind of a "Plan B."
The pretext for installation of inward facing cameras in locomotives is that the rail industry needs to ensure that cell phone usage and texting is eliminated in the name of safety. We remain skeptical of this claim. Make no mistake: Railroad Workers United is 100% opposed to the usage of cell phones when work is being performed. However, we do not see inward facing cameras as necessarily achieving this goal. Some workers will continue to use their cell phones regardless -- especially in cases of personal crisis, illness and/or emergency situations back at home. And their are ways to avoid the view of the camera as well (e.g the restroom).
The clamor for camera installation is a bogey man, distracting our attention from hazard elimination while shifting the blame for train wrecks onto workers. As can plainly be seen in the article on pages 2 & 3 of this issue of The Highball, had Metro North simply alleviated the hazard years ago with the implementation of simple, affordable and very commonplace technology, the terrible wreck of December 1, 2013 would not have happened, period.
RWU advocated in a 2010 resolution that rather than installing inward facing cameras, the industry install signal jammers that make it impossible to call/text while in the cab of a locomotive. This technology appears to be readily available and at least as cheap as cameras. But there is one major difference - this technology actually prevents cell phone usage whereas cameras do not. RWU's idea is proactive, fail safe and it works. Cameras are a reactive, after-the-fact implementation of technology that will not necessarily eliminate cell phone usage. (Note: If and when a worker must use a cell phone in an emergency situation, an override switch could be employed for this purpose and the train crew held accountable when making use of such switch).
And not only do the cameras fail to do what other technology can achieve, inward facing cameras can be intrusive, irritating, distractive and possibly downright dangerous. Train crews must be free to have candid conversations with one another, about the rules, their interpretation and meaning. In a difficult and/or confusing situation, a train crew needs to speak freely and reach agreement on how best to proceed. Fear of reprisal, taken later by the carrier after review of the films if/when a trip “goes bad” may cause workers to not confidently and candidly interact with one another. A train crew member may make a mistake, saying or do something that contradicts the rules and now, aware that s/he has been caught on camera,, may focus on it the rest of the tour of duty, causing distraction from the job at hand.
Finally, all railroad workers should oppose the use of cameras because they are just one more incursion of the employer, one more form of control and intimidation. If we are not free to be ourselves, to express ourselves, to discuss matters of importance to us; If we feel that the boss is always present, looking over our shoulder, we will not make very good union men and women. A worker who is afraid and paranoid is a worker who is constantly worried about protecting her/his own ass, not a worker who finds solidarity to come naturally. No Inward Facing Cameras!
v7 #1 winter.