The BNSF Single Crew Initiative Defeated
The members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers (SMART) General Committee GO—001 have spoken. In a loud and clear mandate, they have told the BNSF railway, their union leaders, and the world, that they do not support single employee train crews. By 2-to-1, the rank and file voted down a tentative agreement, that – had it been ratified – would have resulted in conductorless train operations over more than half of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest rail carrier in the U.S.
The major rail carriers have been seeking to run trains with a single employee for nearly a decade now. This latest attempt was by far the most blatant and confrontational effort to date. Railroad workers know that there are grave dangers and inefficiencies should such practice be implemented. According to Railroad Workers United General Secretary Ron Kaminkow, “Single employee train operations – with or without Positive Train Control (PTC) – would compromise the safety and security of train crews, motorists, pedestrians, trackside communities, the environment and the general public. Railroad workers are ready, willing and able to fight this concept with everything we have.”
In voting down this contract, the SMART GO-001 rank and file have won a decisive victory, not just for the trainmen and engineers on the BNSF, but for every railroad worker in North America. While the victory belongs to them, it is of course shared by all those who assisted – engineers (both UTU and BLET); union brothers and sisters from other crafts and carriers who rose to the occasion and helped out; family members who took part in pickets, rallies and demonstrations; fellow unionists and citizens who grasped the importance of the struggle and pitched in to help.
Since its founding in 2008, RWU has pledged to resist the carriers drive for single employee operation of trains. The organization had significantly ramped up that effort in 2012 with a full-blown campaign to raise awareness and understanding of the issue among both railroaders and members of the general public. Upon learning of the BNSF TA, RWU convened an “emergency meeting” of the Steering Committee and instantly mobilized the network. Thousands of buttons and sticker, flyers and leaflets, “Talking Points” and more were disseminated to BNSF railroad workers in the following weeks. A press release was issued that was picked up by a number of newspapers. RWU members spoke out on radio and TV stations, and organized rallies, pickets and demonstrations at numerous terminals, from large cities like Chicago and Seattle to small towns like Creston, Iowa. RWU members intervened in the debate at the SMART Convention in August, and held a series of telephone conference calls open to all railroad workers to voice their concerns, ask questions, and devise strategies and tactics. A regular e-newsletter with the latest flyers, leaflets, stickers, articles, songs, graffiti and cartoons were issued weekly.
Public opinion polls show that upwards of 80% of the population in the U.S. support a minimum of a two-person train crew. Citizens groups are aroused and organizing across the country for rail safety in the face of Lac Megantic. There are two-person train crew bills at the federal and state levels. And the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is considering a two-person crew regulation.
Railroad workers across North America are celebrating this victory today as the news gets out. And they ready themselves for the next round in the fight.
Join us in the Rank and File Rebellion!