Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UTU fights Amtrak snow removal waiver

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The UTU, BLET, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association have asked the FRA to deny an Amtrak request to waive permanently the existing mandatory and safety-critical functions governing passenger-platform snow removal outside the Northeast Corridor.

The result would be the scrapping of on-track safety protection for Amtrak employees as well as contractor employees. Amtrak withdrew an earlier waiver request -- also opposed by the UTU and the others labor organizations -- that would have required a conductor to coordinate platform snow removal to the detriment of the conductor's other safety critical functions.

The existing roadway worker protection provisions Amtrak seeks to scrap are found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Volume 49, Section 214.335, which describe on-track safety procedures for roadway worker groups.

Amtrak now is asking that its employees and contractor employees be permitted to remove snow from station platforms with no real on-track safety in effect. If granted by the FRA, said the labor organizations, there would be "no means whatsoever for a roadway work group to establish on-track safety through the dispatcher or control operator, establish on-track safety through train coordination or train approach warning, or otherwise withhold trains from the work area.

"Amtrak seeks to permanently remove the mandatory and safety-critical functions of the roadway worker in charge from station platform snow removal operations and proposes to substitute minimal ‘procedures' for roadway worker groups engaged in snow removal at high- and low-level passenger platforms nationwide," said the labor organizations in asking the FRA to deny the Amtrak waiver request.

"Under Amtrak's waiver request," said the labor organizations, "Amtrak employees and contractor employees will perform this dangerous work on passenger platforms in high-speed territory, utilizing both power tools and hand tools, all while unsupervised and unprotected by a qualified roadway worker in charge.

"This work, by its very nature, is most often performed in extreme weather conditions that can affect a worker's alertness and judgment. These workers will necessarily be dressed in heavy winter clothing, which can adversely affect the workers' vision, hearing, agility, and ability to react to unanticipated danger. Such extreme working conditions underscore the need for full compliance with federal on-track safety regulations to protect roadway workers," the labor groups told the FRA.

 

Additionally, the labor organizations said, "by removing the roadway worker in charge, the waiver will severely impede the ability of roadway workers to make a good faith challenge. First-level good faith challenges are, in virtually all cases, presented to the designated roadway worker in charge, who is uniquely qualified and equipped to immediately rectify safety-related matters on-site and in real time.

 

"The waiver would set back our joint industry-wide efforts to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the unacceptable death toll among roadway workers nationwide," said the labor organizations.

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