Railroad Workers United is not happy with how the Trump administration or the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is handling COVID-19.
The FRA announced a waiver of most rail safety standards for 60 days. The primary reason behind the waiver is because due to short staffing and the COVID-19 pandemic it was nearly impossible for Class 1 railroad and short line railroads to uphold the safety standards.
“Many of the regulations that you have worked under—in some cases for your entire career on the railroad—will no longer be enforced,” Railroad Workers United said in a statement to the FRA. “This is a total game-changer. Be prepared to be ordered to do any one of a number of tasks that yesterday would have been a violation of federal law, yet today, failure to carry them out could result in termination.”
Railroad Workers United says rail workers are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. Freight railroads cut 20,000 workers last year due to precision scheduled railroading, a move that has put the remaining workers in a dangerous position during the pandemic.
“As the nation’s rail carriers drag their feet and fail to live up to their responsibilities under the law to provide a safe workplace, railroad workers and their organizations are demanding action from the rail carriers,” Railroad Workers United said in the statement.
The waiver covers part or all of the rules on track safety, track and bridge maintenance, railroad record-keeping, train and engine protection, switches, what to do following derailments, testing for drug and alcohol use, keeping radios and wireless communications working, limits on hours of service for passenger train crews, locomotive inspection tests, and grade crossing rules. The waiver also applies to some commuter trains.
Railroad Workers United has petitioned the FRA about the waiver, but has yet to receive any kind of response. The group believes workers who were fired last year should be recalled for service during the pandemic.
“Yet, while they remain in furlough status—compliments of the carriers’ scorched-earth business model of precision scheduled railroading—railroads are clamoring about ‘labor shortages’ and are granted relief by the FRA! This reaches new depths of arrogance and tyranny, much less evil and immorality,” the statement read.
The group wants railroad companies to take steps to sanitize areas and protect workers to help prevent the spread of the virus. It also wants railroad companies to provide adequate staffing levels.
Dennis Pierce, who is with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, recently revealed dangerous conditions for rail workers, including dirty locomotive cabs, putting workers in poor hotels with no food, and transporting in small, four-person minivans where social distancing is nearly impossible.
There also are workers that do not have the proper personal protection equipment. SEPTA, the Metropolitan Boston Transportation Authority and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority have all had workers come down with COVID-19. After the New York MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye tested positive for the virus, the agency ordered 75,000 masks for workers, but is not requiring workers to wear a mask.
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