Future of Railroads Conference – Notes

Posted: March 16, 2015 in Rail Transport of Oil
Tags: , ,
OIl train accidents pose dangers for rail workers, too.

OIl train accidents, such as the Feb. 15, 2015 accident in West Virginia,  pose dangers for rail workers, too.

Notes by Elizabeth Lasensky

Yesterday, Saturday March 14, I attended the Future of Railroads Conference in Richmond sponsored by Railroad Workers United. This conference was created to bring together railroad workers with environmental and community activists to find where we have common ground. And we do have common ground.

Railroad Workers United, aside from having cool t-shirts, is not a union but represents “The rank and file in action.” From their website http://railroadworkersunited.org/

North American railroad workers are divided into different unions based on their craft of work and on some short lines, workers are not unionized at all. In the US alone there are thirteen unions representing railroad workers with several more unions in Canada.

We feel that history has shown that as long as we remain so divided we cannot effectively fight for our jobs and job conditions. So we have formed this inter-union, cross-craft, solidarity “caucus” of railroad workers from all crafts, all carriers, and all unions across North America.

We say every railroad worker should be actively involved in his/her union AND belong to RWU in order to build the strength and solidarity to protect our lives and jobs.

Railroading 101, focused on 4 crucial topics: the problem of single employee train crews; the hazards of long and heavy freight trains; working conditions and worker fatigue; and “blame the worker” safety programs.

Single employee train crews, crew fatigue and hazardous and heavy cargo going on railroads over thousands of miles of track, over rivers and forests and unsafe bridges, through cities and rural communities, are a bad mix. It’s more of that railroad company profit (Warren Buffet especially) over people and the planet.

Action item: endorse resolutions from RWU on crew fatigue and single employee train crews (Yolo MoveOn and Yolano Climate Action have done this). Further action item would be to alert local, state and national officials to the problems.

Energy Supply Chain – Empire Logistics (www.EmpireLogistics.org) is an organization that is mapping the supply chain infrastructure. Their website is a fabulous resource on how and where goods are shipped across the US. “One of the forms in which the working class exists today is at the various nodal points along commodity chains. Supply chains are vulnerable and Empire Logistics goal is to identify where class struggle offers the greatest possibility for solidarity to spread up and down the chain.”

Environmental and community activist topics included how Richmond, CA got organized and voted in a “green” city council (and has  a CCE – Community Choice Energy), the Benicia refinery opposition, future electrification of our railroads, “pollution knows no borders”, the necessity of a bold new vision and then making the vision possible.

The railroad workers were reluctant to support “ban crude by rail”, as that attacks jobs of workers in the fracking fields and along the routes. They were supportive of 30-car crude oil trains and safer cars, while understanding that the newer cars are not safe.

Additional points where the railway workers and activists come together are in the areas of worker safety, social and economic justice, and building trust across the groups.

All of the railroad workers at my table said that none of them would recommend to their children to go into railroading. Apparently their children are listening.

The next conference is next weekend in Olympia WA.

Future conferences are being planned.

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