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Teamsters seek rail security focus

(The following report by Jonathan Marino appeared at GovExec.com on January 8.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Officials from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Monday said they will push lawmakers to focus on rail security and will oppose immigration reform proposals that include a guest worker program.

The Teamsters, a 1.4 million-member union representing freight drivers, warehouse workers and others in both the private and public sectors, expressed support for a sweeping homeland security bill introduced by House Democrats late last week, but said the new Congress should consider additional policy changes.

Fred McLuckie, deputy director of legislative affairs for the union, urged more training for rail workers and infrastructure improvements at rail yards. In addition, he said, the government and private sector should collaborate to provide more police to monitor rail yards.

"Certainly, the federal government should play a role in that," McLuckie said, when asked which sector should bear the responsibility of hiring additional police.

John Tolman, vice president and national legislative representative of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a division of the Teamsters, said rail yard operators have cut back on security details. He did not offer a number, nor did he say how many police the Teamsters would like to see added.

Tolman also criticized a recently proposed Transportation Security Administration regulation aimed at enhancing security for hazardous rail shipments, saying the agency needs a clearer definition of who would be allowed to view sensitive information about the shipments.

The Teamsters also highlighted numerous immigration concerns.

Yvette Pena Lopes, the Teamsters' legislative representative focusing on immigration, said the union opposes a guest worker program, though it supports "earned legalization" for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The union will continue to fight any potential guest worker program as congressmen undertake a second try at immigration reform.

"We'll try to strip it out once again [from legislation]," Lopes said.

The Teamsters also are seeking the elimination of a policy that requires the Homeland Security Department to check the identities of Mexican truckers entering the United States against a U.S. criminal database. Union officials argue there is little chance that the foreign truckers were convicted of a crime in the United States.

Separately, the Teamsters are pushing an increase in the minimum wage, but Mike Mathis, governmental affairs director for the union, warned representatives against supporting only that portion of the agenda. Lawmakers who advocate an increase in pay but fail to take note other union priorities will have difficulty convincing constituents that they are pro-labor in the next election cycle, he said.

"That's simply not going to be good enough," Mathis said, adding that Teamsters have in recent years have tried to become more engaged at the local level.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

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