A fresh start in D.C.

A fresh start with the new Congress

We are anticipating changes that will abenefit all working families in 2007. The new congress, elected by a majority of voting Americans in November, has a lot of important work to tackle as soon as they take office. Increasing the minimum wage, establishing universal health care and passing the Employee Free Choice Act are critical issues we will be pushing for. And, our national passenger transportation system, Amtrak, will hopefully gain a steady funding stream so that each year our members are not faced with economic uncertainty about their jobs and livelihoods. The Bush administration has clearly not wanted to give Amtrak the priority that passenger rail service enjoys in other developed nations. Increasing rail fares for the public is not an option. The White House should make it a priority, as it has with the airline industry, to secure a steady stream of funding for Amtrak.

It's amazing that those opposing Amtrak funding don't want to face the facts. Amtrak is our national passenger rail transit system. The airlines, though, carry one-fifth of the amount of passengers daily, yet that industry has received funding to keep them out of bankruptcy and for security systems. The numbers don't lie, yet Amtrak has continually been bypassed whenever the subject of funding is raised. We still have work to do in order to educate legislators on the importance of maintaining and servicing Amtrak, but the burden should be easier with the 110th Congress.

Security is up to us, for now

Security on the nation's rail systems very much lies in the hands of our members. Even five years after 9/11 the department of Homeland Security has still not appointed anyone to coordinate rail security concerns on the northeast corridor of the nation ­ passenger rail's busiest area.

The Citizens for Rail Safety issued a report in November, authored by experts at the National Labor College, that gave details on the wholly insufficient nature of emergency preparedness among rail employees. Fortunately, some of our members, both with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, have been able to avail themselves of the hazardous materials training classes at the college. Comments we have heard from participants range from "invaluable" to "the best training I've ever had." But, the rail corporations continue to insist that occasional brochures mailed to employees homes is sufficient emergency response training.

As our report, "High Alert" stated, our members are the true eyes and ears of the rail system. We are also considered first responders to any rail accident and we deserve to have quality training on how to handle hazardous materials that we are required to haul.

We will be pushing the new Congress, and the House's committee on Homeland Security, to put additional pressure on the rail corporations and the FRA so that quality emergency response and prevention training will be a recurring part of every rail worker's job.

On a personal note, I want to thank all of the BLET members for participating in the recent IBT election and for their continued support for our administration.

James P. Hoffa
General President




© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen