Labor unions meet with Biden officials

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Pete Buttigieg, the US secretary of transportation, speaks at a press conference near the Norfolk Southern railroad site in East Palestine, Ohio, US, on Thursday, February 23, 2023.

Matthew Hatcher | Bloomberg | Getty Images

US railroad union leaders told Biden administration officials that railroad workers have become ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for greater train safety.

Leaders from 12 unions met with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to discuss the railroad, what happened and needed safety improvements.

“I hope that all stakeholders in this industry can work toward the same safety-related goals when transporting dangerous goods by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity for workers to share what our members see and deal with on a daily basis. The railway workers are the workers who make it safe and they need to have the tools to do that.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, told CNBC that Buttigieg plans to have more talks with the unions in the future.

“This was a good start,” Ferguson said. “It is important that these safety issues are addressed. Nobody wants another East Palestine. The issue of worker safety needs to be addressed. The running of these long trains was also a point of discussion.”

The meeting follows letters sent to both the DOT and the FRA on Wednesday in which union representatives said railroad workers had become ill at the rail site. CNBC obtained the letters, addressed to Buttigieg, Bose, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, from the general chairman of the American Federation of Railway System International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

According to the letter, Norfolk Southern railroad workers who have worked or continue to work at the cleanup site have reported experiencing “migraines and nausea.” One worker reportedly asked his supervisor to move him off the rail site because of his symptoms, but he never heard back from his supervisor and was left at the site. work

The letter also claims that workers are not provided with adequate personal protective equipment such as respirators, eye protection or protective clothing. According to union representatives, 35 to 40 workers were on the way and were not provided with proper respirators – only paper and N95 masks – or rubber gloves, boots or coveralls.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern told CNBC in a statement that the railroad company “was on scene immediately following the derailment and coordinated our response with hazardous materials professionals who were on site continuously to ensure that the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was used. , as well as an air search that was established within an hour.”

Earlier Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Railroad Safety Act of 2023, aimed at preventing future train disasters like the derailment that destroyed the Ohio town.

The presidents of 12 US railroad unions will meet in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2023 for a meeting with Biden officials.


The legislation includes a number of safety protocols for the transport of dangerous goods. It would also create requirements for roadside defect detectors, establish a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two crews, as well as increase fines for trespassers. railway carriage.

“If this legislation is passed, the [Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen] supports these efforts and looks forward to working together on awareness regulations that continue to improve safety,” said Baldwin.

Attending the meeting with Buttigieg and others were:

  • Jeremy Ferguson, from the International Association of Metalworkers, Air, Rail and Transport – Transport Division (SMART-TD)
  • Tony Cardwell, from the Brotherhood of Road Workers Maintenance (BMWED)
  • Edward Hall, from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)
  • Don Grissom, from Carmen Railway Brotherhood (BRC)
  • Michael Baldwin, from the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)
  • Josh Hartford, from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)
  • Lonnie Stephenson, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
  • Arthur Maratea, from the Transport Communications Union (TCU)
  • Vince Verna, Vice President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)
  • Dean Devita, President of the National Conference of Firefighters and Oilers (NCFO)
  • Leo McCann, of the American Train Distributors Association (ATDA)
  • John Feltz, from the Transport Workers Union (TWU)
  • Al Russo, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the list of union representatives who attended a meeting with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. An earlier version had a union leader who was not present.

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