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Last week, two labor organizations petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to issue an emergency order addressing employee safety conditions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) filed the joint request after the FRA on March 13 activated its "emergency relief docket," which allows railroads to to request relief from regulations related to the COVID-19 emergency.
Many railroads have been slow to adopt — or in some cases have neglected to adopt — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, union officials said in a joint press release.
"It is necessary that the railroads take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and that Class I railroads maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members, as well as to seamlessly handle predicted increases in volume once the virus begins to subside," said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce.
The FRA has not issued an action plan to help address the potential spread of the virus among rail workers, they noted.
The unions' petition follows a letter that Ferguson and Pierce sent March 6 that requested emergency remedial measures, including thorough sanitation efforts in railroad facilities and on locomotives to prevent the infection of workers.