About SMART-Transportation Division and Illinois Rail Labor History
SMART-TD, formerly United Transportation Union, was founded in 1969 through amalgamation of four of the nation’s oldest labor unions—the Order of Railway Conductors, founded in 1868; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen, dating from 1873; the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, dating from 1883; and the Switchmen’s Union of North America, formed in 1894. The Railroad Yardmasters of America, which was established in 1918, voted to affiliate with the UTU in 1985.
Although each union represented a different class of railroad worker, the founding organizations shared a common set of goals that today’s SMART-TD still upholds: fair wages, essential benefits, and protection of the health, safety and quality of life of America’s railroad employees.
In the early years the railroad unions pursued these goals through two strategies. Strikes against the carriers gradually achieved higher wages and shorter working hours. A strike by the ORC in 1907 led to the first hours-of-service agreement, which limited railroad workers to 16 hours on duty out of 24.
And fraternal insurance programs run by the unions partially compensated rail workers and their families for the alarmingly high rate of workplace deaths and injuries that characterized the early rail industry. Boiler explosions, derailments, collisions and switching accidents were common, as were “railroad widows” and “railroad orphans.” With death and injury rates so high that no private insurance companies would cover rail workers, only the union insurance programs protected these survivors against financial ruin.
As the struggles of the early years began to pay off in larger paychecks and secure retirement benefits established by the 1934 Railway Retirement Act, SMART-TD’s predecessor unions began to balance dramatic tactics such as strikes with more sophisticated and diversified strategies.
Today’s SMART-TD offers its members four distinct yet coordinated departments: collective bargaining to make sure workers are covered by a contract with the employer; a legal department to enforce workers’ rights under law; a fraternal insurance department that maintains family financial security in time of need; and a legislative department that mobilizes government to pass and enforce laws protecting worker health, safety and rights.
SMART-TD has one of the most extensive and effective legislative organizations in the labor movement. National directors are located in Washington, D.C., and are assisted by a staff widely respected for its professionalism in moving needed legislation and blocking legislation hostile to the interests of working people. In the U.S., 49 of the 50 states have their own SMART-TD Legislative Boards, each made up of local Legislative Representatives and headed by a Director.
Because rail transportation is an industry with substantial operations in every state except Hawaii, SMART-TD’s efficient interlocking of local, state and federal legislative organizations enables the union to mount broad, powerful, coordinated campaigns that reach virtually every member of every legislature. Because of its “reach,” as well as its professionalism, SMART-TD’s legislative organization has become widely respected in the labor movement.
Among the federal laws passed or amended because of SMART-TD action are: the Railway Labor Act, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, the Railroad Retirement Act, the Federal
Employers’ Liability Act, and the Mass Transportation Act. Additional legislation passed by the respective state and provincial legislatures provides railroad employees with many health, safety and economic safeguards not enjoyed by employees of other industries, particularly those that lack union shops.
Illinois is a major center of SMART-TD legislative activity because Illinois is one of the busiest states in the North American railroad network and has one of the largest populations of railroad employees. With over 7,000 route-miles of track, the second-longest network in the nation, Illinois is the only state in the nation served by every Class I freight railroad. Those carriers interchange freight not only with one another but with more than 50 short lines and switching railroads in the state. Amtrak operates nearly 60 trains a day through Illinois with expansion planned for the Quad Cities and Rockford areas, and the Metra system serving the six-county Chicago area is the nation’s largest commuter rail operation outside of New York.
Making sure the employees of these railroads receive appropriate representation in state government—and at the national level as well--is the responsibility of SMART-TD’s Illinois Legislative Board. The Board is made up of 36 Local Legislative Representatives, one from each SMART-TD Local in the state. The Board meets every four years to elect a Director, an Assistant Director, and an Executive Committee consisting of Chairman, Vice Chairman and Secretary. While the Executive Committee establishes and monitors policy, the Director is responsible for the day-to-day operations which implement the policies established by the Committee.
State Legislative Director Robert W. Guy and Assistant Legislative Director Joseph Ciemny, along with the Executive Committee and individual Legislative Representatives and members, conduct an ongoing dialogue with members of the Illinois General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. Meeting frequently with key legislators and their aides, Guy and Ciemny make sure lawmakers understand the needs of working railroaders and their families so that legislation to protect union members can be turned into law. Guy and Ciemny also use the Board’s Web site and social media to familiarize members with legislators’ voting records to assure election support for lawmakers who support public policies that directly benefit railroad workers.
The Illinois Legislative Board also works closely with state and federal regulatory officials to make sure that existing laws protecting railroad workers are enforced.
For example, the Illinois Administrative Code mandates that railroads must provide members of train crews with clean and sanitary locker rooms in which to change clothes, as well as to shower. When--as frequently happens--railroads in Illinois fail to maintain their crew quarters according to law, the Illinois Legislative Board gathers evidence and files complaints that enable state regulators to fine railroads and order them to bring their crew facilities into compliance. This activity has led not only to the rehabilitation of many deteriorated crew buildings but to the replacement of several older buildings with totally new, modern facilities.
On the federal level, the Illinois Legislative Board regularly files complaints with the Federal Railroad Administration on issues such as Hours of Service violations, carrier under-reporting of on duty injuries, or railroad officials instructing crews to ignore safety regulations. The Legislative Boards tracking, reporting and documenting of such incidents has resulted in the FRA’s levying of numerous fines against offending carriers.
Other activities of the Illinois Legislative Board include working with state officials to draft rules assuring that railroads maintain safe walking surfaces for employees who work “on the ground” around moving trains, and making sure that shuttle vans used to transport railroad crew members to their assignments are maintained in a safe mechanical condition and operated safely by their drivers and have sufficient liability insurance to cover incidents that may not be FELA eligible and that railroads be required to verify such insurance is in place.
Despite substantial progress over the years, including passing historic Two Person Crew legislation in 2019, railroading remains one of the nation’s more hazardous occupations. The dramatic days of massive labor walkouts and railroad shutdowns may have faded from the American landscape, but the struggle for workplace safety, workplace cleanliness and worker dignity goes on behind the scenes. In the offices of state and federal elected officials and in the administrative chambers of the state and federal governments, the staff of SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Board strives daily to secure the full protection of the law for its nearly 10,000 active and retired members and the families who depend on them for their fair share of the American dream.