May 28, 2019

I first showed up to work as a lawyer on Memorial Day in 1983. It was my first job in an office, and I didn’t know that offices aren’t open on Memorial Day – all I knew was that I was ready to start working and when they told me “we’ll see you next week,” I assumed that meant Monday. So, I got dropped off in downtown Atlanta and the security guard let me take the elevator up to my new office. I was ready to work – I had a suit on! I stepped off the elevator and discovered that no one was there. This was before cell phones, and so I was stuck. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I simply sat on the floor and leaned against the door. Eventually one of the partners showed up, in shorts and a t-shirt, and let me in. For years I worked every Memorial Day as a tribute to that first day’s excitement. After 36 years, I’m still excited to show up to work every day – even though I might not go to the office on Memorial Day anymore.

An Unpleasant Email

I’m writing this entry on the Friday before Memorial Day and reminiscing about the decades of law practice that are behind me, as well as what I hope will be a couple of more ahead of me. I’m certainly more than halfway done. That’s kind of sad in a way. But what is really sad is that just before I sat down to write this, I got an email from John Risch, legislative director for the SMART Transportation Division union. SMART TD used to be the United Transportation Union and it continues to represent the interests of hard-working engineers, conductors and trainmen who move freight trains throughout our great nation. Mr. Risch’s email shared the incredible fact that the Federal Railroad Administration has decided to let the railroads decide how many crewmembers are necessary for the safe operations of trains; and that any state law requiring that two workers be on every train are preempted. The bottom line being that we will see a lot of trains with one single engineer on board. The FRA is supposed to protect workers and the public. The federal government is supposed to respect state’s rights. With this announcement it has failed at both.

What Is the Purpose of Memorial Day?

On Memorial Day we remember the men and women who fought to preserve our way of life. I have to ask myself whether they died to protect corporate America and billionaire railroad tycoons, or the rest of us. Has our country given up the lives of thousands and thousands of soldiers so that that laws could be passed that make us all less safe? Did these soldiers and sailors die so that a few could get richer at the expense of the lives of everyone who lives near a railroad crossing – intersections that might be crossed by a lonely engineer asleep at the controls of a 3-mile-long train carrying chlorine? Have we given up so many lives so that the federal government, in a country whose constitution is premised on each state having certain rights to set its own safety rules, could act like a dictator? If we look at how the FRA is failing to do its job by putting profits before people, the answer is at least in some ways yes.

How the FRA Has Failed Us

On this Memorial Day, I’d like to be thinking of my first day at work 36 years ago. Instead, Mr. Risch’s email has forced me to think about 36 years of suing railroads for injuring their employees, the traveling public, and entire communities. The railroads got safer because of rules written with the blood of thousands of workers. Despite all the progress that has been made in making railroads safer, the FRA with its profits before people, safety regulations be damned, and alternative facts policies, is turning back the clock on safety. I know that many railroad workers have trusted the FRA to protect them. Well, if they haven’t been convinced already, this proves them wrong. There will be fewer railroaders working, more of them will be getting injured and killed, and more of us will be at risk. The FRA is anti-worker, anti-union, anti-safety, and anti-states’ rights. All of us will pay the price for this dangerous policy decision.

Connecting with a Workers’ Rights Advocate

While the FRA has slacked on its promises to uphold the sanctity and safety of workers, there are people who still believe in representing a worker’s rights. Reaching out to a dedicated professional could be the first step toward taking a stand against for-profit federal bureaus. Connect with an attorney today.