A daily fact of life for train crews is transportation to and from terminals in shuttle-vans operated by firms under contract to railroads.
Over the past year, four crew members died and another was seriously injured in two separate accidents while riding in shuttle vans.
Shuttle-van drivers are almost always non-union and required to work long hours under horrendous working conditions. Understandably, driver turnover is substantial, which has frustrated previous efforts to organize these drivers.
Our National Legislative Office and UTU state legislative directors have long fought for better shuttle-van safety, seeking regulations requiring improved training, hours-of-service limitations and better pay and benefits for the drivers.
In several states, the UTU has been successful in gaining passage of legislation regulating shuttle vans, to include minimum driver-hiring qualifications, maximum hours-of-service limitations, driver drug-testing requirements, fully operational seat belts, annual state DOT inspections of the vans, and state DOT certification of vehicle maintenance inspections and repair records.
Shock resulted last month when Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) was successful in adding an amendment to a highway-funding bill in the House of Representatives that would strip shuttle-van drivers, operating in interstate commerce, of minimum wage and overtime protection – a significant step backward in the push for improved shuttle-van safety.
Equally shocking was a news report that the president of one shuttle-van service – Professional Transportation, Inc. – had donated, along with his wife, more than $55,000 in political contributions last year to Republican lawmakers, including Bucshon.
The news report observed that many van-shuttle drivers are paid minimum wage – which no longer would be their wage floor — and sometimes spend 60 hours a week behind the wheel. Other shuttle-van firms that would benefit from this Bucshon amendment include RailCrew Xpress, Renzenberger and Coach America.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is working to kill the Bucshon amendment, said, “It’s outrageous that House Republicans are trying to take away overtime protections for a class of workers at the behest of a special interest.”
The UTU National Legislative Office is working with other members of the House, who similarly recognize the public safety implications of the Bucshon amendment, to ensure it does not survive.