Author Archives: Joe Doc

Railway union members rage against Amtrak at Workers’ Memorial Day

By Jane M. Von Bergen

– The tears were there, as usual, under a gray sky that wept along with those gathered Friday by the Delaware River for Workers’ Memorial Day to honor people killed on the job.

But there was anger as well, and it boiled over at the annual breakfast that preceded a solemn march on Columbus Boulevard to a rainy memorial service at Penn’s Landing.

With a roar not unlike the sound of the train that mowed down two Amtrak workers on April 3, waves of railway workers rose to their feet Friday in rage and sadness in response to a call from their union leader.

“Stand up if you think it is time to strike Amtrak and shut down the Northeast Corridor to force Amtrak to provide a safe workplace and to protect our lives,” shouted Jed Dodd.

“Let me hear you say Union,” he said.

Dodd, who leads the union that represents rail repair workers in Pennsylvania, took the microphone at the fund-raising breakfast for PhilaPOSH, a group that advocates for workers’ safety. He had another question for members of the Pennsylvania Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and it was key:

“Are you ready to risk arrest and go to jail to ensure that every member of our union can return home safely to their family?”

“Union,” they shouted.

Federal law makes it difficult for railway workers to strike, partly because of the importance of railroads to the economy.

And so Dodd described what happened in 1994, after two union members were killed and a third mutilated on the job.

“Many of us risked arrest and jail as our tactics escalated into civil disobedience,” he said. “Finally . . . we rose up and struck . . . shutting down hundreds of trains in 17 states.”

A federal judge, he said, ordered them back to work that night, putting Conrail’s safety rules under federal court jurisdiction, which led to new safety regulations in 1997. In the 16 years since then, until 2013, three of his union’s members have been killed on the tracks, Dodd said.

But in the last 18 months, he said, four have died, two when the train slammed into a backhoe on an Amtrak line in Chester April 3, ending the lives of Joseph Carter and Peter Adamovich.

Dodd laid the blame for their deaths on a change in corporate culture that began when Joseph Boardman was appointed Amtrak chief executive in 2008.

Boardman withdrew management’s participation in a joint safety committee, reduced training, fired experienced senior executives, and intimidated middle managers and workers from identifying hazards, Dodd said.

Later Friday, an Amtrak spokesman said the passenger railroad “is continuously working to improve the safety culture within . . . the entire company. The most effective way to make that happen is true collaboration between Amtrak management and union leadership.”

Dodd was joined on stage at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 banquet hall by David Michaels, assistant U.S. labor secretary for occupational safety and health.

Michaels expressed frustration with what he described as weak penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for employers who allow conditions that kill or injure workers.

The fines they face, $100,000 or $200,000, “are like petty cash,” he said.

“I believe if we had more criminal prosecutions, we’d have a much bigger impact in changing these employers,” Michaels said. Jail, he noted, would sharpen their focus on safety.

His remarks came the same day roofer James McCullagh, 60, was to report to federal prison in connection with the death of his friend and employee, Mark T. Smith.

Smith had not been given any fall protection. He died on June 21, 2013, while repairing a church roof on Broad Street in Philadelphia.

McCullagh pleaded guilty to lying to inspectors about the fall-protection gear and asking his other employees to lie. On March 29, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Among the speakers Friday was union official Jim Whitehead, of SEIU Local 32BJ District 1201, which represents school maintenance workers and engineers.

Whitehead said Chris Trakimas, the Philadelphia School District employee badly burned Jan. 15 while trying to fix a boiler at F.S. Edmonds Elementary School, remains in a coma. Whitehead blamed Trakimas’ injury on the “budget cuts, politics, neglect and callousness” that have led the district to delay infrastructure repairs.

Representing the families of those who have died was Rosalie Hetrick, whose husband, Thomas, a Verizon repair worker, was killed in 2008. Hetrick said her husband told supervisors the job was unsafe, but was ignored.

“I hate Verizon for the way they disrespected him in his death,” she said. “It’s really easy to blame the dead guy.”

Hetrick sued Verizon on behalf of her family, but lost the case.

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NFL players union gives Draft Day support to Verizon strikers

By Jane M. Von Bergen

– On NFL Draft Day – one of the biggest events in sports, and a big-ticket marketing opportunity for sponsors such as Verizon Communications Inc. – the National Football League Players Association lined up alongside 39,000 striking Verizon workers.

“The NFLPA stands in solidarity with these striking workers who are seeking a fair and just contract for themselves and their families,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the players’ union, wrote Thursday.

Smith sent the letter to the presidents of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as the unions’ strike against Verizon was entering its 17th day, following talks Thursday in Philadelphia and Westchester County, N.Y.

Verizon said it was issuing its “last, best final offer,” said Marc Reed, the company’s chief administrative officer. “A better offer would be hard to find.”

The offer included wage hikes and promises of job security in return for concessions on assigning workers to travel assignments.

“Verizon workers remain on strike and are standing strong on the picket lines,” CWA officials said in a statement.

“Verizon workers, customers and shareholders need the company to get serious about negotiations and building a stronger company,” the union said.

The company has been an NFL marketing partner since 2010, and in 2014 it completed a four-year, $1 billion extension of the original deal, according to published reports.

Customers of Verizon can access, through an app on their smartphones, all non-blacked-out home-market NFL games, all postseason games, NFL Network, and NFL Network’s RedZone, featuring game-day highlights.

Verizon also sponsors non-game events, such as the NFL draft, as well as more than a dozen teams, including the Eagles.

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4/26 – Pa. AFL-CIO endorsed candidates in contested primaries for today’s primary election

Special Election: April 26, 2016

State Senate
District Party Candidate
9 D Marty Molloy

April 26, 2016 Primary Election

Office Party Candidate
US Senate D Katie McGinty

United State Congress
District Party Candidate
2 D Chaka Fattah
7 D Mary Ellen Balchunis
8 D Steve Santarsiero
14 D Mike Doyle

PA State Senate
District Party Candidate
1 D Lawrence Farnese
5 D John Sabatina
15 D Rob Teplitz
31 R Jon Ritchie
35 D John Wozniak

PA State House
District Party Candidate
15 D Michael Rossi
19 D Jake Wheatley
24 D Ed Gainey
58 D Mary Popovich
72 D Frank Burns
79 R Peter Starr
103 D Patty Kim
112 D Frank Farina
150 D Linda Weaver
158 D Susan Rzucidlo
164 D Margo Davidson
181 D W. Curtis Thomas
182 D Brian Sims
186 D Jordan Harris
190 D Vanessa Brown
194 D Pam DeLissio
195 D Donna Bullock
200 D Tonyelle Cook-Artis
202 D Mark Cohen

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4/25 – Take Action! Vote In Tomorrow’s Primary Election!


– Primary Election Day is just a day away. Pennsylvanians will turn out in what could be record numbers to vote for their favorite presidential candidates along with other candidates for State and Federal office. Union members in Pennsylvania have been largely successful in defending the rights of workers and electing pro-labor candidates because we turn out for every election; but it’s important to remember that when the overall turnout is high, labor has to turn out that much more to avoid having our voice diminished and our issues ignored.

Polling places are open from 7:00AM until 8:00PM – If you are unsure where you go to vote, then you can FIND YOUR POLLING PLACE HERE AT –

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO endorsed candidates in a number of contested primaries earlier this month. To check out all of our endorsements, Go to –


More older workers are dying on the job

By Jane M. Von Bergen

– The nation’s oldest workers are dying on the job — losing their lives at more than triple the rate of all workers.

The U.S. Labor Department reported last week that 1,691 workers over the age of 55 died in 2014 – the highest number ever recorded for this group of workers and more than one in three of the 4,821 people killed on the job that year.

Workers over age 65 were particularly affected, with 10.7 per 100,000 workers killed on the job, compared to the all-worker injury rate of 3.4 per 100,000.

The statistic doesn’t surprise Barbara Rahke, director of PhilaPOSH, an advocacy group that works to promote safe conditions on the job.

On Friday, mirroring similar events around the country, PhilaPOSH will hold its annual workers’ memorial day event to honor those killed on the job in the region.

“Our oldest is 86 – a farmer,” she said. “There are lots of people in their 60s on our list. It’s always shocking to me how many people are working beyond retirement age. People aren’t doing those jobs unless they have to.”

In 2014, 4,821 people were killed on the job, up five percent from the 4,585 reported in 2013 and the highest number since 2008, when 5,214 were killed.

Driving the numbers in part were deaths in private construction, which grew by 9 percent to 899 – the largest number of construction deaths since 2008, when construction employment started its recessionary plunge. Since its low point in January 2011, construction employment had risen 16 percent by December 2014 and is up 23 percent as of March.

The largest group, 41 percent, are killed in transportation incidents – truck drivers in accidents, workers struck by trains or cars, pilots killed in plane crashes, or crew members killed on boats.

Falls kill 14 percent. Contact with objects or equipment takes 10 percent of lives and homicides account for eight percent of all workers who die. Fires and explosions cost three percent their lives.

Fatalities in oil and gas extraction rose to 144 in 2014, the highest recorded.

Men are generally more likely to die on the job, with 4,454 losing their lives at work compared to 367 women. Nearly one in five women who lose their lives at work die from a homicide, with the greatest threat from a relative or domestic partner. Men are more likely to be killed during a robbery.

Next Friday’s event concludes with a ceremony at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River where the names of the dead are read and flowers are tossed into the water in their honor.

A large group of railway workers are expected to attend to remember two of their colleagues who were struck and killed by an Amtrak train outside Philadelphia on April 2. The ceremony will take place at about 11 a.m., following a short parade on Christopher Columbus Boulevard.

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