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October 23, 2015IM -
RWU Renews Calls for Rail Safety — During the weekend of October 11-12 rallies were held in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and Chicago, Illinois, to hold railroads and government regulators accountable for the railroad disaster in Lac-Mégantic. In July 2013 a parked oil train dislodged and plowed into the town killing 47 and causing massive destruction. Prosecutors and the now-defunct Montreal Maine & Atlantic railway have blamed the train’s sole crew member, engineer Thomas Harding, who faces life in prison.
The rally demands freedom for Harding and traffic conductor Richard Labrie, who are merely scapegoats for railroads and government regulators who make decisions driven by the bottom line rather than public safety and the needs and rights of railroad employees.
“It’s a classic example of piling on and blaming workers instead of the larger system,” says Harding’s lawyer, Thomas Walsh, who spoke at a Railroad Workers United (RWU) conference held in Chicago in September. “Lac-Mégantic didn’t invent these problems—it’s just the worst example of when the bottom line is about profit, not safety. These problems existed before and “There’s a generalized feeling among trainmen and engineers that [one-man crews] will have a devastating effect on our safety, and as a result, it will have a devastating effect on the public and the environment,” RWU Secretary Ron Kaminkow says.
RWU was formed in 2007 to bring workers from different rail unions together on safety and labor rights issues. The group formed in part because of tension between the major rail unions. Both Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and United Transportation Union (UTU) signed on to support the 2013 Safe Freight Act, which would require a certified conductor and engineer on every train.