The presidents of the US railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers fell ill at the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in an attempt to increase train safety. .
Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to discuss the derailment, its aftermath and necessary safety improvements.
“It is my hope that stakeholders in this industry can work toward the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity for workers to share what our members see and face every day. Rail workers represent the employees who make it safe and they should have the tools to do it.”
Jeremy Ferguson, president of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, told CNBC that Buttigieg plans to have more talks with unions in the future.
“This was a good start,” Ferguson said. “It is important that these security issues are addressed. Nobody wants another East Palestine. The employee safety discussion needs to be addressed. The operation of these long trains was also a point of contention.
The meeting comes on the heels of letters sent to both the DOT and the FRA on Wednesday in which union representatives claimed rail workers had become ill at the site of the derailment. CNBC got the lettersaddressed to Buttigieg, Bose, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, from the President General of the American Federation of the International Brotherhood of Truckers Railroad System.
According to the letter, Norfolk Southern rail workers who have worked or continue to work at the cleanup site reported experiencing «migraine headaches and nausea.» A worker reportedly asked his supervisor to be transferred from the derailment site due to his symptoms, but he never heard from his supervisor and he was left at the workplace.
The letter also states that workers are not provided with proper personal protective equipment, such as respirators, eye protection, or protective clothing. According to union representatives, 35 to 40 workers were on the road and were not provided with proper respirators, only paper and N95 masks, and no rubber gloves, boots or blankets.
A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the rail company was «on scene immediately after the derailment and coordinated our response with hazmat professionals who were on-site continuously to ensure the work area was safe for enter and use the required PPE. , all in addition to the air monitoring that was established in an hour.”
Early Wednesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced The Rail Safety Act of 2023intended to prevent future rail disasters like the derailment that devastated the town of Ohio.
The legislation includes a series of security protocols for the transport of hazardous materials. It would also create requirements for track defect detectors, establish a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with crews of at least two, as well as increase fines for wrongdoing by rail carriers.
“If this legislation is adopted, the [Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen] supports those efforts and looks forward to working collaboratively on common sense regulations that continue to improve safety,” Baldwin said.