Expressions of Solidarity: UE's Call for Public Ownership of Railroads & Environmental Justice Perspectives

[A Spanish language version of this video is HERE]

"Our nation can no longer afford private ownership of the railroads; the general welfare demands that they be brought under public ownership."

On Wednesday, March 1, 2023 Solutionary Rail hosted an important virtual panel discussion with Carl Rosen, General President of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), Scott Slawson, President of UE Local 506 that represents workers at Wabtec, in Erie, PA, and some leading EJ organizers from around the country.

Read UE's resolution to put US railroads under public ownership. This resolution builds upon the Green Locomotive program they lobbied for at the beginning of the Biden Administration. Both address important impacts on and demands of EJ communities. Rosen and Slawson spoke about their work and engaged with some of Solutionary Rail's Environmental Justice allies, including: mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), Ivette Torres of People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PC4EJ), and Yvette Arellano of Fenceline Watch.  We also enjoyed comments from Molly Greenberg, campaign director for the Moving Forward Network and Bakari Height of Labor Network for Sustainability.  

The growing calls for Public Ownership of US Railroads are an appropriate response to the MULTIPLE public needs/solutions that railroads have the potential to deliver, but refuse to do so:

  • EJ Communities need railyards to be electrified ASAP.
  • Rail labor needs sustainable, dignified work.
  • Shippers, growers, and manufacturers of all sizes need reliable and robust service that is competitive with trucking.
  • The Public needs a mode shift of freight from trucks to rail.
  • Rail passengers need freight railroads to preference passenger trains, as required by statute.
  • Public safety needs train operations that put communities and workers before profits.
  • Environmental protection and a livable climate need a mode shift to rail and the electrification of rail that reduces dependence on batteries and further harms from extraction.
  • The US energy transition to renewables needs access to rail corridors and rights of way for a new US transmission/SuperGrid.
  • Rural communities, farmers, and manufacturers need a return of regular and reliable service for passengers and freight.
  • US manufacturers of locomotives need unionized, living wages jobs building out the components of a sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

As pointed out by our friends at Railroad Workers United, NONE of this will happen without a dramatic shift away from the current corporate railroad regime. This is the time for all the above stakeholders to lock arms to take on and take over the Wall St. Railroads. 

Listen to and share this unique and timely conversation - and please share with your friends and allies. 

More Info on this topic:
American Prospect, The Filthy Emissions of Railroad Locomotives—and the Rail Unions Sounding the Alarm
(This article actually links to and draws from our panel discussion.)

Speaker Bios 

General President Carl Rosen has been a member of UE since 1984 when he joined UE Local 190 in Chicago upon being hired at Kerr Glass. He worked at Kerr for 10 years as a maintenance electrician and served in various positions for the local including steward, publicity and education director, chief steward, bargaining committee member and president. In 1994, Rosen was elected as UE District 11 president and when District 11 was succeeded by the Western Region in 2006, he was elected as regional president. Rosen was elected General President in 2019.


Scott Slawson is the president of UE Local 506 at Wabtec in Erie, Pennsylvania. He has been a UE member for 16 years, and prior to being elected president served as alternate union steward, union steward, alternate chief steward, and divisional chief steward.


mark! Lopez (He/Him/His) 2017_MarkLopez_04-Excide.jpgcomes from a family with a long history of activism. He was raised in the Madres del Este de Los Angeles Santa Isabel (Mothers of East LA Santa Isabel – MELASI), an organization co-founded by his grandparents, Juana Beatriz Gutierrez, and Ricardo Gutierrez. This set his trajectory as a community activist. He engaged in a wide array of student activism at UC Santa Cruz where he earned his B.A. in Environmental Studies and taught university courses at UC Santa Cruz, Cal State Northridge, and UCLA Extension. mark! earned his M.A. from the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge, where he completed his Master’s thesis titled The Fire: Decolonizing “Environmental Justice.”
mark! joined East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice as a member three years before joining the staff. After serving as Lead Organizer for East Yard Communities and Co-Director with EYCEJ Co-Founder Angelo Logan, mark! served as the Executive Director for over 6 years. He is now serving as Eastside Community Organizer & Special Projects Coordinator. He organizes in the area where he was born, raised, and continues to live. mark! is the 2017 North American Recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize
Ivette Torres is a life long resident of Moreno Valley and is passionate about challenging norms in academia and advocating for community led research. She has been involved with CE-CERT at the University of California, Riverside and has led air monitoring studies focusing on the air quality on the West Side of San Bernardino. In her free time, Ivette loves to take pictures of nature and spend time outdoors in local reservoirs. She is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.


Yvette Arellano (they/them) is a gulf coast organizer and emerging leader from Houston dedicated to environmental and racial justice. yvette2.jpgYvette has served as a policy research and grassroots advocate with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and recently founded Fenceline Watch, a community-run effort. In 2015, they led the campaign against H.R. 702, which opened the floodgates to U.S. crude oil exports. They were instrumental in the publication Double Jeopardy in Houston, Air Toxics and Health in the Houston Community of Manchester, and Plastic and Health: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet. This report highlights the disproportionate toxic impact of the petrochemical industry on communities living on the fenceline.
Throughout their work, Yvette emphasizes that access to clean water, air, land, and food is a fundamental human right best pursued through vigorous intersectional thinking and organizing. They understand the importance of a multi-pronged approach that embraces various advocacy methods, including policy development, litigation, research, direct actions, coalition building, and crisis response.

Currently, Yvette is leading efforts in Houston, home of the largest petrochemical complex in the nation, to help the city’s most vulnerable communities on the petrochemical expansion fueled by plastic production. Yvette is the recipient of the 2020 Community Sentinel Award.

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