Warren Buffett Chases Rail Profits at the Expense of Transportation Safety

Political influence accelerates corporate profits and income equality while threatening public safety. Nowhere is that clearer than the current state of the railroad industry, where a "Moneyball" approach to operations foreshadows more catastrophic derailments, more dangerous blocked crossings, and more worker injuries and deaths.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett, known as "the Oracle of Omaha,"  is the seventh richest man in the world – along with investments in candy and insurance, his holding company Berkshire Hathaway also owns BNSF Railway, the largest railroad company in the United States. Now, he’s leaning on the railroad for bigger profits. His latest investment letter specifically calls out the imperative to put shareholder profits above workers and communities. Reaction to Buffett's latest profit mandate was swift and hit BNSF workers hard: deep cuts to skilled craft unions, management, and maintenance. Unions are now calling on the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure the safety of BNSF’s system.

Free use photo by Nebraska Railroaders for Public Safety.

In the 1800s, fatal rail accidents were rampant in the United States.

Today, America’s new robber barons threaten to take us back to the dark days of railroading’s past, packing longer trains with fewer train crews and slashing the very employees that inspect tracks, engines, and freight cars. BNSF and other rail companies have embraced “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” which pressures railroad employees to speed up their safety inspections of locomotives and freight cars, has doubled the territory for track inspectors, and replaces human checks and balances with new sensor systems.

Help ProPublica Tell the Story of Rail Safety in the U.S.

U.S. states have tried to mandate minimum crew numbers and rules on blocked crossings – however, interstate commerce means those efforts are often overturned in court. Federal action is imperative. Congress could act to ensure rail safety - and it looked like they just might after the devastating East Palestine derailment last year. However, reform has stalled out in Congress. Railroads are putting profits over safety and withering the industry in favor of heavy trucks that clog and damage our public highway infrastructure. Enough is enough. That’s why railroaders in Nebraska are supporting an independent for U.S. Senate who will help get things moving again.


Parties Will Spend Billions on Elections

In 2022, interest groups spent 1.3 billion on just five U.S. Senate races. Long election cycles and huge stakes mean big spending on all sides - especially by political parties.

Term limits would go a long way to making the playing field a bit more level for regular folks. Many Nebraskans just want to see more turnover in representative leadership!

Knowing that incumbents will spend millions to hold onto their Senate seats next year, what would we do with $2 million to support change and majority positions on reproductive freedom, medical marijuana and so much more?

We'd spend the majority of our budget making sure grassroots donors and activists directly support our candidates. Millionaire incumbents have a big advantage even as voters struggle with pocketbook issues like the price of groceries and gas (41% of Nebraska voters said this is their top issue). It takes working class representation to make change on working class issues! Influencers, direct mail, peer-to-peer, and email all have a role in fueling grassroots campaigns.

Next is a quarter of the budget on education and persuasion - it's even more important to educate and inform voters about working class candidates than it is to talk about the incumbents' broken promises. Social media, web, mobile, and streaming TV and audio plus physical and digital billboards all help tell the story.

How would you spend a $2 million budget to make change in the U.S. Senate? Tell us!

 

 


Send an Independent Working Class Fighter to the U.S. Senate

Today we are making an early endorsement of Dan Osborn, the independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2024.

For years, critical railway safety bills have languished in Congress and powerful corporate lobbies have blocked reform. Worker safety and the safety of the Nebraska public is on the line, and our “representatives” can’t move the legislation that would protect lives.

As an independent, Dan can be a critical vote that either the Republicans or Democrats must win over on their priorities – that would put Dan in the catbird seat when it comes to championing and passing legislative priorities for Nebraskans.

Dan comes from a railroad family and is a true independent unaffiliated with either party. The U.S. Senate gets nothing done because it’s full of politicians who follow orders from Charles Schumer or Mitch McConnell. Dan can be a swing vote, ensuring that the nation’s policy is not being dictated by either sold-out party boss.

A new poll commissioned by Nebraska Railroaders for Public Safety found that Nebraskans of all political persuasions are deeply unhappy with incumbent Senator Deb Fischer’s representation over the past decade. “She has done nothing for Nebraskans” and “I am unaware of one bill she has passed,” voters say. In fact, even with most voters just getting to know who Dan is, the poll found that 40 percent would support him (with 38% for Fischer). That number climbs to 53% once voters learn more about Dan – and now it’s our job, together, to be sure they do.

 

Dan might be new to electoral politics, but he’s a proven fighter. In 2021, he led the successful strike against Kellogg’s that saved hundreds of working class union jobs. His platform puts railway safety front and center, including:

  • Requiring two-person crews to protect against derailments
  • Increasing fines for violating federal rail safety laws so these giant corporations take safety regulations seriously
  • Finally passing a federal law to stop blocked crossings – which has bipartisan support but has stalled in the do-nothing Congress

Nebraska has a strong independent streak and it’s time we elect a next-generation representative of the working class instead of continuing to send out-of-touch millionaires back to Washington to fail us.

Senator Fischer promised to serve just two terms and has not earned a third. (70% of Nebraska voters are concerned with Fischer’s broken promise.)

Dan will fight every day for small businesses, workers, and farmers. He wants to cut taxes for small businesses and the middle class, protect middle-class jobs and wages, improve worker safety, and create a level playing field for family farms and ranches, through a Right to Repair law and fixing federal crop insurance subsidies that unfairly favor large operators.

Dan opposes efforts to legislate how private citizens conduct themselves. While he respects the deep moral convictions of his fellow Nebraskans, he opposes using the federal government to enforce those convictions on others and will fight to stop harsh government intervention in our private lives and decisions.

Nebraska Railroaders for Public Safety asks that you not take our word for it but get to know Dan Osborn. Research his platform, listen to him speak, talk to your neighbors.  If you’re as convinced as we are that early support for Dan is one way we build a better future for Nebraska families, you can help by making a grassroots donation directly to his campaign.


ProPublica: "Railroad companies have penalized workers for taking the time to make needed repairs and created a culture in which supervisors threaten and fire the very people hired to keep trains running safely"

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has criticized Union Pacific, the largest freight rail carrier in the US, for failing to maintain its fleet and continuing to use faulty equipment. The FRA found that more than 70% of the train engines in the company’s East Departure Yard in North Platte, Nebraska, had safety defects, as did 20% of the cars. These defect ratios are twice the national average. The company has not displayed a sense of urgency to improve locomotive and car conditions, according to the FRA.

"We get paid to move freight. We don’t get paid to work on cars."

The safety record of the country’s railroad industry is under deep scrutiny, with all eyes on Norfolk Southern, whose train notoriously derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, in February, releasing toxic pollution and forcing a mass evacuation. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been trying to get the nation’s largest freight rail companies to participate in a voluntary safety program in which workers can confidentially report “close calls” like runaway trains and misaligned switches without fear of retribution. The rail industry has resisted, saying employees could use the system to avoid punishment for their own safety violations.

Read more in ProPublica's report, "How the Railroad Industry Intimidates Employees Into Putting Speed Before Safety."


Updates from Nebraska Railroaders for Public Safety

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A new survey of voters in Nebraska found that high costs of gas and groceries was the most pressing concern for 41% of respondents a year out from the 2024 General Election. Several other issues topped biggest challenges for a quarter or more of the electorate:

  • Immigration (36%)
  • Political extremism (33%)
  • High taxes (29%)
  • Threats to women’s reproductive freedom (28%)
  • Government intrusion in our personal lives (27%)
  • Access to quality, affordable health care (25%)

Seventy-three percent of Nebraska voters said they are "10 out of 10" motivated to participate in the 2024 election.

If the Presidential election were held today, 53% of Nebraska voters would choose Donald Trump, and 35% would choose Joe Biden.

Trump topped favorable public opinion with 43 percent viewing the former Republican President favorably, and 48% unfavorably. Labor unions came in second with 42% approval, while 30% of Nebraska voters view labor unions unfavorably.

Voters were split on sending incumbent U.S. Senators back to Washington, DC. After reviewing bios of two-term Senator Deb Fischer and first-time candidate Dan Osborn, 53% percent said they would choose Osborn were the election held today. Pete Ricketts, appointed to the Senate in January, saw 47% support for election to the seat vs. 38% for a prospective candidate from the Democratic Party.

Nebraskans were widely split on trusted media sources, with no single source winning more than 29% from voters:

  • Local TV news (29%)
  • National TV news (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS) (21%)
  • National Public Radio (20%)

Stay tuned to our blog over the next year as we continue to provide updates.

The survey reached 1,048 representative Nebraska voters and was fielded Nov. 13-16 by Change Research, which conducts public opinion polls for KQED and has a strong record of top quality results.