The Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of trade union centre AFL-CIO has said it is “gravely concerned” by the attempts from Ancora Holdings to oust Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw in a letter sent to shareholders ahead of a vote on Ancora’s proposed replacement. 

A letter sent by TTD President Greg Regan, on behalf of TTD’s 37 member unions, said that the replacement of Shaw with Jim Barber, a former executive at UPS, would have “lasting deleterious effects on the safety and service” of the railroad company and the wider rail industry. 

While Ancora’s takeover attempt of the railroad is partly fuelled by criticism of the company’s reaction to the derailment incident in East Palestine, which spilled hazardous and toxic chemicals into the surrounding area forcing residents to evacuate, Regan said Shaw has taken meaningful steps to improve safety. 

The TTD president mentioned the company’s work with unions to improve safety through partnership initiatives, its engagement with a confidential close call reporting pilot programme, and the appointment of Atkins Nuclear Secured to conduct an independent safety review as reasons to have confidence in Shaw’s leadership. 

However, Regan’s letter also highlighted further steps that could be taken by Norfolk Southern on safety, including committing to life-long monitoring of the health of workers involved in the derailment cleanup who were not given proper protective equipment, as well as the TTD’s belief that the company’s actions only came in response to public outcry. 

Despite this criticism, the TTD said that Ancora’s proposals to reduce headcount at the company and focus on using a more extreme version of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) would amount to doubling down on a “failed strategy” that demonstrated that the company was “not serious about improving safety”. 

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In particular, the organisation pointed to Ancora’s proposal of former CSX COO Jamie Boychuk as a new COO for Norfolk Southern and said his implementation of PSR at the other Class I railroad led to hearings by the Surface Transportation Board into service issues at the company and saw the company record its highest rate of total accidents and incidents per million train miles since 2005. 

Meanwhile, Ancora, which has a $1bn stake in the railroad, publicly released a white paper on its proposals to improve safety at Norfolk Southern, saying its strategy would ensure a two-person crew on mainline trains, with its proposed leadership committed to instilling a culture of safety. 

On the other hand, Norfolk Southern has defended its record on safety, highlighting a 42% reduction in its mainline accident rate in 2023, its implementation of a six-point safety plan, and its investments into accelerating enhancements to its safety culture.