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Railroad Workers United to Observe 7th Annual Railroad Workers Memorial Day On Friday, June 19th 2015

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United Blog, June 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Friday, June 19th 2015 railroad workers are encouraged to wear black to work as a sign of remembrance and recognition of our fallen brothers and sisters who were killed on the job over the course of the previous year. Sponsored by Railroad Workers United, each year the event focuses on a specific theme. Because of the large number of contract and non-union railroaders who were killed the past 12 months, this year’s Railroad Workers Memorial Day will focus on these workers and their plight.

Those non-union and contract workers killed this past year include: a contract worker involved in track work on Canadian Pacific near Forreston, IL; a train crew member of The Western Group, while operating a train near Roswell, NM on former BNSF territory; two employees of a contract railcar servicing outfit while performing service in Omaha, NE; a trainman spotting cars at an industry in Pine Bluff, AR; a contract worker for BNSF unloading rail cars in Kansas City, KS; a conductor making a switch move for Alabama Warrior Railway in Birmingham, AL.

Throughout our history, railroad workers have organized into unions to improve our wages, benefits and working conditions. Improved safety has always been a major reason for railroad workers to organize. Rail carriers – like other corporations - have historically resisted employee organization and the associated demands for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

In recent decades, rail carriers – once again like many modern corporations – have devised a means by which they can circumvent the largely unionized railroad workforce. It is known as “contracting out”. Rather than keep the work in-house, the big rail carriers have opted to farm out all types of jobs to smaller, mostly non-union outfits that all-too-often offer their employees low pay, few benefits, and miserable unsafe working conditions.

Class I railroads have contracted out everything from locomotive servicing to track construction, weed spraying and brush trimming to car repair, rail inspection and train crew transport. It is hard to say just how many jobs have been contracted in this manner, in the tens of thousands perhaps. This is bad news for all railroad workers and it is an issue of grave concern to the future of our industry, our working conditions, pension, and crucially, our safety and health.

The railroad industry proudly touts its safety programs, the declining numbers of on-the-job “reportable” injuries and so forth. However, this disingenuous posturing ignores the fact that the railroad is engaged in contracting out work to outfits that often have poor safety standards and records. These contract companies employ workers – usually on the railroad’s property -- to perform the exact same work that was once performed by railroad employees. But now cynically, the railroad takes no responsibility for these workers because they are no longer in the railroad’s direct employ. The rail carriers’ attitude towards these workers is that the company is not responsible for their health and safety – even though they are on railroad property, performing the same essential work that was once done by our own employees, working in safety sensitive jobs, and making profit for the company’s bottom line. Also, the carriers know that many accidents and injuries of contract workers do not have to be reported to the FRA.

Just because the people servicing the locomotives, cutting the brush or driving the train crews are no longer directly employed by the railroad does not mean that union railroaders should turn our backs on them. Not only are they our fellow workers who work right alongside us, but our very ability to thrive and prosper is intrinsically linked to theirs! The rail labor unions must resist this “de-unionization” of these jobs, and begin to aggressively organize these contract workers.

Therefore, RWU will continue to reach out and support the efforts of all contract railroad workers to organize into a union, and we hope that all railroad union members understand that our safety is directly linked to the safety of our brothers and sisters in the contract sector.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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