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Teamsters for a Democratic Union

Railroad Workers and Our Allies Must Unite in Support of AMTRAK

By Ron Kaminkow - Teamsters for a Democratic Union, April 25, 2017

On March 16th, President Trump released a blueprint budget that proposes to slash funding for the Department of Transportation by $2.4 billion, including funding for all Amtrak “long distance” trains, along with funding for dozens of transit expansion projects nationwide. In recent months, Trump has voiced support for massive investment in the nation’s infra-structure. Yet ironically, his first proposed budget not only fails to deliver, it guts funding for existing infrastructure.

The blueprint budget proposes the elimination of most Amtrak routes across the country. If we are to save the national passenger rail system, railroad workers and their unions must unite with passenger advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans want more - not less - passenger trains. In this fight, just like in others, railroad workers have lots of potential allies.

All railroaders – freight, as well as transit and passenger – should be alarmed and concerned by this proposal. Should Amtrak be defunded and dismembered, it is near certain that nothing would replace it. Privately run passenger trains fail to turn a profit – the reason that the rail carriers abandoned such service in the 1960's. And it is highly unlikely that private vendors – even if there were any – who wished to enter such a market would even be allowed by most – if not all – carriers access to their railroads. Amtrak is barely tolerated by the host railroads as it is, and then only because the act which created the entity in 1970 mandates that it be entitled to operate passenger trains on the nation’s railroads.

Thankfully, the President’s blueprint budget is not the last word on the question. We have the potential to save Amtrak – and transit funding too – over the course of the coming weeks and months, as Congress fashions what will be ultimately be the final budget. We have been down this road before of course, when George Bush was President. We will need to mobilize now like we did then. Because if Amtrak is defunded, thousands of fellow rails will lose their jobs, and as a result, we will all potentially suffer as the income for Railroad Retirement is dramatically diminished.

Ironically, as it turns out, Amtrak is one of the most efficient passenger railroads in the world, covering 94% of its operating costs at the fare box! Adjusted revenue of $2.15 billion was the most ever for a fiscal year (2016). Amtrak set an all-time ridership record despite record low gasoline prices inducing travelers to drive rather than seek public transportation. Demand for trains is out there! Considering that all forms of transportation – including airline, inland waterway, as well as automobile, bus and anything else that goes down the highway – are heavily subsidized by the states and federal government, far more than Amtrak, we are getting a great deal with the limited subsidy that Amtrak receives to keep the trains running. And in some cases – especially in rural areas – the train is the only form of public transportation available!

And trains are the safest form of transportation known to humanity. Railroad transport utilizes less land and space to transport an equivalent number of passengers in any other mode. And trains emit less pollutants than other forms, and can make use of alternative and renewable energy. As the nation’s highways and airports become ever more congested, we should be expanding passenger train options, not reducing them! As fossil fuel shipments decline, and demand for public transportation continues to grow, passenger trains could fill the void and excess track capacity in certain lanes. And in select mid-range corridors of 400 miles or less; e.g. Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Twin Cities; Bay Area to L.A., Houston to Dallas; Jacksonville to Miami; L.A. to Las Vegas, there is great potential to develop and expand multi-train departures on faster and more reliable schedules.

But to save Amtrak and expand the use of passenger rail – thereby increasing union rail employment, and ensuring the future of Railroad Retirement – will take a gallant effort. Rail unions cannot do this themselves, passenger advocacy groups cannot, neither can environmental organizations nor municipalities, all of whom are supporters of passenger rail. Therefore, we need a “Grand Alliance” of all of these forces to win the day. While all of us may have a specific agenda and focus, we have far more in common with one another than we have differences, there is far more that unites us than divides us. It is high time that our labor unions reach out, network, and build the necessary alliances with these forces, not just for a one-time lobbying effort for a specific narrow goal, as important as it may be. Rather, we need to build a strategic long-term alliance – despite our differences - with these forces, where we come to see one another as natural coalition partners for the long run.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail. They understand that it is the safest, most convenient, environmentally sensitive, and often fastest way to get around. We can do it here too. But it will take the political will power and the formation of a lasting progressive coalition to bring it about. What better time than now to get started!

Hoffa Ally, Rome Aloise Facing Charges. Organized Labor's Rank and File Must Clean House

By Richard Mellor - Facts for Working People, February 15, 2016

In October 2104, supporters of this blog spent time on the picket lines at Waste Management, the company that handles refuse from Oakland and parts of San Leandro. The strikers were mostly the low paid sorters, sorting through trash every day for $12 an hour. They were mostly Latino, members of ILWU Local 6.

The truck drivers at waste Management are in the Teamsters union, but due to the usual pissing contests that take place between different sections of the labor hierarchy the drivers, whose job is crucial to the operation of the company, drove through the picket lines. As the drivers drove in to the plant we could see by the expressions on their faces that they didn’t like doing it. It goes against the grain for any class conscious worker to do such a thing, help the bosses’ break a strike.

What was even more sickening were the Teamster officials, alongside the bosses ushering their members in, making sure they weren’t impeded. In other words, they took action that helped undermine the strike, increased the suffering of the workers on the lines and increased the chance of a victory for the multi-millionaires that profit from the waste business. According to PR Watch,Waste Management's top executives combined made $119,201,381 from 2006 to 2012.

I approached one driver who had his window open and asked him how he felt about crossing the lines: "I don't like it but our leadership says we have to.", he replied.  He drove through and I turned and asked the striker for a copy of the leaflet they ere handing out appealing for help and solidarity..  The Teamster official then came scurrying over and told me to "Stop harassing my drivers, if you want to harass anyone harass me." As if he cares about his drivers.

As if being on strike isn’t bad enough and having the overpaid officials of a potentially powerful union ally act as strikebreakers by telling their members to work across a picket line, top union officials were busy attacking the striking workers in the media. Rome Aloise, who is a VP of the Teamster Joint Council 7, a Teamster International Vice President and also an official in Local 853 that represents the drivers at Waste Management, told the Mercury News that the fight against Waste Management is “unrealistic” and that the workers were just “pawns” of the ILWU leadership and that the campaign for these workers , “…is based on a promise that cannot be met and is designed to create false hopes for the workers.”

Aloise was joined in the public offensive against these $12 an hour workers who sort through garbage 8 or ten hours a day, by Don Crossato, an official with Machinists union probably on over $100,000 a year, and Felix Martinez, of Teamsters local 70. They both agreed that what the workers were asking was “unrealistic” with Crossato claiming the differences didn’t “warrant a strike”. The workers were asking for a raise from $12 to $20. 

Rome Aloise made $346,722 in salaries and allowances in 2014 according to the Teamster for a Democratic Union that’s beside all the other perks like double pensions. Aloise, the strikebreaker and union bureaucrat is now in hot water as the members of an Independent Review Board have recommended to the IBT General Executive Board that he be brought up on charges for “requesting and receiving things of value from IBT employers..” and among other things “entering in to sham collective bargaining agreements with the GrandFund” and interfering in union elections.

The reality is that pretty much all union contracts are “sham”, contracts in the sense that the entire labor leadership from the AFL-CIO on down has thrown in the towel when it comes to fighting the bosses; they don’t have to openly act criminally in the sense that they break the law. They simply refuse to fight and hold back any rank and file movement from below that challenges the relationship they have built with the bosses’ based on labor peace.They don’t even pretend any more. They openly call for concessions and that their own members must sacrifice in order to help the employers out. This entire strategy flows form the dominant philosophy in the trade union movement today, the Team Concept. This manifests in many forms, Labor/Management partnerships, Focus Groups, Quality of Life Circles, Interest Based bargaining etc. The union hierarchy practices this Team Concept strategy on the job in the form of cooperation with the boss and in the political arena through their association with the Democratic Party acting as agents of this major capitalist party in the workers’ organizations.

The likes of Aloise and others who suck the life blood out of the labor movement betray their members, and live high on the hog at their members’ expense are the lowest type of human being. To betray workers, to side with the forces of capital against labor, to use the workers' organization for one’s own advancement, is criminal.

None of us are exempt from such betrayals. Many a rank and file member has entered the leadership with good intentions but ended up betraying those they claimed to fight for. Many others simply quit. Any individual or group that offers themselves as an alternative to the present ideologically bankrupt leadership must unequivocally reject and abandon the Team Concept on the job and in politics through the Democratic Party. They must openly campaign against the present leaders' concessionary policies.

Rank and file caucuses based on a program that demands and fights for what workers and our communities need rather than what’s acceptable to the bosses, or “realistic” to them and the Democrats must be built from the ground up. They should be built in the workplaces, offices, and construction sites where we work and meet every day and link up with the communities in which we live and work. Rank and file committees can and must look toward the unorganized and link up with the unemployed, the student movement and the myriad of movements that have sprung up throughout the country from Flint to the urban ghettos, the movement against police brutality and mass incarceration, disproportionally people of color, the rural communities and increasingly the suburbs. Small (community business) can also be an ally of labor if approached correctly. The offensive of the 1% will not cease and will in fact intensify as a disastrous US foreign policy and the cost of it in terms of human life and money will be laid on the shoulders of workers and the middle class. It is in the workplace where out power lies, our ability to stop the machine form running, to halt profit taking and organized workers have many allies but we have to use this power in conjunction and in solidarity with other social movements.

Rome Aloise is not alone, there is this type of blatant corruption within organized labor but the main problem is not crass criminal activity, it is that the heads of organized labor are ideologically bankrupt. They worship the market, they idolize profits, they have the same world-view as the 1%.

Were there a genuine militant rank and file caucus in that local, the drivers that objected to scabbing on their co-workers at Waste Management would have had somewhere to turn, they would have had it before it happened. This is the task facing the rank and file dues payer, ridding ourselves of the present leadership of our organizations. But it has to come from below; no one will do it for us. The time for whining has long gone.