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Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED)

Solidarity with Railroad Workers

'A Huge Deal': Major Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Contract Proposal

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, October 10, 2022

Maintenance workers voted against the tentative agreement reached last month and said without a fair contract, a work stoppage could begin as early at November 19.

A union representing railroad maintenance and construction workers on Monday announced that its members have rejected the tentative agreement reached last month between unions and rail carriers, putting pressure on the carriers to offer a better deal to workers in order to avoid a nationwide strike in the coming weeks.

Reporting a turnout of 11,845 members, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) said that 6,646 people had voted against ratifying the agreement and 5,100 had supported the deal, which was brokered last month with the help of the Biden administration's Presidential Emergency Board. Ninety-nine ballots were returned blank or were voided due to user errors.

The tentative agreement reached last month would include one additional paid day off and permit workers to take unpaid days to receive medical care without being penalized by carriers' strict attendance policies—two key concessions from the companies, as railroad workers' unions had expressed deep dissatisfaction with attendance rules and a lack of any paid sick time.

The deal also would include a 24% pay raise between 2020 and 2024 and would freeze workers' monthly contributions for their healthcare plans.

After the tentative agreement was reached on September 15, the railroad sector's unions agreed not to strike as workers across the industry voted on the deal.

Now, said the BMWED—the nation's third-largest rail workers' union and a division of the Teamsters—on Monday, a work stoppage could begin as early as November 19, depending on the upcoming votes by other unions.

Railroad workers still have reservations about the tentative agreement—strike still possible

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, October 3, 2022

On Sept. 15, railroad union members reached a tentative agreement with railroad companies, narrowly avoiding a strike intended to protest poor working conditions and an inflexible, demanding attendance policy. After a full day of negotiations, in which President Joe Biden even called in to support the workers’ demands for better working conditions and sick time off without retaliation, the nation breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they had dodged the strike and its inevitable economic consequences. However, now workers have had a chance to read through the tentative agreement, some say there were too many concessions made, and a strike could still be possible. In the interim, the unions are enforcing a strike injunction, dragging out the voting past the midterm elections.

When the agreement was first reached, rail workers like Michael Paul Lindsey, who had been opposed to the Presidential Emergency Board agreement, said they were all still in the dark—union leaders had reached a decision without workers actually knowing what was agreed upon. Once the agreement language was finally released at the beginning of the week of Sept. 19, workers were not happy.

“The TA additions are worse than the PEB,” tweeted Ross Grooters, a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union member. “I don’t need questions answered. I need for all of us to VOTE NO!”

Many of the workers were concerned that the unpopular Automated Bid Scheduling was renegotiated back into the agreement in exchange for “voluntary off days.” The scheduling system threatens to reduce yard workers’ schedules to constantly on-call, just like engineers and conductors. 

Mark Burrows, a locomotive engineer in the industry from 1974 until he retired in 2016, said that railroad carriers and union representatives made concessions at the last minute. While the tentative agreement includes a provision that workers should not be penalized for going to the doctor, workers will only be allowed to go Tuesday through Thursday and must give 30 days advance notice. If they fulfill those conditions, points and merits will not be taken off.

“The idea that we should be celebrating that … I don’t know if that’s much to celebrate,” Burrows said. 

According to Burrows, the agreement also mentions that people who work on call will have extra days off, but that will be negotiated locally through different carriers and terminals. 

“As usual with a lot of these national agreements, they put things in that are kind of vague and gray and leave it open to be fine-tuned with respective carriers,” Burrows said. “In terms of their working conditions, their quality of life on and off the job, I’m going to say this is a token concession, and many see it in the same way. It’s going to be far from sufficient to satisfy most rail workers’ grievances.”

Burrows also said that part of the reason the agreement was successful was because it promised two days off. However, the fine print specified it as only 48 hours off, robbing workers of a conventional 60-hour weekend

Rail worker schedules are usually unpredictable, leading to canceled plans and sometimes waiting around the phone to get called for a job. The lack of predictability and consideration for their personal lives is at the forefront of the workers’ demands and is the primary reason why a growing number of railroad workers have left the industry. Over the last six years, 45,000 workers have left, accounting for nearly 29% of the industry.

The Federal Government Is Trying to Stop Railroad Workers From Striking

By Joe Burns - Jacobin, September 9, 2022

Railroad workers bargaining for better pay and working conditions are at an impasse with their employers, causing the federal government to intervene to ward off a disruptive strike. But railworkers should be allowed to strike if and when they want to.

For months, 140,000 union railroad workers have been stuck at an impasse with their employers, who are united under the banner of the Association of American Railroads. The terms of the dispute should be familiar to most workers: attendance policy, staffing, and wage increases. Despite record profits, rail employers have cut staffing, placing enormous burdens on workers that aren’t reflected in their pay.

By all accounts, railworkers are in a militant mood. An attendance policy prompted rail unions to attempt to strike earlier this year. In July, 99 percent of union members who cast ballots voted to authorize another strike, prompting President Joe Biden to intervene in August.

In order to avert a strike, Biden appointed a presidential emergency board (PEB) to reach a compromise and settle the dispute. The PEB put some money into wages but predictably did little on the workers’ core workplace concerns. The rail unions are unenthusiastic about the PEB ruling, and the largest groups have not been willing to put the recommendations out for membership ratification. While bargaining continues, the unions will be eligible to strike on September 16, which is thirty days following the PEB recommendation.

That eligibility requirement is a term of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), passed in 1926, which regulates bargaining in the rail and airline industries. Even though the RLA protects the right to strike in words, politicians in both parties have used the legislation to strip railroad workers of that right in practice, often ramming settlements down the throats of striking workers.

Over the years, Congress has intervened several times to delay strikes and sometimes even impose terms on railroad workers. President Harry Truman threatened to have the Army run the railroads in 1950 during the Korean War. In the 1960s, President Johnson imposed a longer no-strike period on rail workers. President Barack Obama delayed a threatened strike in 2011.

Just hours into the last nationwide major rail strike in 1991, Congress passed legislation imposing the very contract workers rejected. The legislation required further bargaining but held that if no agreement was reached the terms of the PEB would be implemented, even though the unions had already rejected those terms.

Republicans and nearly all Democrats lined up to take away railworkers’ right to strike in 1991 — the final vote was 400 to 5. This controversy created widespread disaffection with the Democratic Party, even spurring the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes to endorse Labor Party Advocates, which was the last serious attempt to create a labor party in the US.

Rail Workers Reject Contract Recommendations, Say They're Ready to Strike

By Joe DeManuelle-Hall - Labor Notes, September 1, 2022

Railroad unions continue their slow creep along the path to a settlement—or strike—in contract negotiations covering 115,000 workers. On August 16, the Presidential Emergency Board convened by President Biden issued its recommendations for a settlement. Many rail workers say they fall short and are prepared to strike to win more.

The PEB recommended 22 percent raises over the course of the five-year contract (dating back to 2020), which would be the highest wage increases rail unions have seen in decades. But they are offset by increases in health care costs—and come in the midst of high inflation.

The PEB also refused to touch almost any of the unions’ demands on work rules and conditions, either denying them outright or suggesting that the unions return to the slow negotiation and arbitration process they have already languished in since November 2019. Unions have been demanding a sick leave policy—rail workers have no sick days—and the PEB refused them. The PEB also refused to take a position on the strict attendance policies have infuriated many rail workers.

“By not addressing these issues and this generalized discontent among the workforce, the PEB has acted irresponsibly, their recommendations doing little to nothing to stem the tide of discontent nor address the ongoing mass exodus of workers from the industry,” said Jason Doering, general secretary of the cross-union solidarity caucus Railroad Workers United.

RWU Official Statement on PEB #250

By staff - Railroad Workers United, August 30, 2022

On August 16th, Presidential Emergency Board #250 released its official Report and Recommendation for a negotiated settlement to the ongoing dispute between the United Rail Unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee. The next day, the rail carriers wasted no time in proclaiming it a “fair and equitable” basis for an Agreement with the various unions. Within a few days, the rail unions responded by announcing their discontent yet began the arduous process of packaging a TA that the members would vote for, extolling the “positive side” of the PEB #250 to the membership.

Meanwhile, as the news filtered out and rank & file workers began to process the contents of the PEB Report, emotions ran the gamut from betrayal and sadness to letdown, frustration, anger, and resentment. One thing that unites all rail workers is the feeling of deflation after hopes had been flying high for a favorable PEB that might right some of the wrongs that rail workers have endured for decades.

What most railroaders are so upset about regarding the PEB is not so much what the PEB is recommending in terms of wage increases (although most workers appear not too jubilant about that), but rather, what the PEB simply chose to ignore. This year was supposed to be our time when rank & file rail workers could hold their heads high, value their jobs, be proud once again to be part of the rail industry, look forward to the coming years, and ultimately, to their retirement from the industry. Unfortunately, the PEB Report has cast a long shadow upon those hopes and expectations.

Rail Workers May Strike Next Month

By Paul KD - Tempest, August 12, 2022

Paul KD: President Biden just appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to help resolve the current negotiations around a national rail contract. What is the PEB, and what is its role in the negotiations?

Ross Grooters: A PEB is a U.S. president-appointed group of three mediators. These three people typically have experience in labor case law and mediation. They will look at the merits of the United Rail Unions’ Coordinated Bargaining Coalition proposal and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee proposal, and from there they have 30 days to make a non-binding contract recommendation based on their findings. Their recommendation should occur in the middle of August (the 18th, I believe).

PKD: What can rail workers do to put pressure on the PEB? What are the unions and the companies doing to lobby the PEB, and the Biden Administration more broadly?

RG: Both the unions and the companies are waging narrative battles in the press. It’s a tale as old as labor and capital. While it’s important, at least as far as rank and file railroad workers are concerned, I believe the PEB is the wrong point of pressure. What’s done is done and we can’t necessarily impact the PEB recommendation directly. Besides both the unions or the carriers (railroad companies) can reject the PEB recommendation. I believe this is a likely outcome. Once this occurs there is a 30 day cooling-off period before a work stoppage—lockout or strike—could occur. The timeline for this is mid to late September. Because of this I believe our best course of action is to continue building support for a strike. Organize our locals and community support, and hold rallies. Under the Railway Labor Act, an act of Congress can force us back to work. Our congressional members would then legislate an agreement—that’s where we can lobby. Until that happens, we have the ability to threaten a work stoppage. We need to leverage that power.

Rail Unions Are Bargaining Over a Good Job Made Miserable

By Joe DeManuelle-Hall - Labor Notes, February 2, 2022

Contract negotiations covering 115,000 rail workers in the U.S. are expected to heat up in 2022.

Workers are seething over the impact of extreme cost-cutting measures. Rail unions are escalating through the slow steps of negotiations under the Railway Labor Act—toward a resolution, a strike, or a lockout.

Rail remains one of the most heavily unionized industries in the country, and rail workers maintain the arteries of the economic system.

In 2018, U.S. railroads moved 1.73 trillion ton-miles of freight, while trucks moved 2.03 trillion. (One ton-mile is one ton of freight moved one mile.) A slim majority of rail freight consists of bulk commodities, ranging from grain to mined ores to automobiles; slightly less is made up of consumer goods.

COST-CUTTING FRENZY

In the flurry of reporting on what’s slowing down the supply chain, little has been said about one contributing factor—the years-long squeeze that major railroads have put on their operations and workforces.

Precision Scheduled Railroading is a nebulous term that has come to cover many measures aimed at cutting costs and increasing profits. (Although the name refers to trains operating on a set schedule, that’s just one piece.) All the railroads engage in elements of it.

PSR is basically the railroad version of lean production—the methodology of systematic speedup and job-cutting that caught on in manufacturing in the ’80s and spread to many industries.

The railroads have done it by cutting less-profitable routes; closing and consolidating railyards, repair barns, and other facilities; running fewer, longer trains; and laying off tens of thousands of workers while demanding the remaining workers do more.

Class I railroads—the companies with annual revenues over $900 million—employed fewer workers this January than any month since 2012, falling below even the early-pandemic slump.

Railroads have cut as many as 35 percent of workers in some titles over the past several years. Overall there were 160,795 Class I rail workers in December 2015, and only 114,499 by December 2021.

At the same time, individual freight trains were hauling, on average, 30 percent more tonnage in 2020 than in 2000.

But all these practices add up to a system that doesn’t function well under pressure—the pressure of a global pandemic, or even just the pressure of normal operations. In stretched-out, just-in-time supply chains with no room for error, delays cascade into more delays.

Unions Congratulate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Denial of Authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Statement from 1199 SEIU; Amalgamated Transit Union; Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employees Division, Pennsylvania Federation–Teamsters; National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; United Electrical Workers - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 9, 2016

We are unions representing members in health care, domestic work, public transit, railroads, manufacturing and other sectors.

We congratulate leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of supporters for the news that the federal government will deny authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline to go through tribal lands posing a threat to water sources and sacred sites.

The Obama Administration’s decision respects the sacred grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and takes into consideration the potential of a hazardous pipeline leak that would harm the community’s life and livelihood.

This is a historic victory, and an organizing victory that every union member can identify with, against one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world: the fossil fuel industry and its many allies inside and outside government. These forces have used private police that have not hesitated in using violence to intimidate those participating in peaceful protest.

Mindful of our own history in facing private police and vigilantes in the fight to establish workers’ rights, trade unionists have stood shoulder to shoulder with the First Nation water protectors, environmental and community supporters, and many allies who have mobilized and rallied for months against huge odds.

Our unions will continue to join with opponents of the Dakota Pipeline along other routes and fight to halt similar projects that transport dirty crude oil that jeopardize public health and contribute to the climate crisis.

We also stand in solidarity with the construction workers who build our country’s infrastructure, and also with the workers in coal, oil and gas, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the collapse in global prices. In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, we call for a “just transition” for workers whose jobs and livelihoods may be threatened by the move away from fossil fuels.

But there is much work to be done in modernizing and repairing bridges, roads, tunnels, public transit systems, etc., many of which have become dilapidated and dangerous to workers and the public.  But jobs based on expanding (and exporting) fossil fuels will simply lead to more environmental destruction, worsening health, climate instability and social upheaval at home and abroad.  Business as usual is not an option.

Together we can demand the development of sustainable energy production and resource initiatives that unequivocally provide good, safe union jobs while salvaging the health and well-being of the earth’s population.

Our future depends on our willingness to engage and organize among progressive forces and social movements in order to effectively meet the challenges ahead.

The Fine Print I:

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