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Railroad Workers United (RWU)

Solidarity with Railroad Workers

Railroad Workers United Supports Public Ownership of the Rails

By Railroad Workers United - Railroad Workers United, October 5, 2022

More than a decade ago at the 2012 Convention of Railroad Workers United, the question of railroad ownership first came before those members assembled. Since that time the organization has discussed and debated whether or not to take a position on the question. In face of the degeneration of the rail system in the last decade, the RWU Steering Committee voted unanimously at the October monthly meeting to adopt such a position (see Resolution below).

While the rail industry has been incapable of expansion in the last generation, while it has become more and more fixated on the operating ratio to the detriment of all other metrics of success, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has escalated this irresponsible trajectory to the detriment of shippers, passengers, commuters, trackside communities, and workers. On-time performance is in the toilet, shipper complaints are at all-time highs. Passenger trains are chronically late, commuter services are threatened, and the rail industry is hostile to practically any passenger train expansion. The workforce has been decimated, as jobs have been eliminated, consolidated, and contracted out, ushering in a new previously unheard-of era where workers can neither be recruited nor retained. Locomotive, rail car, and infrastructure maintenance has been cut back. Health and safety has been put at risk. Morale is at an all-time low. The ongoing debacle in national contract bargaining sees the carriers – after decades of record profits and record low Operating Ratios – refusing to make even the slightest concessions to the workers who – contrary to what the Class Ones may state – have made them their riches.

Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership. During WWI, the railroads in the U.S. were in fact temporarily placed under public ownership and control. All rail workers of all crafts and unions supported (unsuccessfully) keeping them in public hands once the war ended, and voted overwhelmingly to keep them in public hands. Perhaps it is time once again to put an end to the profiteering, pillaging, and irresponsibility of the Class One carriers. Railroad workers are in a historic position to take the lead and push for a new fresh beginning for a vibrant and expanding, innovative and creative national rail industry to properly handle the nation’s freight and passengers.

Please, read the full text of the Resolution below, along with the supporting information. And if you wish to take part in the movement to bring the railroads under public control, please contact RWU at info@railroadworkersunited.org

RWU Urges Operating Crafts to "Vote No!" Defeat the Tentative Agreement

By Railroad Workers United - Railroad Workers United, October 5, 2022

Based upon feedback from working railroaders of the operating crafts, the Steering Committee of Railroad Workers United (RWU) voted Wednesday 10/5/22 to urge members of the operating crafts to vote down the Tentative Agreement (TA) when they receive their ballots in the coming weeks.

In the face of overwhelming opposition from union members to the Presidential Emergency Board #250 recommendations - of all crafts and all unions, of all age groups and seniority - in September, RWU had previously stated our Opposition to any Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB #250.

Because there is a consensus on the RWU Steering Committee that the proposed operating crafts' TA is in fact not dissimilar to the PEB, we believe that workers have very little to lose by voting NO. And if the rail carriers and the rail unions cannot do better at the bargaining table by December 7, then rail workers would and should be free to exercise their right to strike, fulfilling their desire to do so as expressed by the membership last summer.

Below, please read the Original 12 Points as to why any TA based on the PEB should be rejected. And then read the additional 10 Reasons to Reject the TA proposed for the operating crafts. If you agree with any or all of the points listed, then please Vote NO. Finally, make sure to read the flyer: So We Vote Down the TA ... Then What? As the great rail union organizer and working-class leader Eugene V. Debs famously stated more than 100 years ago, “I’s rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”

More on Railroad Safety

By staff - Climate-Rail Alliance, September 14, 2022

In addition to the issues that are about to bring about a nationwide railroad strike, there is another open safety issue. The railroad industry wants to operate trains with only one person on the train. This is unsafe in many ways, and even against the industry’s safety rules, but the bottom line is at stake.

The comment entry form for the proposed FRA rule is here: https://www.regulations.gov/document/FRA-2021-0032-0001

Once again, the railroad industry’s masters, the hedge fund managers, want to squeeze more for increased profits. If a few people are killed or injured in the process or lots of valuable stuff gets bent, they don’t care as long as doing all that is less expensive than doing things safely.

Please comment supporting a required minimum of two people responsible for operating a train.

STRIKE!

By admin - Climate Rail Alliance, September 14, 2022

The dispute between railroad labor and management is about to culminate in a nationwide strike. The strike action should be supported by everyone. It is not only a matter of pay and quality of life as generally depicted in media, it is about safety.

Background

The railway Labor Act of 1926 governs only the railroad and airline industries. The goal is to substitute arbitration and mediation for strikes, assuming these two to be essential to the economy and national security. The Act provides a very long procedure for the solution of labor-management disputes.

The next to last step is the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to assess the two sides and suggest a solution that will satisfy both sides.

In the recently appointed PEB, labor submitted wage grievances, but more importantly, quality of life grievances. Among the compensation grievances was away from home expenses. Railroad workers, particularly track maintenance and train crew personnel are away from home for long periods of time. The railroad pays for the lodging. The workers are expected to pay for food. They get a token amount for expenses, generally not enough for a single McDonalds meal per day. The balance is paid from their wages. When there is no expense increase allowed in addition to a wage increase, employees must pay from taxable earnings for work expenses.

The wage increase being offered by management is less than the rate of inflation since the last increase.

The railroad industry submitted to the PEB: The Carriers maintain that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.

They say management assumes all the risk, but I can’t remember a single instance of a CEO, President, Vice President or any other senior management or staff being killed or injured in a railroad accident. Two guys who were not assuming any of the risk and were not contributing to profits were killed a few days ago in a collision in California, involving failed procedures and apparently a failed signal system. No executives were harmed in this collision, but the damage to engines and cars was a substantial amount, perhaps injuring the stockholders.

The railroad industry claims that half of railroad workers work less than 40 hours a week. That is blatantly untrue. Occupations that work a defined shift, train dispatchers, locomotive and car maintenance workers, track and signal maintenance workers, have a 40 hour workweek. Train and engine crews may sometimes work less than 40 hours a week, but in making that statement, the industry is not counting the time they sit around in the away from home terminal waiting for their return trip, many hours or even many days.

Good ol’ Amtrak Joe, friend of Labor, appointed a PEB that issued a solution almost entirely in favor of railroad management.

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.

Statement in Support of U.S. Railroad Workers on the Precipice of Their Historic Strike

By Jim Abernathy - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) stands firmly in solidarity with railroad workers in this historic moment. Our railways are the veins of our nation, and these workers ensure our healthy circulation, getting our people and our goods wherever they are needed. Every person in this country fundamentally relies on the hard work and immense expertise of rail workers.

They worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the country alive, without a contract, and they have been thanked by private railroad corporations with sweeping layoffs, a refusal to pay just wages and benefits, and utterly inhumane working conditions. Let us not mince words - being forced to work alone, in dangerous conditions, sometimes for up to 80 hours a week is fundamentally inhumane. These workers, too long pitted against one another by the bosses, by CEOs who seek to divide and conquer the working class of the nation, now stand united as one against this unacceptable status quo.

Rail transportation and rail labor are also vital to the health of our entire planet. They are a crucial piece of solving the climate crisis, and they must be respected as a core part of the solution to many of our systemic problems. Respect for rail transportation and rail workers means expanding the workforce so that workers can have decent schedules, ensuring robust compensation, and ensuring their safety - putting our railroads front and center in the fight for good union jobs and a livable planet.

The bosses will not act unless they are forced to by a unified working class. Our railroad workers, united, spurred on by their own righteous history of labor militancy, are prepared now to use their collective power. LNS stands ready to support our brothers and sisters on the railroad and their fight for justice on the job and for all our communities.

Read the text (PDF).

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.

The US Could Be on the Verge of a Nationwide Railroad Strike

An interview with Ross Grooters - Jacobin, August 18, 2022

With railroad companies refusing to offer employees a favorable contract, 115,000 railworkers could soon launch a nationwide strike. We spoke with a train engineer about the industry’s brutal working conditions — and why a strike could spread like wildfire.

With railroad companies refusing to offer employees a favorable contract, 115,000 railworkers could soon launch a nationwide strike. We spoke with a train engineer about the industry’s brutal working conditions — and why a strike could spread like wildfire.

Rail unions in the United States representing 115,000 workers have been locked in negotiations with rail carriers for over two years. This week, a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), convened by the Biden administration to intervene in the dispute, issued its recommendations for a settlement. The railroads have stated their support for the deal, so the outcome is now in the hands of the twelve unions that represent freight railworkers — as well as Congress, which could intervene to force a deal.

But many railworkers are opposed to the PEB recommendations, which they view as lopsided in favor of railroad companies. They point to their deteriorating working conditions — including inhumane schedules and “lean production” policies that pile on work and threaten their safety and that of the public — and ask why they should accept givebacks when companies don’t even respect their labor. Indeed, in the PEB recommendations, the board reports that “the Carriers maintain that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.”

Some workers are now talking about a national strike — an action that that hasn’t occurred since 1991 and that could have massive economic and political effects during an election year and an uptick in labor activity.

In a conversation with Joe DeManuelle-Hall of Labor Notes, Iowa-based freight engineer Ross Grooters discussed how working conditions on the railroad have gotten worse, why he opposes the deal on the table, and what a national rail strike could look like in the United States.

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