You are here

transportation infrastructure

Solidarity with Railroad Workers

Safe and Sustainable Rail

'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 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.”

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.

Railroad Strike Threatens Power in Coal-Dependent States

By Jake Bittle - Grist, September 14, 2022

Tens of thousands of U.S. railroad workers in several different unions are poised to strike at the end of this week after a prolonged labor dispute. The workers have been unable to reach an agreement with a group of six rail carriers despite months of back-and-forth on issues like stagnant pay, long shift lengths, and an inability to take time off.

Biden administration officials have been racing to mediate between the parties ahead of a Friday deadline, hoping to avoid a railroad strike and shutdown that the Department of Transportation has estimated would cost the economy about $2 billion a day. Biden himself convened a Presidential Emergency Board two months ago to help supervise the talks, but the board has been unable to help the two sides come to a final resolution. Marty Walsh, the administration’s labor secretary, postponed a planned visit to Ireland this week to help with the negotiations.

The looming railroad workers’ strike threatens to deliver a blow to the economy by disrupting critical supply chains for commodities like lumber and wheat. No sector stands to lose as much as the coal industry, which is almost entirely dependent on railways to move its product around. A work stoppage could reduce coal stockpiles that have already been thinned by poor rail service and the high levels of consumption caused by recent volatility in global energy markets. This could lead to electricity shortages and sky-high prices in coal-dependent parts of the country.

Coal is by far the most rail-dependent fossil fuel. The lion’s share of crude oil and natural gas moves around the country on pipelines, but you can’t put coal in a pipeline, so it has to move on trains, trucks, and barges. Because the fuel is so heavy and takes up so much space, rail is the only economical way to transport it from mines to power plants: The average coal train consists of 140 cars that each hold about as much coal as could fit on ten trucks. Even if coal could be shifted onto trucks, the trucking industry itself has also been experiencing labor shortages, and there’s not much excess truck capacity to absorb rail freight.

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.

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.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.