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Joe Biden

Statement of Solidarity with Railroad Workers

By Staff - Industrial Worker, December 23, 2022

The Industrial Workers of the World stands with U.S. rank-and-file railroad workers as owners and politicians collude to strip them of their most basic rights. The right to withhold our labor is inviolable and cannot be prohibited. Further, we believe that an injury to one is an injury to all. We are disgusted by the hypocrisy of so-called leaders in the U.S. government, who enjoy the luxury of virtually unlimited paid sick leave while legislating against any paid sick leave at all for railroad workers, and we are unsurprised when even the progressive wing of the Democratic Party ultimately aligns with their class over the workers. IWW members throughout the country are prepared to support railroad workers in every way possible as they lead this fight.

We hold that the failure to reach an agreement is undeniably the fault of the owners, who have enriched themselves and their shareholders at immediate cost to the workers generating the profits. One study of financial reports and internal communications for all the major rail carriers shows their unbridled avarice and total disregard for their workforce. They are well aware that wages have been stagnant for years. This was by design. They know that workers have fled the industry due to its destruction of workers’ quality of life and the carrot-and-stick system that prevents their use of promised benefits. They know that injuries on the job have reached record highs in recent years due to understaffing and impossible demands placed on workers.

The agreement being imposed by Congress is unacceptable. Wage increases to compensate for the lack thereof in years past, as well as skyrocketing inflation and cost of living more recently, are inadequate. Workers have univocally demanded more predictable scheduling and safer working conditions. Paid sick leave was a compromise many workers may have been willing to accept. It is the owners and their lackeys in government who refuse to compromise. It is despicable.

We in the IWW encourage workers from all industries to stand together with railroad workers. United we are strong. Together we can win.

For more information on Railroad Workers United, please contact RWU General Secretary Jason Doering, via email or at 202-480-0587.

For anyone who faces detainment for exercising their right to strike, or who knows someone who does, the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee conducts public pressure campaigns and facilitates empowerment through solidarity. They can be contacted at IWOC@iww.org.

Additional statements of solidarity from members and local branches of the IWW throughout the U.S. are being prepared and issued even as mainstream media declares the “crisis averted.” For workers, the crisis only deepens. These conditions can be changed only when we stand together as one. Workers of the world: unite!

Railroad and UC Workers Solidarity

By Steve Ongerth (with suggestions from Baltimore Red)- IWW Environmental Union Caucus, December 6, 2022

I gave the following speech at a rally on the UC Berkeley Campus (a video of the rally follows)

Fellow Workers, Comrades, and Friends:

My name is Steve Ongerth. I am a union mariner of over a quarter century (I am a member of the IBU, an ILWU affiliate, and the IWW); I grew up in a railroad family, and I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1994.

I am here today to deliver a message on behalf of Railroad Workers United (of which I am a solidarity member):

The Class One freight railroad bosses:

  • Have been reaping record profits for 25 years, and yet...
  • they are moving less freight than at any time since 2006;
  • they are swimming in money, while industry is contracting when it should be expanding due to its efficiency, and its potential as a major climate solution;
  • meanwhile, during that time, 30% of workforce has been lost in the last 4-5 years;
  • in spite of the potential for rail as a climate solution, the freight bosses are hostile to expansion of passenger trains;
  • in fact, the greed of the capitalist railroad bosses has grown so egregious, that the Class Ones have possessed off every major shipping group with their BS, thus even turning much of the capitalist class against them;

The "deal" brokered by Biden and rammed down the throats of the working class by the Republicans and Democrats alike won't solve the problem.

This is not only naked class war, it's a recipe for the complete implosion and meltdown of the nation's rail system.

Solidarity with Railroad Workers

Railroad Workers Threaten to Strike and Call for Public Takeover of the Rails

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, October 22, 2022

A potential showdown between organized labor and Wall Street looms over the world of freight trains: An influential railroad workers group is urging fellow union members to reject a tentative labor agreement that has prevented an industry-wide strike, and to fight for public ownership of railroads. Negotiations are tense, and the unions are telling members that every vote counts.

Fearing further stress on supply chains and the economy ahead of the midterm elections, President Joe Biden convened an emergency board to negotiate a tentative agreement between rail carriers and unions threatening a nationwide strike. Railroad Workers United (RWU), an advocacy group of rank-and-file workers, recently called on fellow union members to reject the tentative agreement in a vote scheduled for early December, and to strike if necessary.

The tentative agreement announced in September by two major unions calls for an immediate 14 percent wage increase, but concerns over working conditions, health insurance and medical leave remain. SMART, a union representing sheet metal, air and rail workers, recently told its members that the tentative agreement is still being finalized, and it will be up to the rank and file to vote yes or no on the deal.

A nationwide rail strike would incapacitate shipping and force rail companies and the public to contend with the demands of railroad workers, who say their employers have maximized profits while safety and working conditions deteriorate. BNSF Railway, one of the top freight rail operators, made $23 billion in revenue in 2021 alone.

While RWU is urging the rank-and-file to fight for a better contract with their employers, the group says the ultimate solution to the problems raised at the negotiating table is a public takeover of the railroads for freight trains.

Will offshore wind bring ‘good-paying, union jobs’? Texas workers aren’t so sure

By Emily Pontecorvo - Grist, October 14, 2022

Fires fueled by climate crisis expose the intersecting injustices incarcerated people face and the comprehensive reforms needed for a Just Transition:

The Biden administration is gearing up to turn the Gulf of Mexico, long a hub for offshore oil and gas drilling, into a new city of skyscraping offshore wind turbines. Opening up the Gulf to wind development is part of President Joe Biden’s goal to employ “tens of thousands of workers” to establish 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. But in Texas, workers are worried that the new industry will continue the low-wage, unsafe, exploitative conditions that pervade the construction and offshore oil industries there.

For the past year, a coalition of Texas labor unions, along with their allies in Congress and in the environmental movement, have been lobbying the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“We saw the opportunity,” said Bo Delp, the executive director of the Texas Climate Jobs Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the unionization of clean energy jobs. “But we also saw the danger.”

There’s no doubt the offshore wind industry will bring a flood of jobs to communities along the Gulf. There will be jobs manufacturing wind turbines, shipping them out to sea, and installing them; building transmission lines and electrical substations; and operating and maintaining the equipment. But contrary to the White House’s promise of “good-paying, union jobs,” there’s no guarantee they will come with decent wages, benefits, or safety standards — especially in Texas.

Mark Burrows and the Ongoing Assault on 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.

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.

Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions

By Lee Harris - The American Prospect, September 28, 2022

In August, as President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, pledging to build American semiconductor factories, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker posed on the White House lawn, flanked by the chief executives of vehicle companies Ford, Lion Electric, and Rivian. Thanks to billions of dollars in federal and state investments, Pritzker said, his constituents could expect a manufacturing revival, and “good-paying, union jobs.”

Illinois is refashioning itself as a center for electric vehicle (EV) production and a cluster of related industries, such as microchips. The state just passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, its flagship industrial-policy plan, and has passed MICRO, a complement to federal CHIPS subsidies. Pritzker is hungry for Chicago to host the upcoming Democratic convention and take a victory lap at factory openings.

But he may have to trot out non-union autoworkers at the ribbon cuttings.

Ford, a “Big Three” union automaker, boasts that the F-150 is a “legendary union-built vehicle,” but battery production is being outsourced to non-union shops. Bus producer Lion Electric is under pressure to use organized labor, but has yet to make public commitments on allowing a union election without interference. Electric-truck startup Rivian, which is 18 percent owned by Amazon, has been plagued by workplace injuries and labor violations. Illinois’s attorney general recently uncovered a scheme to renovate its downstate plant with workers brought in from Mexico, who were cheated out of overtime pay.

Democrats are giddy about the arrival of green industrial policy. With last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, CHIPS, and the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Congress has poured money into setting off green growth. The main messaging behind this policy is that government investment can create attractive jobs, and a new political base, by manufacturing the clean technologies of the future.

If you squint, you could almost mistake the IRA’s robust Buy American provisions for worker protections. They are often mentioned in the same sentence. But while new spending is likely to onshore manufacturing, it largely lacks provisions ensuring that those new jobs will adhere to high-road labor standards, let alone that they will be unionized.

Instead, the political logic of the bill is a gamble. The energy sector is still dominated by oil and gas. To accelerate the transition, it will be necessary to create large countervailing industries. After decades of offshoring, the first aim for green manufacturing is to make sure that it happens here at all. The IRA alone could produce as many as nine million jobs over the next decade, according to an analysis by University of Massachusetts Amherst and the labor-environmental coalition BlueGreen Alliance. Many of those jobs will be in old Democratic strongholds where the party is now hemorrhaging support, like mining in Nevada and auto production in the Midwest.

Supporters hope that once new green jobs are created, a mass labor coalition could follow. As Nathan Iyer, an analyst at the climate consultant RMI, told the Prospect in a recent podcast, “It’s hard to have a workers-based movement, and build workers’ power, if there are no workers.”

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