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Solidarity with Railroad Workers

Ukrainian Miners Win Their Wartime Strike, but Victory Looks Short-Lived

By Kateryna Semchuk - Open Democracy, October 21, 2022

On 6 October, Ukraine’s energy ministry dismissed Trotsko following pressure from a delegation of strikers that visited the energy minister twice. But some workers at the mine and the union representative fear this is not the end of their struggle against what they allege is a continuous corrupt attempt to take control of the mine.

“This is not a victory. Victory is when we mine an extra 1,000 tonnes of coal. This [whole situation] was a misunderstanding,” said Volodymyr Yurkiv, the mine’s previous director, who during the strike period was demoted to chief engineer. In the month of strike action, the mine could have earned five million hryvnias (£110,000), Yurkiv added.

Workers at Mine No. 9 have been fighting to keep Yurkiv – who was reinstated as director by the ministry on 8 October after Trotsko was dismissed – in office, as they say they are completely satisfied with his management. But Mykhailo Volynets, a Ukrainian MP who is also chair of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners, is among those who think Yurkiv could be dismissed once again. He told openDemocracy that the latest events “are not the end of this story”.

“It will happen again,” Volynets said, claiming the energy ministry will try to appoint a new director at mine No. 9 for a third time. Volynets believes there are still corrupt insiders at Ukraine’s energy ministry, claiming the recent new managerial appointments have been made on behalf of the smotriashchiy.

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

'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.

Weyerhaeuser strike enters fifth week

By Don McIntosh and Colin Staub - Northwest Labor Press, October 7, 2022

Weyerhaeuser mills and log yards across the Northwest have been silent more than four weeks now as the lumber giant faces off against its own workers.

At four sawmills, two log export facilities, two statewide log truck operations, and seven logging camps, 1,100 Weyerhaeuser workers have been on strike since Sept. 13 over a basic union principle, fairness. Weyerhaeuser, after reporting record profits of $2.6 billion last year, proposed that its workers make concessions: accept wages that lose ground to inflation, and start paying a share of health insurance premiums. Weyerhaeuser is one of the rare employers that pays the entire health insurance premium, a benefit that used to be standard, and workers think if they give that up, it may never get better.

Northwest Weyerhaeuser workers already agreed to concessions in their most recent contract, including a two-tier set-up which terminated the pension for new hires. Workers both old and new now say they regret that. They also agreed to allow the company to leave the union-sponsored health and welfare trust, and they say the health insurance benefits that replaced it aren’t as good.

They’re dead set against making concessions again.

On the picket line at the Longview lumber mill, strikers were clear-eyed about what’s at stake.

After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

Living Wages on a Living Planet!

By staff - Just Transition Partnership, October 6, 2022

JUST TRANSITION PARTNERSHIP STATEMENT ON CLIMATE JUSTICE, THE COST OF LIVING AND INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES

Soaring inflation has workers facing a real terms pay cut on top of years of stagnating wages. After a summer of heatwaves and drought, we are heading into a winter where millions won’t be able to afford to heat their homes.

Yet, as poverty and climate breakdown impact upon millions of people, the energy companies driving both crises are raking in massive profits. Workers are striking to defend wages and services while climate campaigners are stepping up their actions against profiteering companies. Both confront government policies which disregard the concerns of climate, environment and workers.

The solutions to these crises are the same:

We need a just transition that includes massive sustainable investment in renewable energy and provides secure work, affordable publicly-owned energy and protection from the volatility of energy markets – with plans to plough profits into renewables and high quality services using both taxation and legal duties on private companies; all delivered by well-paid, skilled and secure workforce.

These things won’t happen without workers in their trade unions organising to defend their wages, their jobs, their future and their rights through the power of collective bargaining. The workers’ movement and the climate justice movement need to build our collective power if we are to defend our future. That is why climate justice solidarity with workers on strike is growing and trade unions are backing urgent action for a Just Transition.

We’re Fighting for Our Future:

• living wages based on cost of living pay rises now

• cheap, accessible and clean energy

• green jobs

• a safe planet to live on

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.

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