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International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)

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.

Heat Waves are Literally Killing UPS Workers

By Maximillian Alvarez - The Real News, August 31, 2022

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Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive at freemu​si​carchive​.org): Jules Taylor, ​“Working People Theme Song”

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.

Heat Waves Are Putting Teamsters in Danger

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 17, 2022

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters kicked off its campaign, on August 1, for its next big contract with United Parcel Service in 2023 — but the Teamsters have some other UPS fights along the way.

Teamsters tell In These Times that workers are being pushed to the brink as temperatures around the country hit 100 degrees and higher, and myriad heatstroke stories abound. According to some UPS workers, management has so far turned a blind eye to the danger and even goaded workers for not being tough enough to handle the heat.

But as profits soar at UPS, workers are falling ill and even dying. On June 25, 24-year-old Esteban Chavez Jr., a UPS driver outside of Los Angeles, passed out in his truck while temperatures were the upper 90s; he could not be revived.

Workers say their trucks need air conditioning to do their jobs safely, but UPS is focused instead on installing truck surveillance cameras. The driver-facing cameras can record audio and video, making some workers feel they’re under constant watch for supposed safety reasons — while their true safety needs are going ignored.

According to Teamsters who spoke with In These Times, unless something changes, more workers are going to face negative health consequences from heat waves.

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.

Dropping like flies: How will UPS workers survive another summer without a/c?

By Joe Allen - Tempest, July 28, 2022

When Esteban Chavez collapsed after making his last package delivery for the day in Pasadena, California on June 25, it was another twenty minutes before someone discovered him and called for emergency help. He died soon afterward. Esteban was 24 years old and had been working at United Parcel Service (UPS) for four years. It was his second day back to work after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Esteban went to work that day not expecting to die on the job. Temperatures, however, soared into the upper nineties in Pasadena, and UPS package delivery cars do not have air conditioning. “It hurts, it’s a pain that’s never gonna go away. And that’s something I wish on nobody, having the experience of losing your child,” his father Esteban, Sr. told the local ABC news affiliate. While the Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office hasn’t released an official cause of death, Esteban’s family believes with good reason that it is directly related to high temperatures and dehydration. “I’m thinking it’s heatstroke, but that’s just me,” Esteban’s aunt, Gloria Chavez, told ABC. Esteban’s father hopes that his son’s death “could bring awareness to his line of work, to the other drivers out there, just making sure you’re staying hydrated.”

Less than two weeks later in Scottsdale, Arizona the security camera of a homeowner captured a UPS driver collapsing on his front porch in 113-degree heat. Business Insider reported:

The homeowner, Brian Enriquez, captured the incident on video via his Ring doorbell on Thursday. He told local news that by the time he saw the video of the delivery man it was too late to provide any help, but he checked in with the company and reported the incident to local police for a welfare check.

The video shows the UPS driver struggling to walk to the customer’s front door while delivering an envelope. The driver then collapses in front of the door after he sets down the delivery, eventually falling onto his back. After a few moments, the delivery man stands up, rings the doorbell, and slowly walks back to his vehicle.

There has been a longstanding awareness about the dangers of heat in the workplace whether it be in vast agricultural fields, underfunded public schools, construction and road work, warehouses and factories, and for package delivery drivers. Climate change has accelerated the dangers for these workers.

When a local ABC News affiliate was able to track down the driver who collapsed on the Scottsdale porch—he was interviewed anonymously—and he told reporters:

(The) fact of the matter is that no amount of training can prepare your body for 160 degrees, 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week,” says one UPS driver who spoke with ABC15 anonymously, saying the way they’re treated is inhumane.

It’s not just him. The driver described apocalyptic conditions, “Every week drivers are dropping like flies due to heat conditions and UPS is killing drivers because of this.”

His problems don’t stop at the end of the long workday:

There’s been several times where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, cramping up, my legs cramping, my hand is cramping. I’m telling my wife I can’t sleep because I’m having these issues and I end up having to call out the next day because it’s clearly not safe for me to come back to work. And UPS will reprimand me.

UPS drivers and Teamsters’ spouses took to social media to highlight the lack of air conditioning, which most people found shocking. UPS driver Aiden Mann’s Tik-Tok post has garnered over five million views, while Theresa Klenk’s change.org petition demanding air conditioning for all UPS drivers has been signed by over 1.3 million people. Klenk and her UPS driver husband were featured in an NBC News expose of UPS three years ago about the risk for heat-related illness and death on the job.

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