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The Treason by the Unions of US National Railroad Strike

jeudi 22 septembre 2022, par Robert Paris

The Treason by the Unions of US National Railroad Strike

U.S. rail strike averted, but labor deal faces tough union votes and discontent of workers

Biden scores deal on rail strike, but worker discontent emerges

A National Railroad Strike has been Called off … for now, but…

On Thursday, Sep. 14, two unions representing about 60,000 railroad workers announced that they have reached a tentative contract agreement, and have called off what would have been the first national railroad strike in 30 years.

For months the Biden administration has been supporting the rail companies in trying to stop a strike from happening. Back in July when the original strike deadline loomed, Biden appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in order to postpone the deadline by 60 days and come up with a deal that would have been favorable to the rail companies. It was clear even then that the power of workers to disrupt the economy and the flow of profits to the capitalists was of paramount importance to the government.

The main issues for rail workers have been sick time, scheduling, and staffing. Over the past six years, rail companies have cut the workforce by 30 percent (about 45,000 workers), running the trains with severely dangerous understaffing while imposing increased restrictions on workers’ time off. As a result, currently workers have no official days off for sick time, and are forced to be on-call 24/7, and have no set schedule. Workers can work over 80 hours a week, and can be away from home over 100 hours per week.

Due to these huge cuts to the workforce, rail companies have made record profits over the years, paying out $196 billion to shareholders since 2010.

After a month of negotiations, Biden’s emergency board tried to get the workers to agree to a contract that included a 24% wage increase over five years while doing nothing to address the demands for paid sick leave, more time off, and staffing shortages.

Without hesitation, the rail companies supported the emergency board’s recommendations, and since then most national railroad unions have reached tentative agreements with the companies. But two unions (the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and the SMART Transportation Division), which represent 60,000 workers (about half the workforce), did not agree to the recommendations and were ready to strike starting Friday, September 16.

As the strike deadline approached, and rail companies were facing losses of an estimated two billion dollars per day, rail companies increased their pressure on the workers, and tried to stir up anger from the population at the workers. Amtrak began cancelling all long-distance passenger trains for Thursday, September 15. And freight companies halted all shipments of fertilizer and other chemicals necessary for agriculture while trying to blame the rail workers.

On Wednesday, two days before the strike deadline, large corporations representing the $7.4 trillion wholesale-distribution industry called on Congress to prevent a rail strike from “further disrupting the supply chain.” In response, Republican Senators tried to pass a Congressional resolution that would have imposed the recommendations of Biden’s emergency board onto the unions. But Senator Bernie Sanders was able to block it from passing as he and other Democrats thought that a deal could be reached to avoid the strike.

With the strike deadline approaching and no deal yet reached, the Biden administration maneuvered their way into the negotiations, headed by Biden’s Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, and later joined by Biden himself. It was from this closed-door meeting that union leaders announced that a tentative agreement had been reached. And Biden, so far, has gotten to play hero and appear as if he stopped the strike from happening, just in time for the mid-term elections.

But so far workers have not been able to see much of the details of the new tentative agreement. According to In These Times, President of the BLET union, Dennis Pierce, said it “is probably going to take three to four weeks” to get the tentative agreement into the hands of rank-and-file workers to review and vote on.

But if a tentative agreement has been reached that addresses the concerns of the rank-and-file, which were previously ignored by Biden’s emergency board, why wouldn’t the full details of the agreement be made public right away ?!

The official press release from the unions says that rail workers will receive only one additional paid day off, and will be able to “take time away from work to attend to routine and preventive medical care, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures.” But no further details have been made available to workers yet.

And, according to an article with Railway Age, the tentative agreement does not mention anything about the harsh “attendance policies” or “more predictable work schedules” because those will be left up to “local bargaining.” And the press release from the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the big rail companies, only mentions the original wage increases proposed by the emergency board and makes no mention of the harsh attendance policies that workers have demanded to be changed. And there appears to be nothing about changes to the dangerous understaffing policies.

So it is no surprise that rank-and-file workers have expressed on social media and in interviews frustration and doubts over the announced tentative agreement. Some have expressed, as one worker put it, that “it’s a garbage deal. Everyone hates it so far. It does nothing for me. I’ll vote no. This has been a complete waste of time.”

Given the profits of the rail companies, there is no question rail workers deserve a much better contract than what has been laid out in the tentative agreement. It seems the tentative agreement does nothing to address staffing, and little to address some of the workers’ other major concerns. It seems to be a little better than the earlier recommendations from the emergency board, but not much.

The question now is whether the pressure of the Biden administration and the rail companies, as well as the seal of approval from the union leadership, has been enough to get rail workers to accept the agreement. Or will rail workers reject it, and vote no, demand more, go on strike, and use their power even more ? We shall see.

Railroad workers’ opposition builds to sellout deal to block national strike

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Railroaders have the upper hand ! Organize now to demand national rail strike and rejection of PEB-patterned contracts !

Rail unions grovel to Congress, as Washington makes contingency plans ahead of Friday strike deadline


  • What’s Been Going on in the Railroad Sector ?

    For those not familiar with the railroads, trying to follow the situation over the last few months can be confusing. We offer some clarification to help paint a clearer picture.

    Freight and passenger rail operators in the U.S. have been negotiating with railroad workers’ unions for months now. Railroad workers, or “rails” as they sometimes refer to themselves, have been working without a contract for three years. Meanwhile, profits for the railroad bosses have soared, going from around 15% in 2001, to closer to 40% today. Most of this is due to what is called “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” a business model that aims to squeeze the maximum productivity out of each worker. But the quality of life for those workers has similarly seen a complete shattering. Union Pacific for example, employed 50,000 workers in 2001, while employing 18,000 fewer workers today.

    There are about 125,000 rail workers across the country represented by 12 unions who are part of the National Agreement that covers the vast bulk of the nation’s rail sector. Two unions representing 11,000 workers have recently ratified agreements while another union representing 6,600 workers just rejected a tentative agreement (TA). The rest are in the process of considering TA’s, and the workers in the machinist union have already voted down their tentative agreement because it did not address their main concerns, and negotiations are still underway.

    When negotiations came to a standstill back in July, and a strike date was approaching, the Biden administration appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to mediate between the unions and the bosses, represented by the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and extend the process by 60 days. In the words of the CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the PEB proposed “…24% compounded wage increases by 2024, with 14.1% of those increases effective immediately, along with additional service recognition bonuses totaling $5,000 over the course of the contract…An agreement based on these terms would lead to the largest general wage increase in nearly 40 years.”

    While that may sound appealing, the cost of living has been skyrocketing. When inflation is factored in, the lump-sum payments, backpay, and immediate wage increases still amount to a pay cut. Plus, since the they have been working without a contract for three years, it means the 24% wage increase is actually over 8 years, which comes to a wage increase of only 3% per year.

    In addition, throwing money at the workers does nothing for the working conditions that make up the majority of rail workers’ grievances. According to rail worker Michael Paul Lindsey, “Nearly all employees are on-call virtually around the clock, expected to report to work within 2 hours for shifts that can last 12 hours – the legal limit – but can often be several hours more factoring transportation to a terminal. That does not include the time that you’re sitting at the away-from-home terminal … You might be away from home subject to the railroad and not with your family for 120 hours in a week.”

    In addition, the two unions representing more than half the railroad workforce, SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, who both rejected the initial proposal by Biden’s emergency board, finally came to a new tentative agreement on September 14th, and union negotiators announced that the looming strike was called off, and the agreement would be provided to rank-and-file workers to vote. But at the time of the announcement, workers were not yet able to see the details of the agreement. Now they have, and it’s not much better.

    All the rail companies are offering is one additional extra paid day off per year. And workers are being offered three medical visits per year, but the visit must be scheduled at least 30 days in advance and must happen on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. As if getting sick and needing to go the doctor can be scheduled a month ahead. Currently rank-and-file workers in these two unions are deciding whether to accept the new tentative agreement or not. If they reject it, a strike could still happen.

    Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have made it clear from the beginning that they would be willing to do whatever it takes to impose a contract onto the workers in order to stop a strike from happening. The rail companies and the government would do anything to avert a mass strike in the rail sector, which would disrupt the economy and further worsen the issues with getting commodities and products from point A to point B. And with midterm elections coming up, any type of high-profile conflict between workers and the bosses in such a key sector of the economy would make Biden look bad. But the working class has been suffering for too long, and with the effects of Covid still lingering in our lives, the situation is explosive.

    A strong labor stoppage in the railroads could point a way forward for millions of other workers who are also feeling the brunt of low wages and bad working conditions. The bosses need to learn a lesson and it would be nice for the railroad bosses to begin learning it while the rest of us figure out how to teach our own bosses a lesson and join the rails in their struggle for a better life !

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