While the high-stakes labor dispute on U.S. freight railroads has receded from headlines since President Joe Biden and Congress imposed a new contract last month, rail workers are continuing their fight for dignity and better conditions — albeit without the threat of a national strike on the table. “The American people should know that while this round of collective bargaining is over, the underlying issues facing the workforce and rail customers remain,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department said in a statement. The major underlying issue remains precision scheduled railroading (PSR), the business model adopted in recent years by Class I rail carriers like Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and CSX. Designed to maximize shareholder profits by cutting costs to the bone, PSR has been blamed for a dramatic reduction in the freight rail workforce, increased supply-chain congestion and deteriorating safety — all while investors rake in record profits.
A coalition of unions, activists and workers’ rights groups protested Dec. 7, outside and inside Grand Central Station in New York City, to demand full sick pay and labor rights for the 115,000 rail workers who transport essential goods. Their 11 unions were denied the constitutional right to strike by a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden Dec. 2. Coalition organizers called out Biden for his assistance to Wall Street and the rail corporations, which loot billions in profits from rail workers’ labor, while endangering their health and safety. “If Biden wants to avoid disrupting the economy during the holidays,” said Larry Holmes, a leader with Workers Assembly Against Racism, one of the coalitions calling the action, “with the stroke of his pen, he can extend Obama’s legislation requiring paid sick leave for employees of companies with federal government contracts to rail workers.
After missing-in-action the past few weeks, some rail union chiefs have called for a major rally in Washington, DC at the Capitol Building. In addition, the unions are assisting to build rallies at rail terminals in towns and cities across the country. RWU urges all railroad workers from every craft, family, members, other working class friends and allies to take part. These rallies are intended to draw the public’s attention towards: The need for increased rail safety – prioritizing the need to maintain two-person crews. The devastating effects of so-called “precision scheduled railroading” on the nation's rail workers, shippers, passengers and economy. NOTE: The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is conducting a major hearing on this very question today. The need for paid sick leave.
The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) on Oct. 26 became the second of 12 rail unions to reject a tentative agreement amending wages, benefits and work rules on most Class I railroads and many smaller ones. More than 60% of signalmen voted to reject the agreement, mirroring the 57% rejection rate of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Union whose votes were announced Oct. 10. All 12 unions and the railroads previously agreed to maintain a status quo until “early December,” meaning no strike or management lockout until all 12 rail labor unions have completed the contract vote ratification process and made one last attempt to avert a strike or lockout. Unless carriers agree for a third time to offer deal sweeteners, a nationwide rail shutdown—the first since 1992—is looming, as a strike by even one union likely will cause picket lines to be honored by employees of all other unions.