Railroad Workers United is working with local organizations to keep the nation's only municipally owned interstate mainline freight railroad in public hands. The Cincinnati Southern was chartered and built by the City of Cincinnati in the 19th century and has been run successfully for well over a century, historically being leased to a designated operator. Now, today's operator Norfolk Southern wants to take over the infrastructure outright. Citizens across the Queen City are organizing to maintain ownership and control of their railroad. Railroad workers stand with them in their struggle! As the November 7th vote nears, more and more citizens are questioning the wisdom of turning over the city's mainline freight artery between Cincinnati and Chattanooga to corporate outlaw Norfolk Southern.
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members who work at New Jersey Transit last week voted unanimously to authorize a strike. Five hundred locomotive engineers employed by NJ Transit received strike ballots in August. Voting results show 81% of the eligible 494 union members cast ballots and all of them favor a strike, BLET officials said in a press release. NJ Transit recently announced plans to spend more than $440 million to lease luxury office space, which has infuriated many BLET members, they said. “The agency has millions for penthouse views, but not a dime for train crews who kept the trains running throughout the worst days of the pandemic, and haven’t had a raise since 2019," said BLET National President Eddie Hall.
Taxi workers in the late 1960s and through the 1970s struggled against the transformation of their industry from regulated and unionized jobs to deregulated independent contracting work. This meant the loss of collective bargaining rights for taxi workers and a sharp rise in precarious working conditions as employers were able to shift business risk onto workers, cut expenses on benefits, and increase profits in-turn. In a spirited response, taxi workers self-organized and sustained union-like alt labor groups, for example the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in New York and United Taxicab Workers in San Francisco, that fought for better working conditions for taxi workers through municipal and city regulations.
Many a scholar and policy analyst has lamented the United States’ dependence on cars and the corresponding lack of federal investment in public transportation throughout the latter decades of the 20th century. But as I show in my new book, “The Great American Transit Disaster,” our transit networks are bad for a very simple reason: We wanted it this way. Focusing on Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and San Francisco, I trace the overwhelming evidence that transit disinvestment was a choice rather than destiny. There were a few exceptions to this mostly distressing story – such as San Francisco, where the publicly-owned Municipal Railway, or Muni, offers positive lessons for contemporary policymakers, politicians and voters.
Portland Airport (PDX) wheelchair attendants, baggage and service workers, cabin cleaners and janitors held a militant picket and sit-down protest June 28 on the United Airlines departures roadway. PDX maintenance workers are fighting for the right to sit down between tasks on the job. They are demanding respect, the right to a union at United, health insurance and more. A Passenger Service Agent told demonstrators: “Our jobs involve hard physical repetitive labor that puts us at risk of workplace injuries. We are also at risk of contagious diseases. Our public health care is insufficient, and workers comp is so complicated, we need a lawyer to use it.”
Why are public transit operators struggling to retain workers and hire new ones? Workers at AC Transit say one major factor is intolerable working conditions—overwork, inadequate breaks, safety hazards, and a pervasive culture of disrespect. And these problems affect not only workers, but also bus riders across California’s East Bay. Every week many scheduled runs are canceled without notice when there’s no backup for an operator who is out sick. At a transit board meeting in March, riders asked the agency to restore service on the 80, a route that had been cut when Covid struck. Management’s response: we don’t have enough workers to run it.
I grew up in Los Angeles, one of the most sprawling, car-dependent cities in the world. It’s easy to find highway-sized lanes in residential areas and signposts right in the middle of tiny sidewalks in my hometown. Although I regularly cycled and took public transit right up until I was 18 and moved away, the state of my city and the way people moved through it was normal to me, a mundane fact of life—I didn’t see that it could be another way. I also didn’t understand just how systemically marginalized pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users were until I watched a video about “stroads” by the YouTuber Not Just Bikes.
When it comes to energy efficient transportation in America, no transportation option is better than the railroads. They have been the freight transportation backbone of America for nearly 200 years, which is why all the recent news about train derailments and union strikes deserves our attention. While more profitable then they have ever been for investors, the railroads are moving less freight and employing fewer workers now then they did in 2006. After underinvesting in their labor force, rolling stock, and tracks for decades, are America’s railroads entering a state of decline, and if so, should we start discussing the pitfalls and possibilities of public rail ownership?
On Feb. 28, 2023, two trains traveling along the same track collided in Greece, killing 57 people—many of them students in their teens and 20s returning home from university in Athens. The deaths of 11 workers in the crash sparked two 24-hour strikes from the railway unions, followed by demonstrations across the country that have lasted for weeks and mobilized tens of thousands of people. Workers blame the crash on a lack of properly functioning safety and communication systems, as well as severe understaffing and underfunding of the railways—all originating from “Troika” (EU, IMF, and ECB) structural adjustment imposed on Greece in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
France is currently in flames. Millions have been taking to the streets to protest against the government’s anti-democratic measure to raise the retirement age. Across the Rhine, Germany — where there tend to be far fewer strikes — is also set to experience a historic strike. Starting on Monday at midnight and lasting for 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of workers will be on strike. This is set to be the biggest strike in Germany in more than 30 years. It represents a convergence of different struggles in progress. On the one hand, the railway workers’ union EVG (not the same as the train drivers’ union GDL) is demanding a 12 percent raise for their members.
In 2006, a transit agency serving the communities adjacent the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta claimed to be the first in the U.S. to provide a dedicated space for people to park strollers as they rode a bus. Tri Delta Transit, which serves northeastern Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, created the zone because it noticed more families riding with strollers. “We recognized the difficulty they encounter when required to fold their strollers and felt there was more we could do to make their experience easier and more enjoyable,” said the agency’s outgoing CEO Jeanne Krieg, herself a parent, in a press release issued that year.
Saint Paul, Minnesota - Despite a snowstorm of historic proportions, hundreds of immigrants and supporters packed the State Capitol February 21 as the Senate debated Senate File 27, the Drivers Licenses for All bill which would allow Minnesotans to get a driver's license regardless of immigration status. After more than six hours of debating hostile Republican amendments, the Senate voted to pass the bill around 2:00 a.m. on a party-line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against. The bill previously passed the House, and Governor Tim Walz already indicated he will sign it, so the Senate vote seals the victory for this major priority for immigrant communities and the immigrant rights movement.
New Orleans, Louisiana - Geoff Coats still remembers how he felt when, in May 2020, all 1,350 bicycles in New Orleans’s popular bike-share program vanished. “It was horrible,” says Coats, who managed the service, called Blue Bikes, for its owner, Uber. “For a lot of people, it was a little bit of PTSD from Hurricane Katrina, when the national chains could have reopened weeks after the storm but stayed away. It felt like, once again, when we’re down, we get kicked.” Blue Bikes, which New Orleans launched in 2017 to reduce emissions and offer reliable transportation to low-income residents, was flourishing before COVID shut down the city.
A strike by transit workers in Loudoun County is now in its third week with no clear end in sight. A county spokesperson said service for Loudoun County Transit began being affected by the strike on January 11. As of Friday, commuter buses that travel between various parts of Loudoun County and D.C. and Arlington, Va. had not been running for more than two weeks. “We have prioritized transit services to optimize any available drivers daily, prioritizing paratransit services, local bus routes serving the Leesburg and Sterling areas, and Silver Line bus routes ahead of commuter bus service at this time,” Loudoun County spokesperson Glen Barbour wrote in an email to 7News. “The impact to bus routes and transit services continues to be updated regularly on our website at www.loudoun.gov/buschanges. Subscribers to our notifications are also receiving the updates directly (sign up at loudoun.gov/busbiz).”
Designing A US Transit System With Smaller, Fewer Cars Could Cut Lithium Demand And Mining Harms Of EV
One of the less sustainable aspects of the drive to transition from gas to electric vehicles (EVs) is that building them requires metals and minerals that must be mined from the Earth, an activity that raises both ecological and environmental justice concerns. In fact, a new report from the Climate and Community Project and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), found that, if current trends for EV demand hold through 2050, the U.S. alone will require three times the amount of lithium that is now available on the market globally. However, replacing every gas-powered car with an EV isn’t the only way to decarbonize transit. Alternative steps including designing a less car-intensive transportation system, reducing the size of EV batteries and encouraging lithium recycling could reduce lithium demand by up to 92 percent from the worst-case scenario, according to The Guardian.