Op-Ed: Railroad workers are once again shaking up labor standards nationwide

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With only a few days left for the deal to be cut, the threat of a strike by about 115,000 railway workers averted – for now.

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White House officials announced Thursday morning that they had reached temporary deal Between railroad workers and freight companies. Workers’ demands include sick days, and the new agreement reportedly enables them to take unpaid day for medical care without punishing, providing a single 24% increment more than five years.


The unions still have to vote on the deal, but have agreed not to strike during the next phase of the process, which could take several weeks. Whether they flagged the deal – or later decided to strike – they have spurred labor movements across the country.


The Biden administration is desperate to postpone the strike. The closure of the country’s freight railway system could make more waste 7,000 trains, disrupting supply chains and costing the economy more than $2 billion a day. Amtrak and Metrolink had already planned to cancel some trains in the event of a shutdown because it would clog the tracks used by these passenger lines. cabinet secretary And senior administrative officials, led by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, met with railway officials and leaders of several unions who threatened to strike.

The workers are in a militant and strategic mood. In July, 99.5% of the members of a railway union voted to authorize strike. The key issue comes down to penalizing scheduling policies put in place by rail management to compensate 45,000 employees – More than a quarter of the workforce – separated from the payroll in the past six years. Under these new work rules, conductors and engineers work “on call” for several consecutive days, forced into irregular and unpredictable work weeks that wreak havoc with family life and necessary medical appointments.

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Railroads label it “Precise Scheduled Railroading“But shippers of grain and chemicals, as well as railroad workers, describe it as a recipe for gridlock and chaos. A strike is absolutely necessary,” said one Union Pacific engineer. American prospect before the deal is done. “It’s not about the money. It’s about quality of life. It’s about spending time with your family.”

These work-life problems faced by railway passengers are hardly theirs alone. During the past 40 years, countless large retailers, warehouses, fast food chains, hospitals and hotels have sought “flexible” scheduling of work – but only on management terms. Such attendance policies create insecurity and fear for millions of workers as employees cannot anticipate their work routine from one week to the next. Salaries are important, but on walmart, starbucks, heroine And many other enterprises, flashpoints and disciplinary penalties for much dissatisfaction and conflict centers on the work schedules that enforce them.

The unionized railway workers have used their might to back down against this inhuman system. An agreement securing sick leave and other protections for workers – or, down the road, a potential strike – in the so-called “flexible” era of organized labor tackles a new range of workplace issues from scheduling to medical policy. denotes power. “Work, especially in a season when millions of young workers are looking at the idea of ​​a trade union” favorable light,

Like in the past decades, today’s organized railway workers are once again setting the standards of work and wages for the nation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the railroad “brotherhood”—firemen, engineers, conductors and shop craft workers—was the vanguard of the American working class, demonstrating a revolutionary ability to shut down the largest and most powerful corporations . Of the first gilded era. Strikers demanding pay cuts and an end to overwork fought a bloody battle with the National Guard in 1877 baltimore and other cities and central pittsburgh burned on the ground. socialist Eugene V. Debs Was imprisoned in 1894 for leading a nationwide railroad strike, and during World War I the US government nationalized railways To keep the war material going.

All this upheaval pushed the government in 1916. first time mandate Eight-hour day, initially only for railway workers but in the late 1930s Extended to millions more, Federally supervised collective bargaining began on railroads in 1926 (nine years ago) National Labor Relations Act Extended collective bargaining protection to many other workers) Railway Labor ActWhich still covers those still working on the rails as well as airline employees.

Today, railway workers opt to strike if their demands are ultimately not met if the conditions agreed by freight companies and union leaders are not met. Even if railroad work is halted, we are entering an era in which there are more strikes for greater worker rights – under a president that has been described as the most pro union chief executive Since the New Deal.

Thanks to changes in inhumane scheduling practices and lack of sick leave, railroad workers have already demonstrated that union solidarity and militancy can be as powerful in the 21st century as they were in the 19th century.

Nelson Lichtenstein is a research professor in history at UC Santa Barbara.

Source: www.latimes.com

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