UPDATE: Trying to conceal their vile union-busting, House Democrats approved legislation to force workers to accept an “agreement” they voted to reject, but to cover their tracks also passed a separate bill to allow rail workers paid sick time knowing full well that the Senate would pass the forced-labor bill and scuttle the sick time. Had they actually supported paid sick time for workers, they would have included it in the main bill. Tonight the Senate did exactly that, and Biden’s signature on this vicious anti-worker bill is imminent. If rail workers want to uphold their rights they will have to turn to direct action – either defying the bosses’ government and striking or implementing a strict work-to-rule until the bosses are forced to knuckle under or face the complete collapse of the freight railroad system. (our original post follows)
Stripping Rail Workers of Their Rights
The Biden administration has called on Congress to ram the bosses’ contract terms down the throats of U.S. rail workers who have voted to reject them. Under the Rail Labor Act, the federal government has the right to ban strikes during a cooling-off period, force workers into arbitration [both have already happened] and them impose a new “agreement” on transportation workers if they refuse to knuckle under. South Korea’s president similarly just ordered truck drivers to abandon their strike, but South Korean workers have real unions and so have refused — and other unions have threatened a national general strike if the government proceeds with its threats to jail union officers.
The “agreement” the rail union officials initially signed off on under government pressure, but which a majority of rank-and-file workers rejected in contract ratification votes even after one union forced members to vote again (narrowly winning on the 2nd try) after they rejected it, includes what the media misrepresents as a large wage though it falls far short of inflation. However, wages were not workers’ primary concern. Rather, they have been fighting to gain the right to a say over their work schedules and to block the rail carriers’ plans to endanger their safety through imposition of one-person train crews on many freight runs. After laying off thousands of workers to boost profits to record levels, rail lines have now essentially placed workers on permanent on-call station, requiring them to report for work on short notice or face discipline. As a result, many workers find themselves unable to make doctors’ appointments, spend time with their children, or schedule vacations. The proposed “agreement” would allow workers up to three days a year for unpaid sick time or medical appointments. Workers are demanding paid sick time, advance notice of their work schedules, and adequate staffing.
House Democrats have promised swift action to impose the “agreement,” though it may face challenges in the Senate where many Republicans (at least some of whom would have to agree to allow a bill to proceed to a vote) would prefer to outlaw unions altogether. Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi conceeded that “railroads have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers,” even as she pledged to do their bidding and block rail workers from striking to obtain better working conditions.
Rail workers are divided across a dozen unions, though most bargain jointly in one of two rail labor coalitions. Their last major strike, in 1992, ended after Congress voted to order workers back under a management-dictated labor “agreement.”
Rail Workers United, a cross-union rank-and-file group which has been trying to build worker solidarity among rail workers, has been fighting against one-person crews, just-in-time work schedules, and union complacency. It recently called for placing the freight rail tracks under public control — recalling the Plumb Plan of the 1920s, which brought the major rail unions together to demand public ownership of the rail companies.