Rail workers threaten to strike

Biden, Democrats announce proposal to prevent a nation-wide strike

By Morgan Miles, Staff Writer

Over Thanksgiving break, four rail unions announced plans to align and take part in a coordinated, nationwide strike due to issues with staffing levels and scheduling rules that penalize railroad workers. The strike will begin on Dec. 9 unless a deal is reached or proposed legislation preventing a strike is passed.

President Joe Biden and Congressional leadership have reached a tentative deal on proposed legislation that would block a strike by the more than 100,000 rail workers who are set to walk out on Dec. 9.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED), Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union (SMART-ID) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers are the four rail unions planning to strike.

In September, Biden prevented a major freight railroad strike with a last-minute tentative contract deal. In response to the deal, four out of 12 rail union rank-and-file members voted no to the contract’s ratification.

The unions are focusing on issues with scheduling rules that have led to unpaid overtime, understaffed workforces and a lack of paid sick leave or absences, they say. The unions have said the tentative contract does not address these issues enough to satisfy union demands.

“Members aren’t necessarily voting on the money issues,” Jeremy Ferguson, president of the transportation division of the SMART-ID union, said.. “It’s quality of life and how they’re treated. When big corporations cut too deep… it becomes intolerable… You don’t have time to get adequate rest.”

September’s tentative contract sick day policy gave each employee one personal day, as opposed to the 15 paid sick days that rail unions had asked for.

There are restrictions unique to rail worker strikes that are inapplicable to union strikes in other industries. For rail worker strikes, Congress has the right to block the strike or force union members back to work. Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET): said, “They’re telegraphing they expect Congress to save them,” referring to railroad reliance on Congress’ impending decision and his and other union members’ concerns of the course of action Congress will take.

Pierce’s concerns are that pro-union Congress members will be more willing to block a strike than be people who will contribute to the country’s economic recession.

Union members plan to lobby against block strike-restrictive legislation. Lobbyists for railroads and other big businesses are an obstacle to union lobbyist success, and oppose the union demands.

A rail worker strike would impact the U.S. on a nationwide basis since rails help move 30% of the nation’s freight. Prices of gasoline, food and automobiles would rise, and factories could be forced to shut down. Economic damage would accumulate up to $2 billion per day, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and inflation would continue to increase drastically.

Railroads prepare seven days ahead of planned strike dates by prioritizing the shipment of sensitive cargo, like chemicals. They follow federal safety measures to ensure the security of sensitive materials.

To prevent strikes, 300 groups, including the National Retail Federation, have put pressure on Biden to take action.

“As a proud pro-labor president, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal,” Biden said.