Railroaders Fight for the Right to Strike over Draconian Attendance Policies
February 3, 2022
More Perfect Union recently put out a video describing why railroaders working for Class 1 Railroads have been pushing for a strike. As one employee put it, "The sentiment amongst the entire railroad... is that we are tired." Who can blame them when considering most over the road engineers and conductors are on call nearly every day. Many of the new policies are pushing that on call time to all but 1 or 2 days a month.
The expectations and sacrifices asked of these railroaders is not a result of a dying industry trying to squeeze out a profit. On the contrary, many corporate railroads are producing record profits nearly every quarter. Some have seen as much as a 23% increase in profits in a year's time. These profits have come at a cost to workers.
Engineers and conductors were considered "essential workers" during the height of the pandemic. As they continued to work, corporate railroads continued cutting the workforce by the thousands. According to labornotes.org, "Class 1 railroads employed fewer workers this January than any month since 2012... Railroads have cut as many as 35% of workers in some titles."
Expecting more from less is part of the formula of PSR (Precision Scheduled Railroading). All Class 1 Railroads have adopted some aspects of PSR in order to increase operating ratios. In other words, more profit from less expenses. Workers are a part of those expenses. It is only fitting that the corporate railroads would like to expect more from a smaller workforce as well.
These railroads may get what they want as they have filed a restraining order prohibiting the unions from striking. Judge Pittman accepted this temporary restraining order and extended it to February 8. Under the RLA (Railroad Labor Act) railroad unions are federally prevented from striking unless a dispute is considered "Major." Unfortunately, many railroaders fear this will be ruled a minor dispute. The RLA would then prevent workers from striking.
SMART-TD and the BLET (the unions representing the conductors and engineers) have been battling this dispute in court as they also negotiate the next contract for railroaders. It seems as though there is very little agreement between the unions and the railroad carriers.
No matter what ruling is made, it has become obvious that corporate railroads chase profits at the detriment of their own employees. Forced overtime, job cuts, and on call demands have put railroaders in the very tough position of choosing between providing for their family or being there for their family. A decision that is impossible to make.