Labor United Educational League Statement on State Intervention in Railroad Strike

LUEL has been following the actions of the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen who voted to authorize a strike on July 11th, 2022, with a 99% approval rate.  This strike was blocked by the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) who failed to mediate an agreement beneficial to the workers for the 12 unions involved. 

More than 115,000 workers from these unions are voting on a tentative agreement after the 30 day cooling off period ending on September 16th and an intervention by the Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh on September 14th in an eleventh hour meeting with the rail unions. The negotiations have included disputes over the punitive “Hi-Viz” attendance policy and “precision based engineering.”  These policies are risking the lives of the engineers who are increasingly being put in the position of working one man crews, a situation so deadly that the railways have seen a continually upward mortality increase over the course of the last 5 years.  In the years preceding the pandemic, the majority of the nation’s Class I rail carriers adopted slash and burn operating plans with only one goal in mind; profits without regard to the health, safety, satisfaction or well-being of their employees, their customers, or our Nation at large.

The “Hi-Viz” attendance policy is a direct attack on the workers of railway industries.  These workers are already breaking down under the intense pressure of the demands put on them by their bosses, and this policy is just stacking further pressure on them by threatening their jobs with a point system that penalizes them for basic quality of life needs.  A railroad worker is quoted as saying “We have been blindsided by this new Hi-Viz policy, which provides zero inspiration, and has already begun to flip everything upside down for me, for my family, fellow coworkers (who have begun to quit) my health [and] my social life outside of this place. . . Come to the table with those of us who work in the trenches every day and together create a reasonable solution that would inspire every single one of us to remain safe, healthy and productive enough to competitively move our company forward.”

Under the immense pressure from the combined weight of the National Carriers Conference Committee, the Association of American Railroads, the Department of Labor, and Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board, the remaining rail unions on September 14th have agreed to a new tentative deal which is not substantially different from the original recommendations made by the NCCC-PEB. The new deal exempts medical appointments from counting against attendance and gives a pathetic ONE extra day off a year.

In an effort to hide the complicity of the Democrats to their corporate donors, corporate controlled news sites have issued article after article saying only the Republicans were against the strike, but this is factually wrong. Pelosi and the rest of the house Democrats have spent the whole time saying they hope they are not required to vote on a resolution to this strike. Not because they do not wish to see the government intervene, but because they would be forced to go on record voting against their donors interests and jeopardize their reelection campaign. Which is why Sanders took all the credit for thwarting the bill to force the unions to accept the PEB recommendations since he is not affected by corporate donors. A useful tool for the Democrats.

What’s clear to the railroad workers is that these recommendations by President Biden’s appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) are made at the behest of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) representing the monopoly cartel of the biggest railroad companies. There was even threat from the NCCC to push congressional intervention should the remaining rail unions not accept the recommendations by the NCCC-PEB, ultimately requiring the Secretary of Labor to step in.

We will see if the membership will agree with these minor concessions, but for the time being the strike has been thwarted by government intervention at the behest of monopolies until the new deal can be ratified.

We must ask ourselves what fairness is there in a democracy when monopoly strangles the popular aspirations of the American people? When monopoly tries desperately to snuff out any and all attempts to build and exercise democratic working class organization? It is the right of all workers to form a union and to democratically determine its actions. Yet this is objectively not the position of President Biden, nor of the NCCC who work to entangle our unions in monopoly-controlled bureaucracy which saps from the militant spirit of our workers who desperately struggle for bread, health, and democracy.

LUEL supports the members of these unions and their right to control their own futures through the democratic principles that allow them to vote on their own contracts.  The workers need to be heard in their demands regarding these negotiations.