Home > Uncategorized > In the rail strike, both political parties failed the workers – posted 12/4/2022

In the rail strike, both political parties failed the workers – posted 12/4/2022

When Congress passed a bill to pre-empt a national railroad strike by imposing an agreement 55% of national railroad workers voted to reject, it was a sad object lesson. Ultimately, neither political party, Democrats or Republicans, represented or cared about worker interests.

At issue in the dispute was scheduling and guaranteed paid sick leave. The railroad workers have zero paid sick leave now. The expectation is apparently that workers should work when sick or use vacation leave if they get sick or if they have a medical appointment. If workers get sick unexpectedly they can face disciplinary action for taking time off. Scheduling pressures have been brutal and have led to many workers quitting.

President Biden, who has touted himself as a pro-labor President, failed workers here. He is forcing an agreement down workers’ throats when the majority voted “no”. Under the 1926 Railway Labor Act, the federal government has the authority to impose labor settlements on the rail industry. That industry is outside the National Labor Relations Board. Biden had campaigned in 2020 on the promise to guarantee at least 7 paid sick days.

Paid sick leave is a matter of great consequence to workers. It is a benefit 33 million American workers don’t have. About one in five civilian sector workers don’t have it. Who gets the benefit is an interesting story, CNN reports:

“Public sector workers, management and professional employees and higher-earning staffers are more likely to have access to paid sick days.”

Low-wage and part-time workers are often the ones who have no paid sick leave. Also, roughly one-third of workers in service, construction and farming occupations don’t have paid sick leave.

Congress members get unlimited sick days. They are not using vacation time when they get sick.

Having just lived through a pandemic, you might think railroad owners would reconsider paid sick leave but they hate the idea. To understand why the railroad barons are unwilling to negotiate around paid sick leave, the recent history of that industry is relevant. The writer Eric Levitz provides the best explanation I have seen. He says the bosses are fine with giving generous raises (24% over 5 years and $1000 bonuses) but paid sick leave runs afoul of P.S.R. or precision scheduled railroading. Levitz says:

“P.S.R. is an operational strategy that aims to minimize the ratio between railroad’s operating costs and their revenues through various cost-cutting and (ostensibly) efficiency-increasing measures. The basic idea is to transport more freight using fewer workers and railcars.”

Over the last six years America’s freight carriers have gotten rid of 30% of their employees. So the railroads compensate for the lost staffing by forcing workers into irregular schedules with little time off. The railroads don’t want to pay for more workers. The result is a short staffing that makes for more dangerous working conditions.

Levitz says the owners are making trains longer. Instead of two 50-car trains, they are more likely to use one 100-car train since one very long train will necessitate fewer crew members.

The railroad industry has become remarkably profitable. Last year, the seven dominant North American railway companies had a combined net income of $27 billion. This margin is double what it was 10 years earlier.

The railroad barons are treating workers like they are machines. P.S.R. has worked so well for the bosses that they want to keep it going as is even though the unions had reduced their paid sick day request from 14 days to 7 days. In this day and age, it should be clear that life can throw curve balls. Like everybody, workers may need a day off for things like a sick kid or a parent who is hospitalized or dying.

It is wrong to impose a rejected contract. Willie Adam, President of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union tweeted:

“Congress talks about saving democracy at the ballot box but they just totally undermined workplace democracy by imposing a contract that workers voted to reject.”

President Biden was obviously concerned about the cost of a potential strike and what it would mean for the economy but his actions are taking away workers’ collective bargaining rights. Only workers should be able to decide when and under what conditions they withhold their labor. Also the actions show that Democrats’ alleged concern and support for labor is mostly lip service. At a crunch time, the Democrats side with the railroad bosses and acted as strikebusters.

It must be remembered that back in 2020 Democrats also promised to pass a law that would strengthen collective bargaining, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. What exactly have the Democrats delivered for labor? Around paid sick leave, they folded, demonstrating loyalty to their rail industry donors – not workers.

As for the Republicans, their claim about being a working class party could not be more laughable. The overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House and Senate voted against labor on paid sick leave. It is not clear how you represent the working class when you oppose organized labor at every turn. The Republicans are about creating a fake pro-labor facade. They remain the big tent for MAGA fascists, QAnon believers, Christian evangelicals, libertarians and the 1%.

You have to ask: why is it that the workers are always the ones who have to sacrifice? How come workers’ sick leave is so much less important than the owners’ profits? In this era of massive income inequality, where billionaires make out like bandits, railroad workers get zero sick days.

The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer any guaranteed paid sick leave.

The Republicans may have become a horror show but the Democrats often sell out too. There is no pro-labor party in America. When he was running for president Biden rightly called the lack of paid sick leave “a national disgrace”. It is a national disgrace corporate Democrats can apparently abide.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. jlewandohotmailcom
    December 7, 2022 at 1:08 am

    I understand why Biden did what he did, but yes, this is a national disgrace and a perfect example of how rampant capitalism is on the brink of turning America into a kleptocratic aristocracy (to invent a term).

  2. Patricia A Dawson
    December 7, 2022 at 10:12 pm

    Very well said…as always. There is so much that makes my head spin, I don’t know that I can keep up anymore. Thanks for helping me to keep up with things.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: