November 30, 2022

Railroad Strike

The U.S. House of Representatives [is] set to vote Wednesday to block a rail strike that could potentially happen as early as Dec. 9, after President Joe Biden warned of dire economic consequences and massive job losses. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers will vote Wednesday to impose a tentative contract deal struck in September on a dozen unions representing 115,000 workers… Despite the close ties between unions and the Democratic Party, several labor leaders criticized Biden asking Congress to impose a contract that workers in four out of 12 unions rejected over its lack of paid sick leave.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left criticizes railroad companies for not providing paid sick leave.

“More than one hundred thousand workers employed at America’s railways do not currently receive paid sick days and face strict and punitive attendance policies that leave many with no weekends and little time off. At the Warren Buffett–owned BNSF, for example, workers are allotted a point balance that diminishes if they’re unavailable for work — even in cases of illness or emergency. Those who reach a balance of zero can incur a ten- or twenty-day suspension, with a subsequent zero balance resulting in termination…

Many are expected to be on call more or less around the clock and can be required to report for shifts of nearly eighty hours on only ninety minutes’ notice. Shareholders, meanwhile, have received bigger and bigger payouts.”

Luke Savage, Jacobin Magazine

“Providing 15 days of paid sick leave would cost the industry roughly $688 million per year, according to the rail companies. But with railroad profit margins at record highs, this cost would hardly harm profitability. BNSF, one of the largest railroad freight carriers, saw its net income climb four percent to $4.5 billion in the first nine months of this year. Last year, the railway raked in $6 billion in profits, a 16% jump from the year prior…

“Similarly, Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the U.S., said it had its ‘most profitable year ever in 2021,’ reporting $6.5 billion in profits… Compared to 2000, the railway today employs 18,000 fewer workers but makes 85% more in revenue. Since 2021, the company has also spent nearly $13 billion repurchasing its own stock – enriching Union Pacific executives at the expense of their workers.”

Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria, Popular Information

“The irony of this whole fiasco is that the critical nature of railroad workers is exactly why their rights as workers are so neutered, even as the freight rail industry is flushed with cash… [Due to the Railway Labor Act], workers cannot freely engage in collective bargaining for their jobs, and often must accept whatever scraps the dominant corporations offer. However, while the law presents the problem, Congress must act to pass the resolution and the president must sign it. So the choice is in the hands of the current Democratic majority…

“In response to industry’s request for congressional intervention, SMART-TD president Jeremy Ferguson said: ‘This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.’ Ferguson’s condemnation against the carriers went further, highlighting how the industry has complained of overregulation, yet when the time is convenient, ‘railroad executives… now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.’”

Jarod Facundo, American Prospect

From the Right

The right urges Congress to prevent the strike.

The right urges Congress to prevent the strike.

“The workers for eight [out of the 12] unions have voted to adopt the deal that was proposed by the Presidential Emergency Board this summer… A strike would pit the special interests of four unions against workers across the entire economy. Mr. Biden notes that as many as 765,000 workers could lose their jobs in the first two weeks of a strike…

“The unions have had ample opportunity for collective bargaining, and the agreement includes a 24% pay raise over five years. The workers who rejected the deal cited paid sick leave, but the deal includes a new day of unscheduled sick leave on top of existing railroad policies that grant an average three weeks of vacation and paid sick leave starting as soon as after four sick days… A vote to enact a labor deal should be easy if legislators want to keep the U.S. economy running.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“In September, Biden gloated about how the deal he’d secured then proved wrong those who doubted he could head off a strike. Oops: Looks like it didn’t. But it did score points for Democrats, delaying potential labor action until after the midterms (though perhaps inviting the unions to demand even more)...

“So now Union Joe has suddenly become Union-Buster-in-Chief, asking Congress to force a deal on workers, and to hell with their ‘choices.’ It’s the correct move: No one wants a rail strike to nuke an already ailing US economy. But it sure would be nice if the prez finally understood that everyday businesses, taxpayers and consumers are also sometimes threatened by greedy unions — and that disputes between management and workers should generally be left to themselves, without Uncle Sam’s thumb on the scale.”

Editorial Board, New York Post

“Passing this before the weekend may be easier said than done — and not just in the Senate, either. Schumer gave Mitch McConnell credit for supporting the deal and the bill imposing it, but neither man can be assured of enough votes to succeed. Bernie Sanders has already balked at the terms of this deal, repeatedly and publicly, and Sanders carries a lot of weight among Senate progressives. Marco Rubio staked out the working-class hero position in McConnell’s caucus, and won’t be the last to do so. It will take 60 votes at some point to get this bill passed…

“If I had to place a bet, I’d guess on some sort of deal that gets a bill passed by Friday afternoon. But Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden will have to cough up some concessions to make it work — not for workers, but for Republicans. Perhaps an agreement to adjourn after passing an omnibus for the remainder of the fiscal year would do it, shutting down the lame-duck session before Pelosi and Schumer can conduct any more mischief.”

Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

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