The emerging struggle of US Railway Workers

Adam Smith, The ISL, 14.12.2022

More than a century of federal legislation has been written to prevent railway strike[1]. The railway industry is arguably the most first one that comes to mind when thinking of labor strikes and militancy, along with the miners. Beginning with the Pullman strike of 1894 and the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, federal forces as well as private ones like the Pinkerton, have been sent to deal with labor militancy. The Taft-Hartly act was passed after the postwar strike wave, reversing the gains of the Norris-LaGuardia and NLRB acts of 1932 and 1935. Apart from ban on wildcat strikes, secondary strikes, jurisdictional strikes, closed union shops, section 301 also allows for employers to bring lawsuits against striking employees for damages for “interfering” in their business or not following a “no-strike” pledge.

If there is no agreement by that time, all 12 unions could strike on December 9, 2022. As a matter of fact, in anticipation of such action, some chemicals and other dangerous fluids will not be transported after December 3rd, since it could leave explosive or incendiary fluids unattended.” [2]

Harry Truman, although “opposed” to the act, used it during his presidency. Similarly, Biden who claims to be “an Amtrak guy” and a supporter of the unions, signed an order, ahead of the December 9th deadline, forcing the Railway Union who haven’t capitulated so far, to accept a deal containing a 24% rise over 5 years(less than inflation), and no sick days. AOC and other “progressive” democrats voted for it.

“I don’t like going against the ability of unions to strike,” Ms. Pelosi said. “But weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike. Jobs will be lost. Even union jobs will be lost.

Eight unions voted to support that agreement, but four did not. The legislation under consideration would impose the deal on all 12 unions, effectively forcing union employees to continue working.” [3]

Apart for monetary compensation, unions are raising several other issues:

“Freight railroads operate 24/7/365. Almost all train employees work on call, with only 2 hours or less notice before going to work, not including travel time. With the massive cutbacks over the past period, everyone has to live by the phone. It is not unusual for employees at some railroads to work 3 or more weeks without any real time off from the job other than the federally mandated rest periods between shifts (most of which was time spent sleeping). Disciplinary charges, meaning suspensions without pay were given to a lot of employees. In some cases, they were even denied the ability to attend family funerals under threats of suspension and/or dismissal. This is why the employees are fighting this time around. Enough is enough.” [4]

“Rail workers have argued that they can be penalized under current attendance policies for taking a day off because of illness, and that the ability to time off for short-term illness is a safety matter: that their job requires a high level of concentration that they cannot meet if they are ill” [5]

“Everybody goes to work and there’s nothing positive to talk about,” said Doering, who is also the Nevada legislative director for SMART Transportation Division, a labor union of train, airline and other transportation workers. “There are no positive things going on within the industry. You are forced to choose between your career and your life.” 

Doering previously said workdays lasting up to 19 hours, consisting of 12-hour shifts and hours of waiting around for transportation or relief crews, have become the norm. So too has spending more time in motels waiting for one’s next gig than at one’s actual home.” [6]

Due to the incompetent and corrupted union leadership, a legal railway strike seems impossible. A wildcat one is the only remaining option to secure a decent contract.

For the repeal of the Taft-Hartley act! Down with Biden’s injunction!
For a railway strike!


[1] Liability of Employees under State Law for Damages Caused by Wildcat Strike: The Brown







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