Immediate release allowed
December 5, 2022
We Support This Country’s Rail Workers Right to Strike For Safer Working Conditions and Paid Sick Leave!
An Official Statement from Radical Elders
On December 1st the U.S. Senate voted to deny rail workers their democratic right to strike and to side again with some of the most powerful robber barons in US history, the seven Class 1 freight railroads.
For elders, the protection of railway work and its workers is essential. For Radical Elders, that social importance is enhanced by the political importance of these workers’ fighting for the right to strike over safety and paid sick days.
Radical Elders understands that, for seniors, the agreement represents the continuing abuse of a vital part of this country’s frontline workforce. Biden and Congress are carrying out the will of rail companies at the expense of those who put their lives at risk each day to get us food, water, medicine, clothing, fuel and vital equipment. The rail-based supply line is crippled after lay-offs of over 20 percent of the workforce between 2019 and 2021. These supply-line disruptions have sent prices soaring, forcing many elders to choose between some of these basics and paying their rent or mortgage and face a potentially life-threatening winter.
We should all be rallying to honor the work of rail workers and protect their security. It’s clear that President Biden and the Congress aren’t going to do that.
Eighty Democratic and Republican Senators approved President Biden’s rail contract agreement that does not contain any paid sick days for overworked rail workers, fails to address the companies’ unfair points-based attendance policy, and does nothing to improve the federal government’s oversight of the dangerous Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The Senate failed to pass an amendment to guarantee the seven sick days the House passed in a separate bill Wednesday or the 15 paid sick days rail workers demanded.
“Because of PSR, our members are forced to work more hours, have less stability, suffer more stress, and receive less rest. The ask for sick leave was not out of preference, but rather out of necessity. No American worker should ever have to face the decision of going to work sick, fatigued or mentally unwell versus getting disciplined or being fired by their employer, yet that is exactly what is happening every single day on this nation’s largest freight railroads” Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees of International Teamsters (BMWED)
“This agreement,” President Biden said, “is a big win for America, a great deal for both sides. What was negotiated was so much better than anything they ever had.” The “big win” agreement calls for a 24% pay raise over 4 years (below the inflation index) and one personal day per year.
Four unions, representing the majority of the 110,000 U.S. rail workers, who handle a third of all freight, voted against the contract and oppose this week’s Senate vote: BMWED; The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; The Sheet Metal, Air & Transportation Workers (SMART); and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers: “Congress should not have to intervene. The railroads should provide paid sick leave to its employees. They have the money to do it, and it literally would cost them a penny of every dollar of record profits to provide it. It’s only 2% of what CSX, NS and UP spent so far this year in stock buybacks. It’s literally nothing to them, yet they refuse to provide it.”
Rail workers have a strict points-based attendance policy forced upon them with no relief from either the U.S. Department of Labor or OSHA: “Workers say that they have been pushed to their physical and mental limits on the job, where they are expected to be on call 24/7 — sometimes working for weeks at a time with only one day off per month — and face a strict points-based attendance policy that quickly leads to penalties.”
Instead of the federal government using the power of the President, the Secretaries of Labor, Transportation and Commerce and the Congress they have given in to every move the rail robber barons have made to increase profits by cutting the workforce, failing to modernize and maintain equipment and rails and violating safety rules. Trying to force one worker crew on trains up to 4 miles long and PSR, have resulted in more deadly accidents across the country.
We should all unite in solidarity with rail workers and their unions to force Biden to extend President Obama’s 2015 Executive Order 13706, requiring federal contractors to provide employees with seven paid sick days annually, to cover up to now excluded rail workers. The struggle over PSR, points-based attendance continue as does the need to abolish the 1926 Railway Labor Act, which substitutes bargaining, arbitration and mediation for strikes to resolve labor disputes and for the revolutionary reform of public/worker control of rail and all transportation.
Radical Elders is a U.S.-based national organization of elder activists committed to fundamental social change. It practices democracy and intentionality.