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Bay Area Solidarity Rally For Railroad Workers! Defend The Right To Strike!

Saturday, October 22, 2022
3:00 AM - 4:30 AM
Event Type:
United Front Committee For A Labor Party
Location Details:
Port Of Oakland
Shoreline Park
2777 Middle Harbor Road,

10/22 Bay Area Solidarity Rally For Railroad Workers! Defend The Right To Strike! An Injury To One Is An Injury To All! Repeal The Anti-labor Railway Labor Act Saturday October 22, 2022 3PM Port Of Oakland Shoreline Park 2777 Middle Harbor Road, Oakland US railroad workers are continuing to mostly vote against a proposed contract that does nothing to defend their health and safety condition on he job with long dangerous hours.

Using the Railway Labor Act as a union busting tool which it is, workers are being told they really don’t have the right to strike and have to accept a contract that destroys workers lives and conditions.

Working people and unions need to rally to defend railroad workers and all other unions and working people who are under attack from striking NUHW Healthcare workers, OEA OUSD teachers, UTR WCCSD teachers and all public workers. We also need to defend Amazon, Starbucks and all worker who are fighting to get organized and have a union.

They face union busting billionaires that flagrantly violate weak US labor laws that are not even enforced by Biden & his "union" Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. We have to fight the closures of public schools and privatization of public services, privatization of the Port of Oakland and defend all public services and fight systemic racism.

With 750,000 unionized workers whose contracts expire next year, we need to build a united working class movement of all unions and working people to back each other up and fight together. Business unionism will not defend working people, our unions and worker rights. Join us in a solidarity rally for Railroad workers and their right to strike and all workers in this country and around the world.

Defend The Right To Strike, Stop Union Busting With General Strikes! An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!

Initiated By United Front Committee For A Labor Party Endorsed by Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, Workers World Party, Amazon Workers Network Bay Area.

For more information

Workers must be constantly on call to work, making it impossible to live their lives.

“People are sick of being treated like garbage. And they’re ready to go out there, ready to go out on strike and, and the railroads know this,” says Lindsey.

A Norfolk Southern freight train passes a train on a siding as it approaches a crossing in Homestead, Pennsylvania, April 27, 2022. It’s Hugh Sawyer’s 65th birthday, and he is pissed off. A 35-year veteran of Norfolk Southern, he had spent the day before working 12 hours, driving a train from Chattanooga to Atlanta. When Sawyer started his career in the mid-1980s, the average train trip between Chattanooga and Atlanta took five to six hours. Due to understaffing and negligence of rail infrastructure, today it often takes 12 hours to make the same journey.

When Sawyer got home around 7:30 Monday morning, he was able to sleep for only five hours. Now, he is spending his 65th birthday evening constantly refreshing his computer, to see if he is being called into work. It’s 8 p.m., and if Sawyer makes it to midnight without getting called in, he will get a day off. “It’s just impossible to do anything, even on your birthday, when you have no idea when you are going to work,” Sawyer tells me.

Sawyer’s frustration is at the core of why 57,000 railroad workers are threatening to strike this Friday, unless a deal is reached to address quality-of-life issues. If the two large rail unions—the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division (SMART-TD), and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)—decide to walk out, it would be the first mass railroad strike since 1980. Friday is the end of a 60-day “cooling off” period triggered the first time the unions threatened to strike back in July.

More from Mike Elk:
Under the federal Railway Labor Act, railroad workers like Sawyer aren’t covered by the federal overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Instead, they are only guaranteed ten hours off from work every 24 hours—barely enough time for most railroad workers to sleep. Scheduling is chaotic, with most workers expected to be on call on their off days to see if they get called into work. “You miss birthdays, you miss your kid’s plays, you miss doctor’s appointments because you never quite know when you are going to have one day off,” says Sawyer, who serves as the treasurer of Railroad Workers United.

For decades, many railroad workers were forced to put up with this chaotic lifestyle, because the Railway Labor Act gave the power to Congress to block any strike by workers. Time and again, when railroad workers have moved to strike, Congress has stopped them, in the name of ensuring the free movement of commerce across the country.

Some of the 12 rail unions have accepted a wage deal that would increase wages by 21 percent over five years (which would amount to a wage cut, since inflation is at 9 percent). The deal was based on recommendations from an expert panel put together by the Biden administration to monitor the negotiations. However, SMART-TD and BLET have balked at the proposal, and are holding out for better terms.

The unions are getting additional pressure to strike from groups like Railroad Workers United, a rank-and-file organization of union members from across the different railway unions. A new survey of 3,162 railroad workers released by Railroad Workers United revealed that 96 percent of railroad workers are prepared to strike.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, railroad workers aren’t covered by the federal overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

This time, the main issues aren’t wages, but time off from work. Scheduling deficiencies have been a point of contention since earlier this year, when BNSF, the Warren Buffett–owned rail company, instituted a new scheduling policy that workers said punishes them for taking time off. BNSF tweaked its policy in May, but not to the satisfaction of those who say it hampered public safety and damaged worker rights.

Railroads have found themselves under capacity to deal with an uptick in demand for goods during the pandemic, thanks to years of deliberate understaffing to maximize profits. Critics claim that the scheduling policies are an attempt to squeeze as much out of existing workers as possible, rather than hire new ones.

Sawyer has seen a real sea change in how people feel about time off work in the last few years. “I don’t know what happened during the pandemic that woke everybody up, and I’m talking about all of America, but yeah, they had a big effect,” says Sawyer. “People are saying now, there’s something more to life than wasting it on the railroad or at my job. And that’s true across the board. I think it’s helped people re-establish different priorities in their lives.”

Thirty-five-year-old Union Pacific railroad engineer Michael Lindsey is representative of that new culture of young workers unwilling to put up with the conditions of the past. “The strike absolutely needs to happen,” says Lindsey. “This is not about money. This is about quality of life. This is about getting time off with your family.”

As the railroads have laid off more and more staff, they have forced workers like Lindsey to regularly work 80 to 90 hours a week, leading to an exodus of staff. “In some ways, a strike has already been going on,” says Lindsey. “A lot of people that are calling it quits, just saying I can’t handle it anymore, not necessarily just because of the work schedule. But also because they realized that these are companies that really don’t care about you.”

With support for a railroad strike running high, the railroads have taken to playing hardball. Rail management appears to be preparing for the possibility of a strike. On Friday, the nation’s largest rail companies began informing shipping companies that they would not be loading certain types of shipments for rail transportation as they prepared for a strike.

Under the Railway Labor Act, Congress can stop any rail strike by voting to impose a contract unilaterally on workers who haven’t accepted one. (This was last done in 1980.) House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Bloomberg on Monday that if the rail union strikes, Congress would act to stop it. The Biden administration has also been working to try to avert the strike, but Hoyer’s comments, stepping in on the side of blocking a strike, take things to another level.

Union leaders feel that the decision to stop shipping specific types of freight was designed to pressure lawmakers to settle any strike quickly. Both Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD, and Dennis Pierce, president of BLET, issued a joint statement denouncing the move. “The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them,” said the union leaders in a joint statement issued on Sunday. “Our Unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.”

Currently, both sides are negotiating over a deal that would allow workers to take guaranteed paid days off to go to the doctor. However, the deal would need to be voted upon by the BLET and SMART-TD membership. It’s unclear if the deal would pass, as many workers on the railroad want more freedom to have lives in their off-hours. “People are sick of being treated like garbage. And they’re ready to go out there, ready to go out on strike and, and the railroads know this,” says Lindsey.

Warren Buffet’s BNSF Murder On The Rails: Death on a train: A tragedy that helped fuel the railroad showdown One engineer put off a doctor’s visit, his family said, and died of a heart attack weeks later

By Lauren Kaori Gurley
September 17, 2022 at 12:51 p.m. EDT Aaron Hiles and his father in an undated photo in Eureka Springs, Ark. (Family photo) Aaron Hiles, a locomotive engineer, told his wife he “felt different,” though he couldn’t say exactly how. He made an appointment to see a doctor, his family said. But then his employer, BNSF, one of the largest freight rail carriers in the nation, unexpectedly called him into work. Failing to show up would invite penalties under a new attendance system BNSF had adopted just a few months earlier, a policy that unions have decried as the strictest in the nation. So Hiles, 51, delayed his doctor’s visit, his family said, and went into work.

A few weeks later, on June 16, Hiles suffered a heart attack and died in an engine room on a BNSF freight train somewhere between Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Madison, Iowa — a tragedy that helped fuel a labor standoff that last week nearly shut down the U.S. economy.

Railroad attendance policies were at the heart of the dramatic showdown between the nation’s largest rail carriers and railroad workers, who did not strike after President Biden and other top administration officials brokered a last-minute agreement early Thursday. The deal includes a 24 percent pay increase by 2024 — the largest for railroad workers in more than four decades — and new flexibility for workers to take time off when they are hospitalized or to attend routine doctor’s appointments without penalty.

But discontent among rail workers is still brewing. They say few details have been made available about the agreement, which leaves the points-based attendance policy in place for other types of emergencies. And some say they doubt the deal will address their fundamental concerns about quality of life amid painful labor shortages and the continued spread of covid-19. “This policy is pretty cruel. Everybody is worried about points,” said Joel Dixon, a BNSF conductor and Hiles’s best friend of more than two decades. “It’s always a question whether Aaron would still be around if he made that doctor’s appointment. Him and I talked everyday. We were brothers.”

BNSF would not discuss the details of Hiles’s death but pointed out that employees receive generous vacation packages and are able to take time off when needed without fear of retribution. The company said that it is committed to working with employees when “extenuating circumstances” arise but that the points-based policies are necessary to keep the trains running during a challenging worker crunch.

Biden scores deal on rail strike, but worker discontent emerges
Still, reaction on social media has been outraged since union leaders walked away with a deal that guarantees rail workers only a single additional paid day off. Some workers said they weren’t sure how the negotiators arrived at these policies, in their tug-of-war of proposals in closed-door talks over some 20 hours at the Department of Labor offices.

More specific contract language will be distributed to workers in the coming weeks and explained in educational sessions intended to persuade workers to ratify the agreements, union leaders say.

The stakes are high. Unless union leaders persuade 115,000 workers across 12 unions to vote to ratify contracts, a nationwide rail strike is still possible — and could snarl much of the nation’s supply-chain just ahead of the midterm elections.

Points-based attendance policies date to 2020, when Union Pacific, one of the country’s largest carriers, rolled out new rules to help ensure staffing during the pandemic. Under these policies, employees are granted a certain number of points, which are deducted when they miss a request to come into work or call out of work unexpectedly. If their point totals fall too low, penalties can apply up to and including termination.

BNSF adopted its own points-based attendance policy in February 2022. Unions called BNSF’s policy “the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier.” BNSF said that the policy was implemented to “incentivize consistent and reliable attendance” amid increased demand for smooth-running services. Employees can gain points by agreeing to be on call for 14 days straight.

Rail carriers have been dealing with high turnover and labor shortages over the past two years. Rail transportation is down 12,500 jobs since the pandemic began, according to the Labor Department.

Worker shortages are fueling America’s biggest labor crises
Under these policies, union leaders say workers have lost points or faced penalties for calling out sick with covid, suffering a heart attack, and getting into a severe car accident. Another employee lost points after missing work when his mother died.

BNSF spokesman Benjamin Wilemon denied those claims, saying that the system may automatically assign points for absences but that employees can explain the situation to their supervisor and regain their points.

Wilemon said that BNSF’s attendance policy is designed so that “employees can take time off when needed” and that “employees are encouraged to use their points without fear of retribution.” He noted that points are available to use for doctor’s visits and that employees have at least three weeks of vacation and 10 personal days available to them. “It is unfortunate that some would use the death of Mr. Hiles to further their agenda while ignoring the facts of this tragic situation,” Wilemon said. “Out of respect for his family, BNSF will not discuss the circumstances around his passing.”

Wilemon also noted that workers received a 25 percent increase in personal days this year and that employees cannot work more than six days in a row under federal law. Union leaders say the federal law allowance is misleading, because time spent stranded in a hotel, after working a long shift, waiting to be called back to work, does not count as a work day. Just missing a phone call from BNSF to come into work results in a 15-point deduction, BNSF confirmed.

Many conductors and engineers live in rural parts of the country with limited cell service. Once called, workers have 90 minutes to two hours to report to work, regardless of the time of day and how far they live from their station. Failing to show up for work on weekends, holidays and other ‘high impact’ days, such as Super Bowl Sunday and Mother’s Day, result in the largest deductions. Although employees can win back points by being available to work 14 days in a row.

More than 700 BNSF employees have quit their jobs since the policy was rolled out in February, union officials say, exacerbating the workload for those who remain. BNSF’s Wilemon said the company has seen more workers taking planned vacation days since rolling out its attendance-based policy. He said that workers take off 24 hours, on average, between each shift and that that number has increased since the attendance policy kicked in. He added that the policy has resulted in fewer attendance-based discipline actions.

BNSF employees say the points-based attendance system has worsened a difficult occupation that already weighs on their mental and physical health. Many railway workers suffer chronic health conditions, such as obesity and sleep apnea, according to union officials. Workers regularly stay in motels for days on end, unsure when they’ll be able to return home, exacerbating tensions in already strained marriages and relationships with their children.

Jordan Boone, 41, a BNSF conductor in Galesburg, Ill., has five kids at home. Since the policy went into effect in February, Boone said, he misses most sports games, birthdays, recitals and vacations. If he is lucky, he can squeeze in a few hours with his family a week.

“BNSF came up with this policy, because of all the cuts they’ve made, and they’re trying to do all they can to get us to pick up the slack. They haven’t hired enough,” Boone said. “The time away from family has a big impact on our mental health. I know people that have missed doctor’s appointments for months and months because of this policy.”

Aaron Hiles signed up for a rail job at BNSF in Galesburg after serving in the Marines in Desert Storm and Somalia. The job was prestigious, but life on the railroad was tough. Hiles spent weeks away from home, living out of motels, working through Christmas and other holidays, and collecting coins and reading about current events to pass the time. But things took a turn for the worse when BNSF adopted its updated points policy in February, Hiles’s parents said. They noticed Aaron looked “tired and really run down.”

“When he told us about the mandate, I said, ‘Someone’s going to have a heart attack and die,’ and he said, ‘Yes, they will,’” recalled Donna Hiles, his mother. On the day Hiles died, two BNSF representatives traveled to his home in Lee Summit, Mo., to inform his wife. She called his parents to let them know their son had passed. BNSF paid for Hiles’s funeral expenses, but his parents never heard directly from them. “It’s devastating,” Donna Hiles said. “He was larger than life. He was kindhearted. I dare you to find one person who disliked him. He had hundreds of friends.”

BMWED Membership Votes Against Ratification of Tentative Agreement (Class I Freight Railroads)

Published: Oct 10 2022 12:25PM

October 10, 2022

BMWED membership voted against ratification of the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads, sending the two sides back to the bargaining table and resetting the countdown to a potential work stoppage.

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell said. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

The American Arbitration Association counted and verified the election results. In total, 11,845 BMWED members submitted ballots, 6,646 against ratification and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement. 99 remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.

“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” President Cardwell said. “BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented, and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”

The rejection of the tentative agreement results in a “status quo” period where the BMWED will reengage bargaining with the Class I freight carriers. That status quo period will extend to 5 days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for Nov. 14. Assuming Congress returns to session on the 14th there could be no “self help” until after the 19th.

IBT BMWED Rejects Deal; Strike Not Imminent

October 10, 2022 M/W
Written by Frank N. Wilner, Capitol Hill Contributing Editor
BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said his union would maintain the status quo until at least Nov. 19—five days after the anticipated Nov. 14 return of Congress following mid-term elections. The NCCC said that “in the event of a failed ratification, the parties have agreed to maintain the status quo for a period of time pending any further discussions and assessment of next steps.” Hardly unexpectedly, but still troubling to railroads and their shippers, members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Union (BMWED) have voted to reject a tentative contract amending wages, benefits and work rules. Barely 43% of the almost 12,000 BMWED members casting ballots voted in favor of the agreement, said the union Oct. 10 in announcing the results. A work stoppage is not imminent.

Four of 12 rail labor unions already have ratified tentative agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), which bargains on behalf of most Class I railroads and many smaller ones. Seven other rail labor unions are currently conducting ratification votes. All provisions of existing wage, benefits and work rules agreements will remain in force as contracts negotiated under the Railway Labor Act have no expiration date and are changed only by ratified amendments.

A work stoppage by BMWED—or any of the other seven unions that have yet to ratify—is not anticipated before late November, if at all. A work stoppage by any of the rail unions, however, can be expected to cause a nationwide rail shutdown. Carriers also could trigger such a shutdown by locking out the work force—as it did in 1992—if a work stoppage is initiated against just one railroad. There has not a nationwide rail shutdown since.

BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said his union would maintain the status quo until at least Nov. 19—five days after the anticipated Nov. 14 return of Congress following mid-term elections. The NCCC said that “in the event of a failed ratification, the parties have agreed to maintain the status quo for a period of time pending any further discussions and assessment of next steps.” That Nov. 19 date mentioned by BMWED may be extended, as voting by the two largest of the rail unions—the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET, also a Teamsters affiliate)—will not be completed before Nov. 17, and votes by members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) may not be counted before Nov. 20.

Moreover, Nov. 19 is the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day—Thursday, Nov. 24—meaning many House and Senate members may not be in Washington that week to vote on legislation ending a work stoppage. The following weeks are equally problematic, as religious holidays occur in December. Congress then doesn’t return until early January, and it will not be known until after Election Day, Nov. 8, which political party will control the House and/or Senate. Compounding uncertainty—even chaos should even one senator filibuster and prolong a proposed legislated end to a work stoppage—is that congressional action, if necessary, will occur during a lame-duck session of Congress. Many members who were defeated or are retiring will be negotiating new employment with lobbying and law firms—a Washington “revolving door” tradition. There will be incentive for many to double-down on pro- or anti-labor images, or avoid choosing sides and not vote. In short, lame-duck sessions are the worst of times for such a rail work stoppage to occur.

Equally uncertain is whether railroads will again blink and sweeten their offers to avoid a work stoppage, as they have twice done to gain the tentative agreements such as rejected by BMWED. Rejections by other unions will only increase the precariousness of the status quo. Following an all-night mid-September bargaining session in the offices of Biden Administration Labor Secretary Marty Walsh involving BLET, SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the carriers backed off an insistence they would not budge from non-binding recommendations made a month earlier by a Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board. Then, in response to Division 19 of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) rejecting a tentative deal, the carriers again blinked and offered up additional deal sweeteners to gain a second tentative deal with the IAM on Sept. 27 that is pending ratification. As each tentative agreement contains a “me too” clause, each sweetener offered by carriers to one union is applied, as applicable, to all the others.

BMWED’s Cardwell said his members’ rejection of the tentative contract is over quality-of-life issues rather than wage and benefits boosts—the carriers’ “stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness.” There is concern that BLET and SMART-TD members may similarly turn thumbs-down on their tentative deals, expressing displeasure over mandatory attendance policies as well as other quality-of-life issues. It is member quality-of-life issues that made the BMWED rejection unsurprising, and which likely have influenced BLET President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson not to endorse the tentative deals, even though they negotiated them.

The NCCC, in expressing “disappointment” over the BMWED rejection, said the tentative agreement included “significant increases to the national rules relating to reimbursements for travel and away from home expenses for the roughly 50% of BMWED members employed in traveling roles.”

Each of the current tentative agreements—including the one rejected by BMWED members—provides for a 24% wage increase through 2024 and retroactive to January 2020, $5,000 in lump-sum bonus payments, and a 14.1% retroactive portion of the 24% wage increase payable immediately.

The four unions that have ratified tentative agreements are the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Transportation Communications Union.

Ratification votes of the other seven unions are to be counted on or before the following dates:
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, Oct. 13
Mechanical Division of SMART, Oct. 14
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, Oct. 26
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Nov. 11
BLET and SMART-TD, Nov. 17
IAM, Division 19, Nov. 20

Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner is author of “Understanding the Railway Labor Act” published by Railway Age sister company Simmons-Boardman Books of Omaha, Neb. He has almost 50 years’ experience on both sides of the bargaining table as assistant vice president for policy at the Association of American Railroads and director of public relations for SMART-TD and its predecessor United Transportation Union.
Added to the calendar on Fri, Oct 14, 2022 1:15PM
§Enough Is Enough
by United Front Committee For A Labor Party
Railroad workers are fed up with the attacks by railroad companies and the Biden government which is using the Railway Labor Act to help push a contract that continues the horrendous labor conditions.
§Billionaire BNSF Owner Warren Buffet Uses Railroad Labor Act To Crush Workers
by United Front Committee For A Labor Party
Billion BNSF owner Warren Buffet uses the anti-labor Railway Labor Act to push workers against the wall with dangerous hours and deadly health and safety conditions along with 1 person trains.
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