All our rail workers want is humane working conditions along with pay commensurate with the value of their work. Yet our President & Congress is willing to force them to submit to the corporations.
Rail Workers deserve better.
We spoke about antiseptic slavery during our last Politics Done Right program. Some people complained to me in private that my phrasing was ill-advised. I try to be sensitive on every issue but believe this to my core and will continue to try to make my case.
I mentioned that I acknowledge the brutality of our past government-sanctioned race-based slavery. The reason I use antiseptic slavery is that the masters in our economic system understand abstraction perfectly. They understand the humanity in all of us would bend the arc of the racial tool used to make that brutal slavery unacceptable. Moreover, this more effective type of slavery is more economical.
The slave of the past was a property that had to be maintained. This meant having clothing, feeding, housing, and healthcare to keep that unit of labor functioning. Antiseptic slavery sanctioned by our poorly elected politicians is superbly profitable for our corporatocracy, our oligarchy, our wealthy, and our plutocracy.
And what does antiseptic slavery look like? If you are in the bottom 80% or so, I suggest you look in the mirror. And the latest instantiation of the mechanics of this form of enslavement occurred recently. President Biden and the leaders, both Democrats, and Republicans, are ready to pass a law that will force rail workers to work even as their corporate masters deny them something as simple as medical time off and humane working conditions.
According to Common Dreams
Rank-and-file rail workers voiced frustration and anger late Monday after Joe Biden—a self-described “pro-labor president”—urged Congress to pass legislation forcing unions to accept a contract agreement without any paid sick days, a step that would avert a looming nationwide strike and deliver a win for the profitable railroad industry.
While Congress could put forth legislation that would improve the tentative White House-brokered contract deal announced in September, Biden made clear he wants lawmakers “to pass legislation immediately to adopt the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators—without any modifications or delay—to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.”
That agreement, which has been rejected by more than half of the country’s unionized rail workforce, does not include a single day of paid sick leave and would only allow three penalty-free days off per year for medical visits. But even that time off is heavily constrained: It’s unpaid; can only be taken on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday; and must be scheduled at least 30 days in advance.
“These agreements were rejected because the quality of life rail workers and their families have today is abysmal,” Ash Anderson, a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—one of the unions that voted against ratifying the tentative deal—wrote on Facebook. “There were no provisions to improve the quality of life for rail workers, who continue to be exploited by companies that are earning record-breaking profits while their service suffers and they cut their workforce to the bone.”
The White House’s intervention answers the call of rail giants and corporate lobbying groups—including the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce—that have been pushing for and banking on congressional action as contract talks remain at a standstill, with rail companies refusing to drop their opposition to workers’ basic sick leave demands.
Rail unions had originally pushed for 15 days of paid sick leave, a policy that rail companies estimated would cost around $688 million a year—less than what billionaire Warren Buffett, the CEO of BNSF Railway’s parent company, added to his net worth in a single day last week.
The unions have since moved down to asking for four paid sick days, but rail companies remain opposed even as they rake in huge profits and enrich their executives and shareholders. The Lever reported in September that “the CEOs of five of the largest railroad conglomerates have been paid more than $200 million in the last three years, and company shareholders have been boosted by nearly $200 billion in stock buybacks and dividends over the last dozen years.”
The rail industry, like most major corporations, understands that they have most of our current crop of politicians ready to be their antiseptic whip — no scars on the backs of workers, just the law.
The rail companies have been going through a process known as Precision Scheduled Railroading. The common goals first introduced by Hunter Harrison that later transformed the operational targets of many railways are as follows:
- Consolidate rail networks
- Implement a point-to-point delivery method
- Increase asset velocity
- Achieve better fuel efficiency
- Optimize the dispersion of capacity
- Rightsizing the fleet and employee payrolls
At the end of the day, consolidating networks, eliminating less efficient lanes, increasing speeds and sizes of trains, and reducing payrolls are all in the name of decreasing ORs. The OR is the most common metric used to measure the success rate by a railway’s investors.
Notice that it is all about investors, not employees. A Politics Done Right supporter, Thomas Czarnik, recently wrote the following in our chat.
Like Just-In-Time Inventory, “Precision Scheduled Railroading” focuses on scaling back “excess” equipment & employees to streamline the shipping process. Workers are cogs in machines for corporate profits.
I could not have said it any better. Our massive supply chain failure was caused by the shortsightedness of corporations seeking more profits by streamlining with overseas manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing. And the railways’ attempt to squeeze the last dollar of profits is on the backs of their employees, the new members of the antiseptic slave trade.