Reported by Mark Gruenberg for People’s World.
Crunch. And a shortage of everything. That’s the warning rail union leaders are sending to consumers as the nation approaches the holiday season.
Expect, they said, a repeat of last year’s fiasco, where gifts were delayed for weeks or months as cargo ships backed up outside the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, the major import point for containers of toys, clothes, gadgets, games—or anything else arriving from Asia.
It wasn’t just because the ports themselves had problems. It was because the nation’s supply chain onshore, and especially its railroads, had virtually broken down.
That collapse delayed not just consumer goods but products vital to the U.S. economy, like transistors and microchips for cars and cellphones and personal protective equipment workers and shoppers need to combat coronavirus.
Delays were so bad that Democratic President Joe Biden convened a White House conference on the mess, and ordered L.A.-Long Beach to run 24/7. Which still didn’t prevent thousands of gifts from arriving weeks and months after the December holidays.
And guess what? Leaders warned at a roundtable AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan convened in early August that it’s going to happen again. The railroads have only themselves to blame, the group agreed in the hour-and-a-half session on August 12.
And the reason is corporate greed.
“Rail workers have not received a single raise in three years,” Regan said in opening the TTD’s “Town Hall,” on railroad problems. “During that time they have performed heroic work, delivering food, fuel, things that kept our country going during the pandemic.
“But since 2005, seven major railroad companies have made $146 billion in profit, more money than in the history of railroading, on the backs of these workers. More money than even during the Gilded Age, when the robber barons ruled the roost. Yet during that same time, they’ve laid off 45,000 employees… and offered the remaining workers a net pay cut in their contract negotiations.”
“It’s chaos,” said Bruce Verna, legislative director of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, part of the Teamsters Rail Conference. Added Kyle Loos of Machinists District 19 about the rail workers: “We’re being asked to do more with less.”
Days after TTD’s rail session, on August 17, CBS News aired a daytime story with the same caution for consumers—and for at least one of the same reasons, too few railroaders.
“Happy almost holiday season!” CBS began (their emphasis). “While the final days of summer swelter on, now is a really smart time to start your Christmas shopping. No, seriously.
“Starting your holiday shopping in August may be a good idea…The 2021 holiday shopping season was riddled with challenges, including supply-chain disruptions leading to low stock on the season’s hottest gifts. This year, CBS News is already anticipating more supply chain and shipping delays stemming from railway staffing shortages.”
Why? “The railroads slashed and burned” workers, freight cars and lines, one TTD session panelist said. “They’re being run by Wall Street,” added shipper Herman Hoksteen.
“The workers want to deliver” the goods “but they’re being hamstrung,” said Regan. “Every person in the country relies on an efficient and well-functioning rail system, and we don’t have that.”
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