Reported by Mark Gruenberg for People’s World.
As the nation’s railroad worker unions presented their details for a new contract with the freight railroads to a Presidential Emergency Board, rank-and-file workers, upset with no contract since before the coronavirus pandemic, rallied with their leaders in Galesburg, Ill., to demand one. And they picked up wide labor and political support.
“What was inspiring was not just the rail workers there, but the members of other unions who came” in solidarity to the July 30 event, added AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan, one of a lineup of speakers that day.
Members of the Communications Workers, municipal workers unions and others came from near and far, Regan told People’s World in a telephone interview. “One BCTGM member drove all the way from Chicago,” 197 miles.
“The core of the contract is wages” the rail unions proposed to the board of three professional board of arbitrators named to try to work out a solution, Regan added. The unions’ proposal, summarized on their website, calls for a 28% gross wage increase—6%, 6%, 8%, 4%, 4%–spread over its five-year term. Its website also summarized the railroads’ offer.
And the new pact would begin on January 1, 2020, not July 1, thus allowing a bigger bang for the buck during each year. The pact would cover some 115,000 workers combined.
The freight railroads want the board to keep a July 1 starting date for a new contract, retroactive to July 1, 2020, with increases of 2%, 2%, 6%, 3% and 2%. And the carriers want workers to contribute 15% of health care premium costs.
The unions presented an “unified case on wages, healthcare, sick leave and holidays” to the presidential board, which met behind closed doors, union leaders said in their summary.
The presidents of Smart’s Transportation Division—the old United Transportation Union—and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen/Teamsters made a first-ever joint presentation calling for eliminating carrier-imposed attendance policies, adding voluntary rest days for road crews, and larger away-from-home meal allowances.
As he circulated among the Galesburg crowd, Regan reported the workers were most concerned about the carriers’ demand they shoulder more of the costs of health care.
“I heard about a lot of people who spent a lot of time in the hospital” battling the coronavirus, Regan said. Rail workers, deemed “essential” during the pandemic, were “sensitive” to the carriers’ insistence the employees pay more for health care, he said.
The workers are also upset the railroads have been agitating, both in bargaining and before the Federal Railroad Administration, for one-person—at most—crews on long freight trains, even as the railroads both cut workers and earn record profits, said Regan.
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