Reported by Grace McDonald for KOLN.
Railway workers rallied outside of the BNSF Railway offices on Sunday. Participants marched and chanted around the Lincoln Station, advocating for more benefits, a pay raise and a new contract.
“We’ve gone too long without proper pay raises, proper benefits, sick leave,” said Jakob Forsgren, local chairman of Lodge 1320 for the Brotherhood of Maitenance Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “We’re fed up with the way that we’ve been treated the last couple of years in these contract negotiations, and it’s clear to me that I’m not the only one who has those feelings. So we’re just here to kind of show the railroads that enough is enough.”
It’s been approximately three years since railway employees received a raise. Many at the rally expressed concerns of how their current wages are not keeping up with inflation and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other concerns Forsgren brought up was inadequate compensation for travel expenses, lowering healthcare protection, reducing sick leave and working long hours in the elements to make up for fewer employees.
“We don’t have enough manpower right now,” Forsgren said. “These guys are being run ragged. They’re running five, six, seven days a week, 12 hours a day with very little relief, and just not enough people.”
Forsgren said the hope is for President Joe Biden to form a Presidential Emergency Board by July 18. The purpose of the executive board would be to form a settlement with railway union members. Congress will get involved if a settlement cannot be made.
Greg Regan, the president of Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, said the larger railroad companies have made $60 billion with 45,000 furloughs in the years leading up to the pandemic. He would like to have a ratified contract by September, but this would depend on swiftly the process moves.
“We are in the teeth of a very difficult contract negotiation,” Regan said. “We’re about to see some real movement in D.C., whether it be a presidential emergency board or in moving this to the next process. Hopefully, we’re just educating people about what issues at stake are and what these workers are fighting for.”
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