President Joe Biden said that a tentative railway labor agreement was reached on behalf of rail workers, averting a railroad worker strike before Friday’s deadline. These essential workers should be appreciated without the threat of disrupting the American economy. Shipments of goods like dangerous chemicals; UPS packages; bananas; grain exports; car parts; fuel; and lumber are just some items that are moved by train. Ridership of passenger and commuter rail services is beginning to make a comeback amid the pandemic, too.

   The benefits of using railroads are far reaching, but railroad workers are often forgotten blue collar workers who are overworked and underpaid. They simply wanted paid time off; a raise; maintenance of healthcare coverage; sick days; staffing issues addressed; and safer working conditions. America was sent a wake-up call. The country still needs to utilize ships, trucks, planes, and trains to transport cargo. Delivering items by drone compliments of Amazon cannot fulfill all our needs. 

   The conductors’ and engineers’ roles at railroads are closer to becoming obsolete because “positive train control” which is a form of autopilot for trains, has been adopted by some railroad companies, according to Charles Stallworth. He is a railroad worker who published an opinion piece in Newsweek. America has disrespected railroad workers, treating them like their daily work contributions don’t matter.       They are the backbone of a critical industry. 

   “Newly released Association of American Railroads (AAR) report found that a nationwide rail service interruption would dramatically impact economic output and could cost more than $2 billion per day of a shutdown,” according to a press release.

   The sting of potential rail service interruptions turned heads because the strike could have potentially impacted the economy, not because America cares so much about the welfare of railway workers.    Congress could intervene because “the federal statute — the Railway Labor Act (RLA) — governs the bargaining process between the rail industry and its 115,000 unionized employees, encouraging parties to settle disputes without disruption to national rail service,” per information provided online by AAR.

The National Labor Railway Conference issued a press release on September 11, 2022. A portion of the nation’s freight railroads had reached tentative agreements by then, but there was still more work to do. The union’s proposal for sick time policies was rejected.

   “The primary resistance comes from Union Pacific and BNSF because of the attendance policies they have adopted which have treated workers so poorly,” Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Pierce said to CNBC.

   If a crash happens, people will point fingers at railroad workers. How long can skeleton crews hold down little time off and working longer hours, because of minimal staff? America never should have expected railroad workers to back down. Union negotiators and companies never should have needed to negotiate basic human dignities. Continue to put some respect on railroad workers long-term. We could not have made it this far through the pandemic without them.

Baltimore Times
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