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Sunday, October 2, 2022

With one week left before potential national rail strike, showdown building between US railroaders and Biden administration

With less than one week to go before the September 16 deadline when a national railway strike can legally begin, a conflict is brewing between US railroad workers, on the one hand, and the major corporations, Washington and the trade union apparatus, on the other.

The sentiment for a strike among 100,000 railroaders is overwhelming. In July, engineers voted to authorize a strike by 99.5 percent. But it is not simply a question of what they want. They have no other choice. It is impossible for them to continue to work 80 hours or even 100 hours a week, on call 24/7.

The brutal work regime in the railroad industry, which is more profitable than any other, renders workers strangers to their families and leaves them even without time to schedule doctor’s appointments. Now, they are fighting against the attempts to impose a settlement from a Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) that does not come close to meeting their demands.

A deadly collision Thursday on the Union Pacific in Southern California was a fresh and tragic reminder of the intolerable conditions workers are determined to end once and for all. Two workers died in the accident, bringing the death toll on Union Pacific alone to three over a 10-day span.

Union officials have been working desperately to try to prevent a strike and enforce the PEB against workers’ opposition. In a divide-and-conquer strategy, five smaller unions have already announced tentative agreements patterned after the PEB and voluntarily extended their own cooling-off periods to the end of the month.

However, there is a growing panic in corporate circles that the unions may not be able to do the job that is expected of them. Last week, the Biden administration intervened through the National Mediation Board, which recalled union officials to Washington for three days of mediated talks in which Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was present.

These talks are not “negotiations” but a tripartite conspiracy between the railroads, the unions and the government to enforce the contract before it reaches the point of Congress intervening.

According to anonymous sources who spoke with industry publication Railway Age, Labor Secretary Walsh attempted to lay down the law during the first day: “Walsh’s message, although not made public, was blunt according to some of those present,” the outlet said. “Don’t mess with the nation’s fragile economy weeks ahead of mid-term congressional elections as neither Congress nor the Biden Administration will like it.”

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