A conductor on Union Pacific rail summed up the mood. “The company keeps making working conditions worse. They’re making billions per quarter and they’re only paying those dividends out to shareholders, when it’s the workers who are moving freight and making sure this country keeps the supply chain moving.”
The conductor asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisal, a common practice among workers in a company fighting union actions. It reflects the rising outrage among freight train workers over the issues that are pushing them to strike. Once a high-paying blue collar job, it is now one of tension and misery for workers. According to a report for NBC News, one conductor said he nearly missed his wife’s funeral because he couldn’t get time off. On-call, 24/7 scheduling requirements are the norm, leading, many say, to divorces and health problems.
The rising anger among freight train workers comes amid a strike authorization vote in ten rail unions led by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. The vote of about 11,000 union members authorized a strike by more than 99 percent.
Under the Railway Labor Act, a strike may not take place for 90 days while a presidential-appointed commission negotiates a solution. Freight train workers transport some 40 percent of goods moved long distance in the country, about 20 billion tons a year.