By now, much has been written about the narrowly averted railroad workers strike. Although salary issues are nearly always paramount in collective bargaining and was an issue here, the key sticking point was the punishing work schedules that was wreaking havoc on workers lives. Workers were expected to be on call at any time for weeks on end. They couldn’t take time off for a doctor’s appointment or a family emergency without being penalized with loss of pay beyond the loss of the day’s pay or possibly even fired.
The policy comes from a business model increasingly being adopted by other companies. It seeks to enhance its profits by cutting costs, which usually involves cutting the work force, thus cutting labor costs. It means that the existing labor force is pressured to do more and more to make up for it. Rail companies are now reported to be operating with 30 percent fewer employees than 20 or 30 years ago.
Thus, as the freight railroads have racked up record profits in recent years, their workers have suffered from burnouts, marriages and family lives have been upended, and workers’ health has been severely endangered by the scheduling policies.
Although all the details of the rail settlement have not been revealed in the press, it appears that the unions have gained important concessions on this. From initial reports, aside from important salary hikes, the companies have agreed to issue set schedules that allow workers to enjoy time off without being called back at the will of the company. They will also have days off for medical appointments or family emergencies without additional penalties.
The agreement now has to be ratified by votes of the membership of the 12 unions involved.