A couple of months back I went through the ordeal of watching administration spox patting themselves on the back over having “fixed” the rail strike threat and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. And it was all a lie because there was no actual agreement. What they had was a proposal thrown together by negotiators, and nothing else. All of the unions, all 12 of them, still had to vote to approve or disapprove the proposal.
It was basically a house of cards that would fall apart almost before they got done announcing their “big win”. If any one of the twelve unions voted against the proposal, the whole deal would fall apart because if one of the unions went on strike, all of them would. If anyone had bothered to talk to the actual union members they would have found out immediately that they were not happy with the proposal. And almost immediately that’s exactly what happened, the proposal was rejected by one of the unions. And as of this week, four unions have now rejected the proposal and we could be looking at a railroad strike by Dec. 5.
So what happened? Why did the deal fall apart? Because the proposal did almost nothing to fix the problems that were causing the employees to consider going on strike in the first place. The problem wasn’t so much salaries, it was was the the railroads arcane and even, according to some, outright sadistic scheduling system and lack of sick leave that caused the problems, and that system was going virtually unchanged under the new proposal. (If you want to see what the employee scheduling system is like, you can read all about it here at Inlander. )
So here we are, nearing the end of November, and there could be a rail strike that could shut down the entire system by Dec. 5. And it’s highly likely that everyone will blame not the railroads which caused the problem in the first place, but the employees. I’ve already seen headlines and news stories laying the blame directly on the employees, and completely ignoring the real cause of the employees’ anger. I just read one headline at CNN that read something like “Unions Reject Lucrative Offer” implying that the union members are just being greedy, and nothing in the following story mentioned what the real grievances were.
So what’s going to happen now? I have no idea. Under a nearly 100 year old law Congress has the authority to force a contract on both parties, and the new contract would almost certainly leave the existing scheduling system in place. The result of that would be a hell of a lot of very angry employees. And, well, let’s put it this way – I know six people who worked for a railroad. Every one of them has quit in the past year because of the scheduling system. If Congress imposes a contract that doesn’t deal with the scheduling system it could result in the railroads losing so many employees it would be almost as bad as a strike.