JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Thanks to a standoff between unions and railroads, a national strike could start one minute after midnight Friday.
The impasse could have major implications, either way it goes. It’s such a big issue, President Joe Biden called a Presidential Executive Board to mediate and make recommendations.
Unfortunately, the unions still weren’t happy with those suggestions and if they strike, rail service shuts down across the country and supply chain woes get even worse.
After more than two years of trying, labor negations have hit a road block. Andres Trujillo is on the state Legislative Board for one of the railroads largest unions, SMART, and says it’s less about money and more about quality of life.
”The unpredictability of our lives on our schedules,” he said, “are one of the biggest challenges that we’re trying to address.”
Increased wages are a part of the deal too, but he said new, stricter attendance policies and train schedules are to blame. He adds the long hours make it impossible for workers to have any kind of life outside of the eight hours of rest federally required between trips. The drain has driven people out of the industry, he said, and created a safety concern in it’s wake.
“We, frankly, in the last couple of years, along with the rest of the nation have had a lot of turnover in the rail industry, a lot of young people coming in,” Trujillo tells Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner. “They’re not being given sufficient training, and most instances in order to do the kind of very dangerous job that is asked of us.”
His union represents more than 700 workers in the state. Many work for locally-owned CSX -- he said the company’s policies are some of the hardest on employees and make up the majority of union issues.
CSX didn’t comment, but the company’s own recruitment video makes no bones about the toll the job takes on peoples’ lives. It shows a worker leaving home at 2 a.m. and telling prospective employees, “because I’m on call, sometimes I miss family events. Like tomorrow, my little man’s birthday.”
The union said it’s the same across other rail companies. According to Freightwaves, an industry data company, the number of railroad workers dropped more than 20% after the pandemic, while the demand on rail transport after a brief dip, remained largely the same.
Trujillo said his members have been worked to the bone ever since, which is why they’re ready to come to a full stop on Friday.
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“Even people that have been in the industry for many years,” he said, “have come to realize the value and the importance of quality of life … and particularly the railroads are just not understanding.”
Amtrak is already scaling back its schedule in anticipation of a strike and industry experts say there will be a cost to the consumer. Railroads move about 30% of all freight in the country. If allowed to persist, a strike could have an economic impact of up $2 billion dollars a day and the ripple effects of missed deliveries. If a resolution is met, it’ll mean a higher cost to employers who’ll likely pass that down the line to the people who buy those goods.
There is a possibility we see no effect at all, though. The Federal Railroad Act allows Congress to step in and order these unions back to work, even without a deal. That’s why the unions are asking congress not to do intervene, saying the rail companies need to feel the effects of strike in order for the deal to be fair.
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