January 29, 2023

“OBSCENE PROFITS”: Pelosi defends railway workers in sick days strike threat

“OBSCENE PROFITS”: Pelosi defends railway workers in sick days strike threat

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The Speaker of the House just slammed America’s railway companies for making gobs of money and being stingy with their workers while four unions are preparing a strike that could cripple the American economy.

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As President Biden asks Congress to intervene in the dispute between unions and rail companies, fearful that a strike would add to inflation and damage the economy, some Dems and liberal leaders have expressed concerns about interfering with the railway workers’ right to strike.

Back in September, the president negotiated a deal with leaders from both sides that included a 24% pay raise for 2020-2024, compounded, and a lump sum payment of $5,000 in bonuses.

Yet the contract did not address some huge concerns of union workers, including a lack of paid sick days, harsh working conditions, and prolonged hours without sufficient breaks.

Despite having to handle larger trains than in years past and often having to travel across the country with fewer employees than in the past, the railroads wouldn’t budge on paid sick leave.

The Surface Transportation Board estimates that freight workers have seen their numbers dwindle by 30% over the last six years.

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Yes, in the past two decades, railway company profits have grown to $23 billion a year.

“The corporate greed never ends,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “Last year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits after cutting its workforce by 30% over the last six years. Meanwhile, rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days.”

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The junior senator from Vermont concluded:

“Congress must stand with rail workers.”

Biden has proclaimed his pro-union bona fides.

But the president has also warned that a strike from the 115,000 railway workers would have a “crippling” effect on the economy.

Here’s what the White House’s official statement on behalf of President Biden says about the looming strike:

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

This sentiment largely coincides with a letter the president received from business leaders.

The generally pro-corporation, pro-Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the #1 lobbying and influence group in the United States, having spent nearly $60 million in 2022 alone.

In a letter, the Chamber stated that a strike by rail workers could cost the US economy up to $2 billion a day.

While this is certainly not an insignificant number, it should be kept in mind that the US economy produces about $23 trillion in goods annually.

The COC’s Neil Bradley has said, “Congress must do what it has done 18 times before: intervene against a national rail strike.”

At the center of the dispute remains the paid sick days workers in four of the 12 major railway unions are demanding.

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The authority to intervene comes from the 1926 Railway Labor Act (RLA).

The act justifies the government’s right to step in and even cancel strikes through the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Though there have been Supreme Court cases involving the act, its constitutionality remains somewhat questionable, as it seems to elevate economic interests over workers’ rights.

There have been other instances wherein the government intervened in strikes under the premise that those strikes may have posed national emergencies.

President Harry Truman famously did it during the steel workers’ strike in the 1950s, arguing that that strike posed an imminent threat to America because steel was needed for the Korean War.

Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in 1952 that the seizure of the steel mills by Truman was unconstitutional.

All of that puts Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a fairly unenviable position, as evidenced by her own recent statement:

“As we consider Congressional action, we must recognize that railroads have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers.”

“We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement,” explained Speaker Pelosi, “but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.”

“Our entire nation would suffer: more than 750,000 workers, including many union members, would lose their jobs in just the first two weeks.  Millions of families wouldn’t be able to get groceries, medications, and other goods, and our economy would be paralyzed as it continues to recover,” continued Nancy Pelosi’s statement about the damage that a national rail worker’s strike would inflict upon the American economy. “Under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Congress has both the authority and the responsibility to prevent this outcome and ensure the uninterrupted operation of critical transportation services.”

It’s truly a double-edged sword.

If the Democrats don’t stop the strike, it could disrupt the economy and cost many jobs.

Yet, if they do, it sends an unsavory message to workers: corporations will win in the end.

Check out how the former Clinton Administration Labor Secretary just framed the issue:

Yet logic dictates that if the railroad companies and the airlines (also covered under the RLA after it was amended) know that they can get away with abusing workers, they’re likely to keep abusing them.

And then we wind up with overtired pilots and sleepy conductors.

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William B. Gould IV of Stanford Law School, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, has argued that both the RLA and the emergency procedures prescribed by the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) need reform. He said:

“Both NLRA statutory procedures need fixing. These culminate in an 80-day injunction and last-best-offer strike ballot, and cover the longshore negotiations should they erupt in strife. The 1926 railway labor law contains its own deficiencies that necessitate reform.”

Both Speaker Pelosi and the entire House Democratic caucus must consider the fact that it was the very selling out of workers that she noted that brought us to this point, to begin with, as their term in the majority winds to its conclusion on January 3rd.

Listen to FDR’s take on the “monied interests” and consider what’s at stake for America’s railway workers:

Help Ross fight the monied interests. Follow him on Twitter! @RossRosenfeld

Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.

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