On the picket line

Rail workers reject Biden’s tentative agreement

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters (BMWED-IBT) members have voted to reject the Biden-orchestrated tentative agreement and send their representatives back to the bargaining table with the Class 1 Rail Freights. These workers build and maintain national railway tracks and bridges; they are the largest union to reject the offer so far, which keeps alive the possibility of a mid-November rail strike.  

BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said, “Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness.” (tinyurl.com/2mjdpsj3)

Two other large unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET-IBT) and the SMART-Transportation Division, who represent engineers and conductors, respectively, have yet to vote. 

Lack of paid time off and unsafe staffing levels on freight lines are the rail workers’ main concerns; these issues are inadequately addressed in the tentative agreement. These skilled workers must give 30-days notice before taking a sick day, and they have been forced to be available 24 hours, because the workforce was cut to the bone before the pandemic. 

The rail industry stands to lose billions daily if a strike happens; and a strike will heavily impact agriculture, perhaps ruinously. And most passenger rail would shut down, as Amtrak has to use the freights’ rail lines. 

Paper workers demand a better life

WestRock Mahrt Mill paper mill workers in Cottonton, Alabama, represented by three Steelworkers (USW) locals, are fighting a lockout imposed Oct. 6 in retaliation for their rejection of the company’s latest contract offer. The Steelworkers rejected a $28,000 signing bonus, which they saw as a bribe to keep working under unsafe, inhumane conditions. 

Paper mill work is highly skilled, physically demanding and dangerous. Yet these workers pull mandatory 16-hour shifts, a hardship for them and their families. The company removed language that paid time-and-a-half for Sundays and for the whole shift when a worker works over 16 hours (known as the ‘Hog Law’ in that industry). 

Now supervisors will try to take over operations at WestRock, the second largest packaging company in the U.S., with 2021 revenues of $19 billion. When asked if he thought salaried personnel and scabs would be able to match their productivity, USW member Mike Davenport, a 40-plus-year paper worker and Mahrt Mill employee since 1993, was adamant: “Hell no.” (tinyurl.com/2m5bzjps)

Barnard College student workers need a union

Barnard College resident assistants (RAs) have filed with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. According to Aditi Misra, Class of 2023, “Unionizing will give us the power of having an equal seat at the table to transform the entirety of the position into something fair and equitable.” 

Barnard College is a prestigious women’s college in New York City. Founded in 1889 as the first to offer university degrees to women, Barnard’s early graduates joined the fight for women’s suffrage. Despite this progressive beginning, Barnard administration is exploiting the RAs, undergraduate students who live in a dorm as unpaid employees and oversee 20-70 residents, attend weekly mandatory staff meetings, hold monthly programs, create monthly bulletin boards and hold counseling sessions with each resident. 

RAs are required to stay on campus through weekends and holidays and work weekly overnight shifts despite their academic schedules. “When you work where you live, you’re never truly off-duty. We are first responders, emergency contacts, and crisis hotlines. . . . no one should have to work as hard as RAs do for no pay or real compensation,” says RA Katie Cherven. (opeiulocal153.org)

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