Our reader Joel is a retired union worker. He shared his thoughts about the deal that the Biden administration and Congress imposed on the nation’s rail workers’ unions to avert a strike. Biden feared that a rail strike would cripple the economy and lead to widespread layoffs. Critics of the deal complained that rail workers get only one paid sick day a year (members of Congress get unlimited paid sick days). The critics are right to insist that rail workers get more paid sick days, but Joel points out that a national strike now would do incalculable damage to organized labor.

Joel writes:

Union Leadership understands that one has to pick your fights carefully.

The cause of the workers’ grievances focuses on forced overtime and being on call far too often with little input in scheduling . This has been caused by efficiency measures that cut nearly 30 % of the workforce. If the gripe is the forced overtime than the answer is to bring back the workers whose dismissal caused the need for that overtime. Not that the employers would be happier with that than the paid sick time .

The contract negotiated between Biden, the Union Leadership, and the Railroads back in September did provide for sick days. It provided for scheduled doctors’ visits. It provided 1 additional paid holiday. It provided a 24 % wage increase retroactively, graduated from 2020 through 2024. It called for more flexibility in scheduling, and it froze health insurance premiums, I believe, beyond the contract period. Without those PAID sick days it was a damn good contract that the leadership of the 12 unions pushed their members to accept. 8 of the 12 did, Including the IBEW of which I am a retired member as a construction electrician.

But if grueling working conditions caused by forced overtime and standby status is your beef, why would being paid for the day off come into play. The answer is it does not. Most like the overtime or they would insist on bringing staffing levels back up to eliminate it . More workers equals less forced overtime for each and less grueling schedules . That proposal was not put on the table to my knowledge. And I understand why . The leadership would have their heads handed to them by the same members asking for paid sick time to alleviate the grueling schedules.

Been there seen that, in the 1970s in a time of high unemployment in NYC’s construction industry. Overtime was eliminated by my Union. Accomplished by forcing the worker to take a day off if he worked more than 3hrs OT in that week . That forced the contractor to either not work overtime. Creating work for more members by, if anything, forcing projects to take longer or hiring additional workers to be able to man the job during regular hours. The union’s noble object was to put the unemployed members to work. In the 1990s when unemployment returned that was dropped. The leadership decided that it was better to hear 10-15 % gripe about unemployment than the 85% bitch about taking the bread and butter out of their mouths.

So I suspect the dynamic is similar.

That said what are the down side risks for the economy, the Democrats, the workers, the employers and the Unions?

This is not a Cheerios factory closing down .This is not Air travel shutting down as in 1980 . A strike that lasts as little as a week will effect vast portions of the economy. It will cause a huge spike in prices and unemployment. A total no win for Biden and Democrats that will hang around their neck like an albatross. The workers may or may not get what they are getting now if Congress is forced to step in after Economic Armageddon sets in. The Employers: if I were the employer knowing how quickly Americans turn against other workers or any policy that calls for personnel sacrifice, I would stretch this out till Public Sentiment turned massively against the Unions and the Administration. The Republicans were so concerned about the working conditions that only 3 in the House and 6? in the Senate voted for the additional sick days . Both the Employers and the Republicans would salivate at the opportunity to drive Democrats from power, driving a stake in the heart of organized labor. And you can be sure the oligarchy who owns the media would be all over it.

Sitting in front of the Taliban 6 in the SCOTUS is a case that could bankrupt almost every Union that chose to strike. It would allow employers to sue for losses caused by the strike. For example: A supermarket chain could sue for lost produce , dairy ,meats … I don’t hold much hope out for them not supporting the employers in this case. A rail strike not only will give them cover to do so but will have a huge majority of the American Public supporting them.

A wave of strikes in 1947 allowed Republicans and Dixiecrats to gut the NLRA with Taft Hartley . That was when Unions were 31 or 32 % of the workforce.

After Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers, he set an example that led to an orgy of Union busting when Unions were 22% of the workforce. The American people overwhelmingly re-elected Reagan in a race against one of the most pro-labor Senators in the Country. Sending Democrats into the wilderness until they became under Clinton and Obama, Eisenhower Republicans at best. All but abandoning the New Deal and Great Society as well as relegating Labor to lip service, while passing Trade agreements that decimated American Labor worse than anything Reagan did.

A rail strike would make the media frenzy about Inflation, Crime and Afghanistan look like a practice run. Organized Labor would take the hit opening us up to the effective repeal of all union rights in the NLRA.

In a comment yesterday, Joel amplified his argument on behalf of the Biden settlement, pointing out that Biden has no authority to issue an executive order.

Joel wrote:

An executive order to do what (either way)? This is private sector commerce. The President can do little other than ensure Public Dollars are used in certain ways. So he can sign an order calling for Project Labor Agreements in the spending of Federal Dollars, or Buy American provisions with those dollars . We see he can not even mandate life saving vaccines using OSHA .

Article 1 section 8 clause 3. So now envision a strike that lasts 3 weeks into the new Congress. A strike that puts up to 7 million out of work as supply chains snarl and prices soar . Now envision the contract that could be ordered by that Fascist Right Wing House of Congress. A strike would give them a Scott Walker moment they have dreamed of for decades. As the American people spurred on by daily media stories of the pain caused by strikers called for the Guillotines.

The new Congress, under the Commerce Clause the only Branch entitled to regulate private Commerce, would deliver those Guillotines.

If I were the Railroad CEOs and the Oligarchy, I would assure the baskets were in place to catch the heads .