“From the Ballast” is an open column for SMART Transportation Division rail members to state their perspective on issues related to the railroad industry. Members of the union are encouraged to submit content by emailing to news_TD@smart-union.org. Columns are published at the union’s discretion and may be published in the SMART TD newspaper.
The term “getting railroaded” has its origins in the 1800s. Landowners would use it when the rail companies stole land in order to lay down new track. It has evolved these days to describe generally being cheated or bullied. Unfortunately, the originators of the term who perfected the practice are still bullying, but now it is focused on their own employees.
Today’s corporate railroads may not be stealing land, but they are stealing our jobs, our time and our safety. With Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), the number of railroad jobs has dropped 30%. Thousands of jobs were done away with even as we kept our country going through a pandemic. More were eliminated as the carrier executives chased an operating ratio that enriched the shareholders and railroad owners.
As headcount diminished, time was stolen as those still employed were forced to work more hours with new attendance policies that leave little time for family or rest. This led to a worker exodus that even further decreased employees and time.
This all resulted in workers’ safety being stolen. Pushing workers to the point of fatigue and making doctor’s appointments all but impossible to schedule have hurt workers’ health. Cutting inspection times and maintenance has led to more breakdowns and derailments. Growing train lengths have increased these dangers as well. In short, workers are all still getting railroaded.
So, what do we do about it?
Some have conceded that these companies and their lobbyists are too powerful. This mentality is understood, but we’ve seen challenges like these defeated before. Child labor, segregation and unsafe working conditions were all beaten back by unions. There’s no doubt that the odds seemed insurmountable at the time and yet they overcame them.
They did this because they had one big thing going for them. They were on the right side. Well, so are railroaders. In the last few years, we have seen customers, the public, news media and even politicians from both parties start talking about the dangers of PSR and one-person rail crews. Five years ago, it was ridiculous to think that major media outlets would have reports on these issues or even be concerned about, but they have and they are and progress is being made.
This happened because railroaders spoke out. They wrote emails, met with representatives and even used social media to spread the word. If all of us, together, made an effort to do the same, we could win this battle.
So, please use the resources that are available — take some time and write an email to your representative. Talk with leaders at a City Council meeting. Make some handouts and pin them on a board. Go to a union meeting and suggest something to inform your community. Do some philanthropy and talk about railroad issues. Put up an informative table at a festival. Do something to fight back. It’s hard to quiet 100,000 voices ringing. Every person who learns about this corporate greed and corruption is another crack in their armor. It’s easy to give up, but let’s stand strong together and let them know that the days of getting “railroaded” are now over.
This article was submitted by an active member of SMART Transportation Division Local 445 (Niota, Ill.) who works for BNSF and chose to remain anonymous. We thank him for his submission and his continued advocacy in union matters!