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If I worked on the railroads, I'd vote for a strike, too


All the verbal diarrhea spouted by politicians, railroad business executives and others about how a rail strike would be disastrous for the USA ignores a simple reality.  Rail staff - particularly engineers and conductors - are so over-stressed, over-worked and under-appreciated that I'm astonished they've put up with it for this long.  They need and deserve much better working conditions, but the railroads are refusing to provide them - so let them strike, say I.

Old NFO pointed out on his blog:

Per one of my HS classmates, who is a retired railroad engineer, it’s the lack of work/life balance. Always on call 24/7 for days, weeks, months on end, with no way to schedule time off for family things.

He also said if the engineers and trainmen (conductors) go out, all the other unions will go with them. That would stop the RR cold, and that includes Amtrak, which is apparently already cancelling the long haul routes as of today.

There's more at the link.

When highly trained staff are treated like dirt in one of the most complex and potentially dangerous operating environments in the world, what else can we expect but strike action?

It would be trivially easy for the railroads to hire enough staff to implement a fairer and more balanced system of time on and off work, with guaranteed periods at home with workers' families . . . but for some reason best known to themselves, the railroads won't do that.  It's probably because they don't want to have to spend the money to hire and train more staff, because conductors and engineers are very highly paid in comparison to many other jobs.  That's why they laid off more than 10% of them a year or two ago, and have forced their remaining workforce to make up for the shortfall by working harder and longer hours, to the detriment of their health and their home life.

I'm normally not pro-union, but in this case I'm entirely on their side.  A major east-west rail link runs through the small town in which I live.  Those trains, running through several times a day (sometimes a few dozen times), contain oil, gas, chemicals, and all sorts of other things that would be highly unhealthy (to say the least) if released into the local atmosphere.  If it takes shutting down the railroads to get better, safer operating conditions for those responsible for the trains, then I'm all in favor.  All those who complain that a rail strike would impact our entire economy can ask themselves whether they're in favor of forcing staff in charge of such hazardous substances to get so tired and overworked that they're more likely to mishandle them and/or cause an accident.  If you want to know what that can look like . . .

13 dead, estimated 37 missing after runaway train explodes

Huge explosion erupts after 18-wheeler hits fuel train in Texas

The Kingman explosion

The Waverly Propane Explosion

Chlorine gas from train crash kills 3 near San Antonio

More than 70 sickened from poisonous fumes from N.J. train derailment

Makes you think, doesn't it?  I don't want anything like that happening in my town, and I'm pretty sure you, dear reader, feel the same about yours.  One of the best ways to avoid it is to make sure that those in charge of the train aren't exhausted, drained, overworked and too stressed to make the right call at the right time.

(For once, to my own astonishment, I'm also on the side of Senator Bernie Sanders, who's blocked an attempt to force railroad staff to accept a settlement, even though it would not improve the conditions under which they're obliged to work.  I think he did the right thing.)


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