Are railroads to blame for the rail strike threat?

Just doing a review of the potential strike being by railroad workers. To sum up the issue(s), proposed wage increases barely keep up with inflation, health care premiums nearly doubling, and a lack of paid sick days in the agreement. It doesn’t sound like that much of a big deal. More in a bit.

In recent years, railroads reduced the workforce by 30%. Or, a smaller workforce is moving more freight. Smaller workforce results in less Overhead and producing stunning profits for railroads over the last five or six years. This is playing into working Labor overtime to accomplish their assigned tasks. As one union mechanic stated,

“He is routinely working 14-hour days on a team tasked with replacing sections of rail.”

Labor cost is smaller than the cost of Overhead associated with Labor. And this is the fly in the ointment of a new Labor agreement. The Union workers are asking for paid sick days beyond the one day offered in September. They are also asking for greater flexibility in scheduling so as to be able to use their days off.

And people will say they already get time off and were granted more.

“Employees say the inflexibility of scheduling upends their personal lives.” 

Rail employees can take days off for any reason, but those days are generally unpaid and workers might be docked under the railroad’s attendance rules. If you miss days on more than two occasions, you can be terminated.

Much of the issue lies with the policy of being on call any time with no time off. For example:

Warren Buffett’s BNSF’s old system required workers to be on call 75% of the time; a new policy implemented in January required them to be on call 90% of the time. BNSF lost a number of employees before revoking the new policy. For Conductors and Engineers, there is very little flexibility over a 30-day period.

BNSF reported $6 billion in profit last year and another $4.5 billion through Sept. 30 this year. 

If there is little seniority, your days off for a vacation or otherwise can be canceled. If you take unscheduled days off, after two times you are terminated. Much of this is due to a lack of Labor resulting from company directives to Labor reduction.

The goal of the railroads was fewer workers which resulted in less Overhead which also resulted in less flexibility. Common on a factory shop floor too.

“Greedy railroads are to blame for rail strike threat. Why should Congress help them?”, Michael Hiltzik

“Rail workers could strike before Christmas. Here’s the latest on the talks,” NPR, Andrea Hsu

“Biden says Congress must avert rail strike but it’s ‘not an easy call’; workers ‘disappointed,'” ABC News, Authors

“AAR-Overview-Freight-Rail-Employee-Time-Off-Policies-Fact-Sheet.pdf,” (