In this article, Ron Kaminkow answers claims by U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that she voted to approve the anti-labor contract President Biden and Congress imposed on freight rail workers in late 2022 at the request of Railroad Workers United (RWU). Kaminkow is a railroad engineer working at Amtrak, a founder of the RWU and a member of its steering committee.
The February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern (NS) train carrying hazardous chemicals caused an inferno and the release of enormous plumes of toxic black smoke over East Palestine, Ohio. It has brought into sharp focus the danger the railroads’ relentless drive for profit poses to public safety. That profit drive is the same motive that led the rail barons, backed by the federal government, to compromise safety by refusing to include paid days off for railroad workers in contract negotiations last year. Workers advocated for paid days off for times when they are sick, or too exhausted from long and unpredictable hours of work, to operate trains safely. In December, President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress backed the railroad owners, imposing the new national rail contract the owners insisted on.
In the wake of the recent imposition of a new national rail contract, over widespread rank-and-file opposition, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) elected a new national president. Edward A. Hall, a working engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad and a local officer in Division 28 in Tucson, Arizona, won 53% of the vote. Hall ousted long-time BLET president Dennis Pierce in national balloting during November. Many rank-and-file workers want the unions to fight more effectively the next time around, a sentiment that was expressed in the open letter from Railroad Workers United (RWU) to Ed Hall, which World-Outlook is publishing here for the information of our readers. RWU is a rank-and-file group that brings together members of all rail unions.
At the “urgent appeal” of President Biden, the U.S. Senate voted 80 – 15 on December 1 to impose a contract settlement previously rejected by four unions representing a majority of railroad workers and by thousands who voted “No” in eight other unions. The House of Representatives approved a similar measure, which Biden swiftly signed into law on December 2. A separate bill would have added seven days paid sick leave to the new national rail contract. It was no surprise that it failed. Biden firmly opposed any changes to the contract that his administration brokered in September on the eve of a national strike deadline. Rail workers are angry and frustrated by this outcome. Rank-and-file rail workers refused to accept Biden’s deal that top union leaders claimed was the best contract possible. The ranks of the unions spoke out, explained the intolerable conditions of work and life they face every day, and won support from millions of working people. Without rank-and-file resistance, no resolution on sick pay would have been considered. Without rank-and-file resistance, those brutal conditions would have remained unknown to other working people.
This is an open letter to U.S. president Biden and Congressional leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. The Railroad Workers United (RWU), which describes itself as “an inter-union, cross-craft solidarity ‘caucus’ of railroad workers, and their supporters, from all crafts, all carriers, and all unions across North America,” sent the letter in response to Biden’s initiative to ban a railroad workers strike. RWU is asking railroad workers and their allies to sign it.