To join or contact the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, send an email to email@example.com, text (314) 529-1064, or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.
Evidence grows of widespread failure by IBEW to send ballots before TA vote
Did the IBEW fail to send you or your coworkers a ballot on time to vote? Email the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IBEW members erupted in anger on social media Friday as it is becoming clear that a very high number of workers did not receive ballots in time to vote on the sellout TA. Many workers are demanding a re-vote and sharing stories of the widespread character of failures by the IBEW to send out ballots. The IBEW has still refused to issue a public statement about this matter.
“I didn't get my ballot until Saturday and all ballots needed to be back before Tuesday. My vote didn't stand a chance to count.”
“A bunch in my shop never received a ballot or it showed up the same day they were due to be returned.”
“Everyone can agree this was done on purpose to force the vote through.”
“I never got my ballot, when I reached out to a union rep he waited a day to tell me to reach out to someone else. That person waited a day to tell me that the ballot would be over-nighted to me. But the ballot had to be in the post office the next day to be counted and it couldn't be hand delivered. Basically saying I could not vote. A lot of newer conductors that hired out with me have the same story. And guess what, the vote passed.”
“I never received a ballot.”
“Same thing happening with the BRS.”
“I never got my ballot.”
“I got my ballot the Saturday (night) before the count was to be totalled on Tuesday. I contacted a union official about not receiving a ballot earlier that week, they said they sent it to a prior address but yet I have received other union documents at my current address! I’m sure my ‘no’ vote didn’t make it in on time to be counted!!!”
“Something seems fishy.”
“It’s extremely suspect when the IBEW members rejected the TA for the 2015-2019 agreement the IBEW union leaders made them vote a second time because they said the members didn’t fill out the ballots correctly or some bullshit and it was ratified on the re-vote. Now that they ratified this TA, which the Union bosses want, and lots of members didn’t receive ballots they are just going to ignore them. This is very dishonest wreaks of corruption.”
“How can we start a revote? This is a complete failure on IBEW for not getting all ballots out and for not making this process easier. I think that we can file a claim with department of labor and report election fraud for this. No third party oversaw the counting of ballots either.”
“I don't get what the big F-ing hurry is to get ballots in. What’s 3 weeks to get an accurate count when we already waited 3 f***ing years?”
More workers provide evidence of ballot fraud in IBEW vote
“I Just found out from one of our electricians, our latest two guys to come back from furlough didn't get anything in the mail to vote on. One of our other electricians had his ballot sent to his old house so he never got it. Another electrician got his too late to send it in on time,” one machinist told the World Socialist Web Site.
An IBEW member wrote in to inform us: “Article 15 Section 5 of our Constitution [prohibiting managers from casting votes or standing in union elections] has more than likely been violated in the railroad contract as well as other locals nationally. All are being allowed and ignored in direct violation of our oath.”
Another electrician writes: “I did not receive my ballot. Many in my shop I spoke with did not receive their ballot. I called [IBEW HQ in] DC. Got an email for a leading IBEW official, sent him an email to him stating I did not receive a ballot. This was last week. I was told in a return email that I was not on their books as being in my local. I have paperwork that has my name and my local in the header. They overnighted a ballot. I sent it back via overnight.
“Had I not done this, there would've been no way it would have gotten back in time to be counted. I feel there is some shady shit going on here. Anyone who did not vote should be counted as a No vote and I feel there should be some investigation into why ballots were not sent out or not sent out with enough time to return it in time to count. This also makes me wonder if the votes are going to be counted correctly and accurately?”
Electricians demand revote on rail contract after IBEW fails to mail ballots to many members
By Eric London
Multiple members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have contacted the World Socialist Web Site to report serious irregularities in voting on the recent tentative agreement impacting the 4,000 IBEW members in the rail industry.
The IBEW leadership claims the contract passed Wednesday with 1,189 votes in favor and 1,039 against (53 percent to 47 percent). The IBEW has 4,000 workers in the rail industry, and this 150-vote margin is already razor thin. Turnout was surprisingly low for a hotly contested contract vote, and by the IBEW’s own count, only 25 percent of eligible voters supported the contract.
However, workers report that the voting was not legitimate and that the IBEW suppressed turnout by failing to send many workers their ballots.
“I never received a ballot,” a member of the IBEW in Missouri told the World Socialist Web Site. “I did NOT neglect my voting rights, I was not allowed to vote!” The worker believes that the IBEW’s failure to send her a ballot was not a technical mistake, but a deliberate decision to stop her from voting. “I absolutely know they have my correct address as I have received many union documents in the mail previously.”
When the worker told the IBEW that she had not received a ballot, “I was told yesterday: ‘tough sh-t.’” According to this IBEW member, one third of their work area did not receive a ballot and did not get to vote. So far, the worker is personally aware of five co-workers whose right to vote was denied in this way.
This phenomenon is being reported by workers in various locals.
Daniel Fuentes, an IBEW member in Alliance, Nebraska who was not sent a ballot, told the WSWS:
“Our union said they were supposed to mail us ballots, and a few guys said they got them last Friday. I’ve been checking my mail ever since then and I never received anything. Then I heard the other day that we passed it, but my address has not changed in 20 years and the union has my address. I talked to some other guys who said they haven’t received anything either. Some people say they got theirs late. And turnout was really low. I am skeptical because I didn’t get to vote!”
Meeting of rank-and-file railroad workers passes resolution: “We have the right to take collective action, including a strike”
A pdf of the resolution can be downloaded here.
Hundreds of railroad workers from all major carriers and from all unions gathered on September 28 for a meeting hosted by the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee (RWRFC) to plan the next steps in the struggle of rail workers against the corporations and the pro-company unions.
Workers attended from all over the country, including Fort Worth, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Heavener, Oklahoma; Chicago, Illinois; Topeka, Kansas; Quincy, Missouri; Houston, Texas; Emporia, Kansas; North Little Rock, Arkansas; Danville, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Forsyth, Montana; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Grafton, West Virginia; Alliance, Nebraska; Canton, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; North Platte, Nebraska; Avondale, Louisiana; Gillette, Wyoming; Newton, Kansas; Tacoma, Washington; Buffalo, New York; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; Centralia, Washington; and many other locations.
The meeting passed the following resolution, with 96 percent of workers voting in favor:
At the last meeting of the Rail Workers Rank-and-File Committee , held two weeks ago on September 14, hundreds of railroaders from every union and every carrier passed a resolution declaring the following:
“1. We will not accept any act by Congress that violates our democratic right to strike and imposes upon us a contract that we do not accept and has not been ratified by the rank and file.
“2. We demand a contract that addresses our needs, including a major pay increase to make up for years of declining wages; cost-of-living adjustments to meet soaring inflation; an end to brutal attendance policies; guaranteed time off and sick days; and an end to the push for one-man crews.
“3. We inform the unions that any attempt to force through contracts that we do not accept and that have not been voted on, or to keep us working without a contract, will be in violation of clear instructions given by the rank and file.”
The unions ignored this declaration of the rank-and-file. In the past two weeks, the unions have worked nonstop to sabotage our struggle. They are postponing deadlines until after the midterm elections. They are presenting TAs that we already rejected. They are planning to ram through the PEB recommendations no matter how we vote.
We, the rank-and-file workers, declare that our patience is exhausted. We are not going to accept contracts stuffed down our throats through the methods of injunction and dictatorship, whether through the mechanism of Congressional decree or the treachery of the unions. We have the right to take collective action, up to and including a strike.
The workers resolved not only to support the resolution, but to fight for its enforcement in their workplaces and rail yards. This requires the building of committees in every workplace to organize workers and ensure that future action will involve the broadest possible unity among all crafts and workplaces.
A pdf of the resolution can be downloaded here. To join or contact the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, send an email to email@example.com, text (314) 529-1064, or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.
Kansas City machinist: “We have the right to strike, but that is being taken away from us by the union bureaucracy”
On Wednesday morning, machinists at BNSF’s Argentine Yard in Kansas City began an informational picket to call for a unified fight of rank-and-file workers. The following is a video interview with one of the workers participating.
BLET union advisory board adopts resolution justifying sellout, blocking of strike action
The advisory board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) adopted a resolution on Monday attempting to justify its efforts to ram through the sell-out agreement it reached with the rail companies and the Biden administration.
The BLET and SMART-TD announced deals two weeks ago, on the eve of the expiration of a “cooling off” period that would have allowed workers to strike. The agreements, modeled off of the recommendations of Biden’s “Presidential Emergency Board,” have been denounced by railroad workers as sellouts.
The statement sought to defend the BLET bureaucracy against the growing anger and opposition of workers. The National Wage Committee of the union, the statement declared, unanimously approved sending the agreement to a vote, “knowing that the United States Congress was contemplating preventing the membership from striking.”
In other words, the union is using the fact that both the Democrats and Republicans were preparing to try to block a strike to justify its own treachery in blocking a strike itself.
It adds that the agreement “includes contractual provisions that improve the working conditions of the membership beyond” the PEB’s recommendations. Every worker knows that this is a lie, and that the new agreement contains at most a few minor changes to the PEB, some of which make it worse.
It continues by stating that bringing the agreement to a vote “does not take away the right to strike, and that right is still available to the membership at the end of the current cooling-off period.”
In fact, the move by the unions to block a strike two weeks ago was aimed at pushing any strike action down the road, while giving the unions more time to divide workers against each other and force through a deal. It was an injunction in all but name.
Both the BLET and SMART-TD have provided a timeline for a vote on the agreement that delays any final result until mid-November. This has been a central aim of the Biden administration: To delay a full confrontation with rail workers until after the midterm elections.
Finally, the BLET states that the membership has “complete control to accept or reject a proposed contract” and that “no union officer or group of officers has the authority to impose a contract that is rejected.”
This is in response to a World Socialist Web Site article that has been widely shared by railroad workers reporting on statements from a former SMART-TD official raising the possibility that the unions could enforce a contract even if it is rejected by the membership.
The promise by BLET that it will not take such action is worth nothing, as has been demonstrated by the treacherous role of the unions throughout the contract negotiations.
If workers are going to carry out a fight, it must be by organizing independently of the BLET, SMART-TD and other pro-corporate unions. To discuss the way forward, attend the Railroad Workers Rank-and-file Committee meeting tonight at 7 Eastern/6 Central.
“We believe we have the right to strike”: Kansas City railroad workers hold rank-and-file picket to build support for a unified fight
Dozens of machinists at BNSF’s Argentine Yard in Kansas City began a series of informational pickets early this morning during shift change. The machinists work at the yard’s locomotive maintenance facility, the largest of its kind at BNSF.
Workers held placards reading “rank-and-file: stand united,” “no more cooling off” and “workers equal means of production.” They also distributed and discussed the latest statement of the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, “How to defeat the government-union sellout and put workers in control,” and the online meeting tonight sponsored by the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, “Organize independently to defeat the government- and union-backed sellout!”
The overwhelming sentiment among picketers was anger at the bureaucracy of the International Association of Machinists, as well as Congress and BNSF, for violating their democratic rights. They were particularly incensed by Tuesday’s announcement by the IAM of a new tentative agreement, virtually identical to the one that workers rejected earlier this month, and its decision to unilaterally extend the strike deadline into December.
Few workers were surprised by the move, however, an indication of the complete lack of trust or confidence in the union bureaucracy. Many also commented that the decision by the IAM and the other rail unions to extend strike deadlines past the midterm elections was done deliberately in order to shield Congress from the electoral consequences of issuing an anti-strike injunction.
“We believe we have the right to strike, and that’s being taken away from us by the union bureaucracy,” one machinist said. “We’re done. We believe we should be able to go on strike and negotiate our own contract. We don’t want Congress to get involved. They have major shares in the railroads. Not only that, but they take millions in bribe money.”
“The announcement [by the IAM] was very predictable,” he continued. “We figured they would use any trick to delay it. Obviously a deal has been worked out with Congress and even the president. We want real wage increases. We want real cost of living increases. We want paid sick days. Shift differentials.”
Among the machinists, there was a powerful sentiment for unity with workers across all crafts and opposition to the use of jurisdictional lines across 12 different unions to divide and conquer workers with separate contracts.
“We’re also out here for the engineers and conductors” who are constantly on call 24/7 under the new Hi Viz attendance policy, the machinist added. “We think it’s very important they have their quality of life, that they get to spend more time with their families and be able to go to the doctor without any kind of punishment.”
There was widespread support for the pickets from other workers in the yard in different crafts, including electricians, some of whom took part in the picket. Voting ends today for the electricians’ contract, which is almost identical to the one which machinist had rejected.
“We hope that more people join in from across the nation,” he concluded. “All industries. I know other industries are facing the same struggles that we are. “
More pickets are planned for shift changes later in the day.
Rail conductor: “There’s no reason not to strike”
A railroad conductor who works for Norfolk Southern in Virginia, speaking to the WSWS Railroad Worker Newsletter, denounced the effort of the rail unions to ram through agreements over growing opposition.
“The contract doesn’t address any of the issues we had, like attendance and quality of life,” he said. “People are now willing to lose their jobs when they call out. Some quit, more than ever, and that seems like part of the plan. They can’t keep people.
“With the new training plan,” he added, “it puts guys in danger. The company needs bodies.
“There’s no reason for us not to strike,” he added, “and all of a sudden at the last hour we have this agreement that changes nothing. Three months in advance if you have a doctor appointment.
“Clearly this is about the midterms coming up. If we had gone on strike and they forced us back to work, none of those guys would be in office. Now they can force us back to work after the elections and stay in office.
“In the break room, even an older worker who had hoped for a better contract told me, ‘You were right, this contract is awful, we can’t accept this.’
“We worked through the pandemic and them getting record profit. But it’s time for the workers to get compensated. The quality of life now is bad for all the guys. Nobody has weekends. The softer attendance policy doesn’t add anything to FMLA, no gain. The Democrats and Republicans don’t represent workers at all. We have to have political power to do anything.”
Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee issues statement: “How to defeat the government-union sellout and put workers in control”
The following statement was issued by the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee (RWRFC), which has been established by railroad workers to organize and unify their struggle independently of the union apparatus.
The RWRFC is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, September 28, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, “Organize independently to defeat government and union-backed sellout!” All railroaders and their supporters are urged to attend and register for the meeting here.
Brothers and Sisters,
The government-brokered deal announced by the unions has no support whatsoever from railroaders. We are discovering new concessions all the time which makes it even worse than the PEB (Presidential Emergency Board), including automatic bid scheduling for yard workers, extreme restrictions on when we can take time off for doctors’ appointments and even a cap on health care contributions by the carriers which they will take out of our retroactive pay in the next contract.
The unions know perfectly well the deal is massively unpopular. It is in flagrant violation of the will of the membership, which was expressed in a three-point resolution that 500 workers passed at our last public meeting on September 14 which the unions violated only hours later.
But they have no intention of yielding to the democratic will of the membership. They are prepared even to override a “no” vote and enforce the contract through binding arbitration, as was leaked last week to the press. They are also delaying the vote for engineers and conductors past the midterm elections in order to strengthen Congress’ hand should they issue an injunction. In fact, the endless delay is itself a de facto injunction, enforced by Congress and the White House through the medium of the unions. Moreover, there is every reason to suspect they will try to “pass” the contract through ballot fraud.
Only two days before a self-imposed strike deadline, the IAM announced today a “new” contract, identical to the one that the machinists already rejected by 60 percent. The union also announced another extension of the deadline into December. Not a single worker was consulted on this; the machinists had already voted to strike by 80 percent. The IAM extended the deadline because they knew that a strike would shut down the entire industry since none of the other crafts would cross the picket line.
To add insult to injury, in a Facebook post announcing the deal, in which the union turned off the ability to comment, the IAM had the gall to claim, “the membership will have the final say!” No, as far as the union bureaucrats are concerned, the carriers and the government have the final say. There is no line which the union bureaucracy, in collusion with the carriers and the government, will not cross to violate our will and jam sellout contracts down our throats.
We know what they—the government, the railroad companies and their accomplices in the unions—will do. The question is: What are we going to do?
If this carrier-union-government conspiracy is to be defeated, we must be the ones to do it. Nobody else will do it for us: not the media, not the government or the legal system, and certainly not the union bureaucracy.
We are not their helpless playthings. We have immense power. Nothing in the country can move without us. They are afraid of us more than anything else. In a recent interview, Biden yawned at COVID and the danger of a nuclear war but perked up when a rail strike was raised, which he described as “not thinkable.”
But the advantage that they have is that they have the organization through which to strategize against us. Railroaders are angry and determined, but this is, so far, unorganized. This can and must be corrected. We have to develop new, alternative organizational structures that provide us with the ability to decide what we must do and act in unison, with the discipline and democratic control that we need to fight for our rights.
This means building up a network of rank-and-file committees, uniting workers across all 12 unions, all seven Class I railroaders, and every terminal and yard. Only this type of organization, consisting only of railroaders, excluding union officials and with no unaccountable apparatus, will provide the means for us to countermand the decisions of the bureaucracy, to enforce democratic oversight of voting procedures and balloting and to prepare for strike action to fight for what we urgently need, not what the carriers are willing to dispense with.
We have a world movement of the working class on our side. Workers are fighting everywhere against union betrayals and forming rank-and-file committees to do it. Over the past week, the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee has also received two statements of solidarity from rank-and-file committees of transportation workers in Germany.
Here is what we urge our coworkers in the railroads to do:
- Attend our meeting called for Wednesday night, at 7:00 p.m. EDT, “Organize independently to defeat government- and union-backed sellout!” You can register here. Tell all your co-workers about it, and make sure they plan to attend. Share the page on social media and get the word out!
- Begin discussions with your coworkers on the establishment of a local rank-and-file committee. Call meetings of your coworkers to pass resolutions declaring the sentiment of the membership and a common program, and elect a leadership from the rank and file. Union officials should be barred from participating to guarantee that workers retain control of the committee and that the activities of the committee can be kept confidential.
- Affiliate your local committee to the national Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by texting (314) 529-1064. We can also assist in the formation of local meetings.
- Appeal for the broadest possible support from workers in other industries. Organize informational pickets at major factories and other industrial sites, including docks, airports and warehouses, in order to develop lines of communication between railroaders and other critical sections of the working class. Our real allies are not prominent media figures or the corporate press, but the working class, who have the same interests and are fighting against the same types of conditions as we are.
If you agree with us, join the fight! Contact the RWRFC by emailing email@example.com or by texting (314) 529-1064.
Read and share the full statement
IAM attempts to cancel rail strike, announces “new” TA same as PEB sellout
The Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, September 28, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, “Organize independently to defeat government and union-backed sellout!” All railroaders and their supporters are urged to attend and register for the meeting here.
Less than two days before the expiration of a Thursday strike deadline set by the International Association of Machinists (IAM), the union announced a “new” contract essentially identical to the one that members rejected by 60 percent two weeks ago, which was based on Biden’s pro-corporate “Presidential Emergency Board” (PEB) recommendations.
In a blatant attempt to sabotage rail workers and prevent a strike, the IAM announced another extension of the deadline into December.
In a Facebook post published on District 19’s page at 1 PM eastern, the IAM wrote that it was “proud to report that after another round of tough negotiations, we have reached an improved TA.”
But the “highlights” make clear there were no improvements, and there is nothing to be proud of. It has a cap on individual health care contributions of nearly $400. It includes a cap on back pay and nothing but meaningless promises for future discussions on overtime and travel expenses. On travel expenses, the IAM says the carriers “have agreed to bargain with us within 60 days of ratification,” meaning they have not agreed to anything and are simply trying to pressure workers into ratifying. On overtime, the IAM writes, “For the first time, we got the carriers to agree to a joint study.” In other words, the company agreed to nothing.
This betrayal has triggered an explosion of anger among railroaders in the IAM and other unions. “There weren’t any substantive changes made,” a midwestern railroader and member of the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee told the World Socialist Web Site.
Another railroader said, “It is the basically same agreement. Why does the IAM think it’s acceptable to negotiate an important factor of the contract after ratification? It would take two hours work to negotiate that NOW. The railroads are crooked as they come and should not be trusted. We want a pay increase of 35% and keep the health insurance the same. The railroad refuses to give a pay increase no matter what because it would affect other unions. News flash: I have marketable trade skills that are in high demand outside the railroad. This is another kick the can down the road trick.”
In a Facebook post announcing the TA, the IAM turned off the ability to comment. Roughly 90 percent of the reactions to the post indicate anger.
Elsewhere workers commented, “They must think we are stupid”; “F**king studies on overtime after the contract is passed. Negotiate now”; “I figured something like this was coming. So basically a fancy way of saying they want you to vote again on the same contract”; “These a**holes in management (union and carriers) really are out of touch with what goes on”; and “Most of what unions are presenting as highlights are just positive spins on PEB recommendations.”
After machinists rejected the first TA on September 14, the IAM set a strike deadline of September 29, with District 19 claiming the delay was necessary “to negotiate changes in the hopes of achieving an agreement our membership would ratify.” But the details of the “new” TA reveal that this was just a lie aimed at stringing workers along. No further negotiations took place, and now workers are being presented with the same deal that they already voted down. Workers also voted 80 percent to strike, but the unions are conspiring with the carriers and the government to deprive them of their right to strike.
On Monday, the Rail Workers Rank-and-File Committee announced plans for a meeting of railroaders to take place Wednesday, September 28 at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT) to discuss the way forward.
In a statement announcing the meeting, the RWRFC foresaw the IAM’s attempt to block a strike: “With the unions, it is not a question of whether they will try to run roughshod over workers’ rights to impose the deal but how. Last week, well-connected media commentators even raised the possibility of the unions unilaterally imposing a deal after workers reject it.”
The RWRFC meeting announcement cited the resolution passed by hundreds of workers at a September 14 rank-and-file committee meeting. The resolution reads:
1. We will not accept any act by Congress that violates our democratic right to strike and imposes upon us a contract that we do not accept and has not been ratified by the rank and file.
2. We demand a contract that addresses our needs, including a major pay increase to make up for years of declining wages; cost-of-living adjustments to meet soaring inflation; an end to brutal attendance policies; guaranteed time off and sick days; and an end to the push for one-man crews.
3. We inform the unions that any attempt to force through contracts that we do not accept and that have not been voted on, or to keep us working without a contract, will be in violation of clear instructions given by the rank and file.
This must now be enforced by building rank-and-file committees. Rank-and-file committees are alternative, democratic structures that enable railroaders to countermand the unions’ betrayals, enforce oversight of voting procedures and balloting and prepare for unified action.
Register for the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee meeting today, and share the registration link as widely as possible. Share it on social media pages frequented by railroaders, invite your coworkers to the meeting, and tell them to invite other coworkers.
To join the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text (314) 529-1064.
Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee announces emergency online meeting on Wednesday, 7 pm EDT
The Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee has announced its second public meeting, “Organize independently to defeat government- and union-backed sellout!” It will be held this Wednesday at 7:00 P.M. Eastern Time.
The RWRFC issued the following statement in announcing the meeting:
The September 15 agreement reached between the union and the carriers, and brokered by the White House, is a betrayal which meets none of the workers’ demands, including an end to Hi Viz and Precision Scheduled Railroading, paid sick days and guaranteed time off and wage increases above inflation. Now that contract language has been released, railroaders are discovering hidden new concessions all of the time, including new punitive attendance policies for yard workers. In the meantime, the unions are enforcing a de facto strike injunction, dragging out the voting past the midterm elections.
Thursday is the strike deadline for more than 5,000 machinists, who have already overwhelmingly rejected their contract and voted to strike. But the International Association of Machinists (IAM) is clearly preparing either to keep them on the job by either extending the self-imposed contract deadline or by announcing a new deal, virtually the same as the first.
With the unions, it is not a question of whether they will try to run roughshod over workers’ rights to impose the deal but how. Last week, well-connected media commentators even raised the possibility of the unions unilaterally imposing a deal after workers reject it.
The critical question is: How will workers respond?
The country’s 120,000 railroaders must leverage their immense social strength, which so terrified corporate America and Washington with the threat of a strike, by organizing themselves independently of the union apparatus to fight for rank-and-file control. This means developing a network of rank-and-file committees uniting workers across all 12 unions, all seven Class I carriers and every major terminal and yard.
Register for the meeting today, and share the registration link as widely as possible. Share it on social media pages frequented by railroaders and invite your coworkers to the meeting, and tell them to invite other coworkers.
SMART-TD sends mailer pressuring workers to vote “yes”
The pro-company SMART-TD union is pressuring workers to vote “yes” on the sellout contract by including a mailer full of lies in the packet that also includes the contract ballot. The inclusion of this mailer raises questions about the validity of any ballot counting carried out by the union.
The ballot includes the following portion of its Q and A:
Q: Does rejecting the tentative agreement stick it to the company?
A: Absolutely not. The carriers would love nothing more than for the members to reject these historical wage increases and for Congress or binding arbitration to give them a better deal (and the union a worse deal).
This is a bunch of lies. SMART-TD and the other rail unions are unions in name only. As this mailer shows, the unions don’t foster the unity of the working class, they divide workers and make them feel weak.
In this mailer, SMART tells workers it is impossible to get a better deal. But the capitalist media is shaking in fear over the prospect of a real rail strike, which would cost Wall Street billions of dollars ever day. By telling workers they can’t do better, SMART is only helping the carriers force through the PEB deal.
How the rail unions plan to ram through their sellout contracts
The White House-brokered deal reached two weeks ago to avert a national rail strike has no support among the workers. The deal, patterned after the August report of Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board with only a few minor tweaks, leaves intact sub-inflation pay increases and includes only three additional unpaid days off for routine medical procedures which must be scheduled a month in advance. It also keeps in place the hated attendance policies such as Hi Viz and Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).
The unions would have no hope of passing the deal in a free, democratically-run vote. This is why they have no intention of conducting one. Instead, they are seeking to ram through the deal using a multi-pronged approach, including lies, threats and intimidation, and lengthy delays in order to bleed off workers’ momentum.
Here are a few of the strategies that the unions are likely preparing to deploy:
Overriding a “no” vote to impose a contract
Last week, former SMART-TD public relations director Frank Wilner raised the possibility that the unions could simply ignore a “no” vote and impose the deal unilaterally. This could be done either through a constitutional loophole, or by sending the contract to binding arbitration, where it can be enforced without a vote. Wilner cited the precedent set by the United Transportation Union (the precursor to SMART-TD) in 1996, when it did the latter. The Star-Telegram article also cited a Georgetown University labor historian who raised 1996 and concluded, “So a rejection doesn’t automatically mean a strike.” The media chatter by well-informed experts suggests that this is being actively considered.
Both Wilner’s original comment, and reporting of it by the WSWS, sparked anger among railroaders, prompting an official response from Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien. Both the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are part of the Teamsters. O’Brien denounced “rumors” of an imposed settlement as “absurd and utterly false.” He also hailed the terms of the deal and claimed that “the membership’s right to legally strike was not taken away by allowing them [to] vote.”
O’Brien’s presentation of the vote as an example of “union democracy” is unintentionally revealing. The unions have simply chosen to ignore both overwhelming internal polling which shows workers are opposed by more than three-to-one to the PEB’s proposal, as well as a 99.5 percent strike authorization vote held this summer by the engineers. But if they are able to obtain from workers, under duress, a majority of even a single vote in favor of the contract, they will cynically claim that this represents the inviolable will of the membership.
O’Brien “forgot” to mention in his statement that overriding a “no” vote is exactly what the Teamsters did to 250,000 UPS workers in 2018. The union used an anti-democratic constitutional loophole to ram the sellout deal through, stipulating that if less than half of the membership votes, then two-thirds must vote “no” for the contract to be rejected.
O’Brien, a former acolyte and thug for General President James P. Hoffa, engineered a split with his mentor shortly before negotiations in order to pave the way for his own election campaign. While the loophole was repealed at the last constitutional convention, there are many other methods through which the same result can be achieved, including through binding arbitration.
This is a warning to hundreds of thousands of UPS workers. O’Brien, elected with the support of the pseudo-left Labor Notes publication and the union faction Teamsters for a Democratic Union, has spent months demagogically promising that the Teamsters will strike UPS if they do not reach an agreement before the 2018 deal expires next year. But O’Brien’s defense of the sordid deal worked out on the railroads makes clear that similar maneuvers are in the works at UPS.
Workers have ample reason to suspect that the union bureaucracy will engage in foul play. “With the last agreement, the way they counted the votes, a ‘no’ vote is a no, a ‘yes’ vote is a yes, but whoever did not call in and vote, they counted that ‘vote’ as a ‘yes’ vote,” the veteran yard worker told the WSWS. “They rig the vote and that’s how they get these agreements to pass. After every agreement we look at each other like, ‘I voted no and everyone I know voted no. How did this thing pass?’”
Earlier this month, District 19 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) announced that its members had rejected its agreement by a margin of more than 60 percent. A worker told the WSWS that when he examined the final vote tally, he found something strange. According to the IAM, Lodge 1112 cast only a single vote, out of 274 dues-paying machinists. Considering the overwhelming opposition to the contract, this result is hardly credible.
There are countless examples of suspicious votes engineered by other unions, including a vote last year in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, where Seattle workers rejected a contract twice only to have it declared to have passed a third time. One of the bureaucrats involved, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Evelyn Shapiro, was ousted only weeks later on corruption charges. In 2015, the United Auto Workers rammed through a national contract at Ford by the slimmest of margins after the vote came down to a single plant in Detroit, where widespread voting irregularities were reported, including collecting ballots in trash bags. At Volvo Trucks in Dublin, Virginia last year, the UAW claimed a fourth vote passed by 17 votes after thousands of striking workers rejected it, including by 90-91 percent, only weeks before.
In steps that the unions take to create the impression of election integrity, the BMWED announced that the American Arbitration Association (AAA) would coordinate its vote on the tentative agreement. Prominent on the latter organization’s website are the claims that “AAA results stand up to challenge” and “AAA results are difficult to overturn.”
These considerations are paramount for the rail companies and their henchmen in the unions. Should any dispute about the election results arise, BMWED can keep the details of the dispute-resolution process secret, since an AAA process is private. Moreover, much like the Presidential Emergency Board, an AAA process may be conducted by arbitrators who are industry stalwarts and specialize in certain kinds of cases.
Even in the event workers vote down the contract, the unions could simply force workers to vote again on essentially the same contract over and over until they get the desired result. This tactic has been employed countless times by the unions just in the past two years, including for Seattle carpenters, at Volvo Trucks, John Deere, auto parts maker Dana, Kellogg’s and Nabisco. Indeed, the IAM has already restarted discussions to get a second agreement before a self-imposed strike deadline this Thursday.
Railroaders have been incensed by the fact that the 12 unions are forcing them to vote on separate deals reached independently by each union. In particular, they are opposed to the “me-too” clause in many of the agreements. Workers understand this as a bid to peel off smaller crafts from the engineers and conductors by incentivizing them to settle for their own deals, with the knowledge that any better contract terms won by other workers through a struggle will automatically apply to them as well.
A recent BMWED letter, however, shows that the unions are also using it in the inverse. Defending inadequate provisions for their contract for travel expenses, the BMWED declares that “we do not have the liberty to create an agreement” that “involves new money from those values of the tentative agreement.” They explain that the reason for this is because of the me-too clauses in the other contracts. “If they introduced new money, they [the carriers] would have to share that economic value with all other crafts.” In other words—the BMWED says it can’t get better terms because if the carriers were to give them to the maintenance workers, then everyone else would be entitled to it!
Delaying and leveraging Congress’ threat to intervene
The unions are also relying upon the threat of congressional intervention, intimidating workers by claiming that because of this, it is impossible to get anything better. This has been stressed repeatedly in several statements by union officials.
The bureaucracy, in fact, is relying upon this. In fact, they doing everything they can to strengthen the hand of Congress by needlessly delaying the vote for weeks, until after the November midterm elections, when an injunction will no longer have any electoral consequences for the Democratic Party. SMART-TD released its vote timeline late last week, under which workers will not even get the chance to vote until mid-to-late October. Balloting will drag on for three weeks until mid-November.
Delaying the vote also serves the function of trying blow off steam among the workers and give the unions’ time to try to sow an atmosphere of fatalism among workers. “They are trying to wear us down,” the yard worker said. “They keep dragging it out to where we will just say, ‘ f*** it. Settle it. I’m done.’
“It seems to me like they [the unions] took away our right to strike,” he concluded. “So what happens if we vote no, and vote this tentative agreement down? Are we just in limbo still? Or do we get to strike? Because the union is saying ‘no one knows.’ There are lot of people that are pissed off.”
To join the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee, email email@example.com or text (314) 529-1064. Alternatively, fill out the form at the bottom of this article and the World Socialist Web Site can put you in touch with the committee.
- September 28 public meeting of the Railroad Workers Rank-and-File Committee: Organize independently to defeat the government- and union-backed sellout!
- How the rail unions plan to ram through their sellout contracts
- The White House intervention to block rail strike and the political issues confronting railroad workers