“Now that I’ve seen it in writing I’m f*cking sick to my stomach.”

Railroaders furious upon reading Biden-brokered tentative agreement used to sabotage strike

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. To join or contact the committee, send an email to railwrfc@gmail.com or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

A worker boards a locomotive at a BNSF rail yard Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Kansas City, Kan. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel]

After stringing railroad workers along for nearly a week, late Wednesday night SMART Transportation Division released the 2022 tentative national rail agreement. This is the agreement that was used to block a national strike last week of over 100,000 railroaders.

The agreement was reached last week after hours of backroom deals and the personal intervention of President Joe Biden, who hailed the terms as a “great deal for both sides,” a narrative that was quickly parroted by Wall Street and their mouthpieces in the press alike.

Functioning as enforcers of a de-facto strike injunction, SMART-TD and BLET have defied a 99.5 percent strike vote and purposely slow-rolled the release of the agreement in a bid to demoralize railroaders into accepting the carrier-friendly terms.

There are many signs, however, that they have failed to quell the mood of rebellion among railroaders. Instead, the unions have floated the possibility of unilaterally imposing the deal even if workers vote it down, either by simply overriding a “no” vote or by sending the contract to binding arbitration.

As the World Socialist Web Site reported last week, the tentative agreement is a virtual carbon copy of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) recommendations, which have already been widely rejected by workers.

This includes a pathetic 22 percent wage increase over the life of the five-year contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 2020. With year-to-year inflation hovering at 8.5 percent, and a recession on the horizon, this represents a massive pay cut for railroaders and a victory for the immensely profitable rail carriers.

Under the misnamed “Quality of Life Enhancements” section of the agreement, SMART-TD notes the addition of “one (1) paid personal leave day” and the ability to schedule “3 annual routine/preventive medical care visits” without being assessed points under the punitive precision railroad scheduling and Hi Viz attendance systems.

These profit-driven scheduling and attendance systems have forced thousands of workers to resign and obliterated the personal lives and health of those who remain. Nothing in the “new” White House-brokered agreement would eliminate, much less curb, the use of these systems.

Furthermore, the three unpaid medical leave days for doctor visits laid out in the agreement must be scheduled on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays, and “at least thirty (30) days in advance.”

Even these three days are not guaranteed, as the agreement released by SMART notes that “voluntary assigned days off” will be subject to the tentative agreement being ratified, and if that does not occur in “180 days” of the “initial Union notice,” an arbitration board will have “jurisdiction to determine whether and how the rules referenced in this Article will be implemented.”

Should the agreement be ratified, workers’ monthly medical “cost-sharing contributions” would increase from 12.6 to 15 percent, capping out at, allegedly, $398.97 a month, “effective January 1, 2025.”

Something that was not in the PEB, but has been added to the deal, is the implementation of “Automated Bid Scheduling (ABS) rules, where such rules do not already exist.”

Page 12 of the agreement notes that ABS will “serve as the primary method to assign employees on a regular basis, based on seniority, qualifications and job preferences.” In order to ensure that the trains are always running and staffed, the carriers will maintain “pools and extra boards” that will be used by the carriers to eliminate jobs, while forcing the remaining railroaders to take additional assignments.

An engineer for Union Pacific explained to the WSWS that the creation of these “self-regulated pools,” otherwise known as “The Robinson Rule” will “make our schedule even more chaotic and unpredictable.” He noted that this change “will be the end of many jobs, and will have a devastating effect on our personal lives.”

Speaking of the tentative agreement as a whole, he was blunt. “It’s f***ed. Now that I’ve seen it in writing I’m sick to my stomach… a slap in the face.”

Terry, a BNSF carman and participant in the September 14 online public meeting hosted by the Rail Workers Rank-and-File Committee (RWRFC), told the WSWS that he opposed the agreement and wanted to learn more about the RWRFC.

“You know, as a worker, you get tired of being taken advantage of. You are always, always, losing something every contract and it has got to stop,” he said.

“I am just a carman, I got 25 years in. Every year we have lost something. I feel bad, I feel bad for the ways and means guys and the TY&E. How could you have a life? How could you have life? You never see your family. You are sick all the time. We are exhausted, dragging all the time, we are so tired.”

He continued, “This TA doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation. It’s terrible. It’s hard even getting by with our pay. I am scratching by, trying to help my mom. It is difficult to get by. These bills, prices for food, you are not gaining any headway. You have no savings.”

On increases to insurance costs, Terry said, “Our local rep said it would go up $66 per month. Any time we get a raise, the union gets their cut and we just get what’s left over, which is basically nothing.”

Terry predicted that if the agreement was forced through, “a majority of the transportation guys are going to take their back pay and leave. That is going to cripple the railroad and inflation is going to be absurd. Right now farmers can’t even get fertilizer for their crops.”

Speaking on the possibility of a Congress of millionaires dictatorially imposing the White House- and rail carrier-backed agreement, Terry said, “They don’t give two sh*ts about the common people. They are the ones that have everything paid for and given to them by us.”

After discussing the Rail Workers Rank-and-File Committee, Terry said, “I will be sure to pass this on to the other guys. The other two guys I sent this information to are not quiet people. They want to learn more about this and spread the word. We have got a lot, a lot of upset employees at work and I am sure they would love to be a part of the [RWRFC], because what [the unions] are doing is complete bulls***. We are actually losing money if this contract goes through.”

That the trade unions would agree to such a proposal, Terry said, showed that there is “no representation from the unions at all.” He continued: “How much are they making on bribes and donations? Probably six figures every year. Wage increases every year. Sounds just like our Congress. They (the unions) sure aren't looking out for the members. And it just sickens me as well. I hope the majority are aware of the Rank-and-File movement. They need to know.”

Join the Rail Workers Rank-and-File Committee! Contact it at railwrfc@gmail.com or text (314) 529-1064. Alternatively, fill out the form at the bottom of this article. All submissions will remain anonymous.