Train workers continue to rail against labor contract 

By: - December 13, 2022 2:10 pm

Train workers in Royal Oak continue to rail against the labor contract, Dec. 13, 2022 | Ken Coleman

About 60 freight rail workers rallied in Royal Oak on Tuesday in an effort to push back on a federal government-backed workforce agreement that did not include paid sick days.   

“We refuse to take what occurred on Dec. 1 and 2 with silence and complacency after the railroads refused to negotiate in good faith and held the country’s economy hostage in the name of greed and profits,” said Donald Roach, Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART-TD) state legislative director. “Enough is enough.”

The Royal Oak rally coincided with others held across the country, including Washington, D.C.; Ohio; Minnesota; and Nevada. 

SMART-TD and other rail unions rejected a tentative agreement brokered by the White House in September, which later set the terms of a labor contract for rail workers passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 2. 

“A rail shutdown would have devastated our economy,” Biden said.

The rail unions and freight companies have been negotiating since 2019. Congress has the authority to intervene under the Railway Labor Act, which governs disputes between railway carriers and labor unions.The federal government agreement, however, did not provide rail workers with any paid sick days — one of their top priorities.

Rail crews carry everything from corn to fertilizer to automobiles to hazardous materials. 

SMART-TD is the largest freight railroad union in the county and represents about 125,000 workers. Roach represents about 1,800 active and retired members. Railroad workers range from 18 to 60 years old. 

The federal action comes at a time when the Precision Scheduled Railroading business model has reduced two-person train crews (a conductor and an engineer) to one person. Roach said that the “scheme” creates health and safety risks for employees and the communities where trains travel. 

“Precision Scheduled Railroading has ravaged our nation’s supply chain for five years, exhausted our workers and has left an essential sector of our U.S. transportation industry in shambles,” said Roach. “The treatment of U.S. rail workers by these rail executives–millionaires and billionaires — as disposable cogs rather than human collaborators must end.”


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.