The US House of Representatives voted Nov. 30 and the Senate voted Dec. 1 to make binding a proposal unions and railroad companies considered in September. The effect: saving the US from the chaos of a massive strike. The problem: four of 12 unions involved had not approved the proposed agreement.

Point

By Christopher Overfelt

It is difficult to overstate the heartlessness and cruelty involved in the congressional vote to crush the railroad strikes. Railroad workers across the US were poised to strike in order to receive 15 days’ paid sick leave. Congress, at the bidding of Joe Biden, passed a law banning the workers’ right to strike with termination of employment as punishment.

The irony, of course, lies in the fact that the railroad workers pay their taxes in order to fund the unlimited paid sick leave of members of Congress. It appears mind-boggling that politicians in Congress would so blatantly vote against the health and wellbeing of their constituents. However, in our two-party political system, it makes perfect sense. Both Democratic and Republican politicians know that the American voters have no alternative to either party.

Regulatory capture is the term used for the corporate capture of public government. For the past fifty years, the corporate oligarchy in the US has been waging a sustained campaign to capture each branch of government and to control the policies that come from them. The vote to crush the railroad strike is a result of this. The billion-dollar profits of railroad barons cannot be sacrificed for the ability of railroad workers to see a doctor. This is the sad state of corporate tyranny that rules our country. Wealth inequality is at an all-time high. Constant war is the norm. The looming climate catastrophe is ignored in favor of billionaire wealth. And the American worker can no longer afford health care, rent, or higher education.

–Christopher Overfelt serves on the PeaceWorks Kansas City Board of Directors and is a member of the KC chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Counterpoint

By Henry Stoever

Concerning the Congressional intervention in rail workers’ impending strike in 2022, the facts in regard to the workers’ recent demands are startling, according to coverage in the Kansas City Star on Dec. 1, 2, and 4:

  1. The average railroad worker’s pay would increase to $110,000 by 2024;
  2. This is great pay for blue-collar workers, with insurance and retirement benefits;
  3. The railroads say that the railroad workers’ unions have agreed over the years to forego paid sick leave in favor of higher pay, and with stronger short-term disability benefits that take effect after four days;
  4. Railroad workers have raised the quality of life, human rights and health standards issues;
  5. Eight of the twelve railroad worker unions have already agreed to the terms proposed by President Biden;
  6. A strike by railroad workers could cripple the US economy by causing 750,000 to lose their jobs, by shutting down some industries, by being one factor in causing a recession, by causing a $2 billion per day loss to the economy, and by affecting passenger rail traffic; further,
  7. Since the 1926 Railway Labor Act, US lawmakers have intervened eighteen (18) times to avert a railway strike.

I propose the terms of the negotiations be revised as follows:

  1. Railroad workers receive more time off and paid sick day leave comparable to other industries;
  2. In turn, railroad workers’ pay would be reduced to present levels, with more employees hired to make up for staffing problems;
  3. Health standards should be imposed and time off granted so that workers do not suffer in health and in their relations with their families;
  4. A limit should be imposed on how much profit railroad companies, their executives and their stockholders can earn, perhaps tied to the current wage of average railroad workers and the workers’ sick leave granted; perhaps a cap should be placed on total gross profitability, with a penalty as is used in Major League Baseball, which penalizes teams that spend above the current salary cap;
  5. The railroad industry should be considered like a public utility in which regulators can review income and expenses, and impose limits in order that the public wellbeing is served.

All realize that the poor and persons on fixed income suffer the most when the US economy passes on added expenses to the consumer, which deprives the most needy of essentials.

–Henry Stoever is co-chair of the PeaceWorks Kansas City Board of Directors.