The Crisis in US Railroads
Contract negotiations covering 115,000 rail workers in the U.S. are expected to heat up in 2022.
Workers are seething over the impact of extreme cost-cutting measures. Rail unions are escalating through the slow steps of negotiations under the Railway Labor Act — toward a resolution, a strike, or a lockout.
Rail remains one of the most heavily unionized industries in the country, and rail workers maintain the arteries of the economic system.
In the flurry of reporting on what’s slowing down the supply chain, little has been said about one contributing factor — the years-long squeeze that major railroads have put on their operations and workforces.
PSR is basically the railroad version of lean production — the methodology of systematic speedup and job-cutting that caught on in manufacturing in the ’80s and spread to many industries.
Job Made Unbearable
For the workers who remain, Precision Scheduled Railroading has transformed their jobs for the worse. Workers have fewer days off and even more irregular schedules than they’re used to. Longer trains are harder to operate and more prone to derailments.
The railroads have cut back on inspections. They have deferred and outsourced maintenance that was traditionally done by union workers. And they are continuing their push to reduce the crews of these ever-longer trains from two people to one.
All in all, the railroads have created a crisis: they’ve laid off so many people that many of those who remain consider the situation unbearable.
Workers report that some of their co-workers have already quit before retirement, and many are looking for other jobs — actions that were once unheard-of in a highly desirable and steady line of work.
Glassdoor, a site that lets workers review their employers, released a list in 2020 of the worst companies in the U.S. to work for. Three of the top five were Class I railroads. ----------
Kind of think of this as a large open air manufacturing or warehouse type of operation. The only thing I see lacking here is seemingly an employee tier wage structure.