New Hope for a New Year

Hope for the country begins this year with a new administration.  Gone are the days of anti-Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and an administration who showed their lack of compassion for the “working man” by catering to the interests of big business.  Certainly, Joe Biden is a big improvement over his predecessor because he knows how hard Americans must work to survive in these times, much less realize any kind of American dream.

            The first ray of hope came as the Equal Pay was Act signed into law in January, and there is hope that the Free Choice Act (EFCA) will be allowed to move forward, giving workers a much easier path to organize. Critics of the bill say that pressure from union organizers will force employees to form a union against their will, when in reality, by changing the process from secret ballots to a card check system, it will make the process more transparent, taking away the employers ability to pressure employees into voting against forming a union.  It will also make it easier to prove that an employee was fired for organizing.  The short line railroads should benefit greatly from the law because there have been a number of employees fired for trying to organize, and even though that is currently against the law, it still seems hard to prove.

            A big reason to support the EFCA is that as millions of our fellow Americans lose their jobs, membership in a union has somewhat buffered union job losses because there are agreements in place.  It is not the intent of a union to hobble business, just make them be a little more responsible towards their employees.  As we have seen with the auto workers who have made concession after concession over the years, just like railroaders, to keep their jobs and their benefits, labor is willing to work with management to keep their jobs.  The real bottom line for business is they have to change the way they do business, coming up with a business model that does not provide for extreme rewards at the top, but more balance throughout the entire business.

            Times are tough right now even for railroad employees.  With hundreds of railroaders either cut back or cut off, it’s hard to see things getting better soon.  As I have said before, the railroads haven’t changed their ways since the 1800s when stock dividends were more important than those who made their profits possible.  The carriers continue to make record profits in spite of the flagging economy, but perhaps they are saving for a rainy day.  More likely is that the bean counters, in order to keep profits up, once again have seen labor as an easy fix for the bottom line.

            Since railroad employment is not as much of a generational occupation as it used to be, many of the younger employees may not know how crazy it used to be.  My father-in-law worked for the railroad, and when employed, it was a good job – giving him the ability to raise his five kids.  There were some lean times though.  As a machinist, he would often have to travel and be away from his family for weeks at a time because he was forced to work wherever there was an open machine shop.  For 14 years, he was completely cut off and the family made ends meet by raising chickens and rabbits which they used for food and sold to local markets.  He got started in that enterprise by accepting animals from area farmers in partial trade for the cost of repairing irrigation equipment.  Because railroad employment was more lucrative than just about any other blue collar job at the time, when they reopened the roundhouse here in El Paso and he was called back to work, he gladly returned, retiring after 30 years.

            The world is a very different place now, and when one of our younger members are cut off, they cannot afford to wait for a decade for a call back to service, and the market for selling rabbit meat and chicken eggs just isn’t what it used to be.

            We are at a crossroads in our history, and the right wing lunatics have openly said they are hoping that the new administration fails.  Regardless of your political leanings, do we really want the new administration to fail?  Because if it does, I certainly wouldn’t hold out much hope for our country’s economic survival.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure I would just as soon not live through a great depression.

            During these tough times, those who are still working need to remember our brothers and sisters in the BLET who are not.  Of course, we hope they will be called back to work soon, but in the interim, we can all do little things to help members and their families get through the tough times.  Even if we cannot afford to provide monetary help, making a simple phone call to check on them is usually greatly appreciated.

            The Brotherhood is about watching over each other, and as Americans we pride ourselves on our charity to one another.  So, until the country can get back on its feet, we should all take some time to reflect and remember that we are all in this together and together we will get through these economic hard times.  Yes we can! and Yes we will!