By John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division
It is said that two things to never discuss at a family gathering are religion and politics and for the most part that is very good advice. But I’m going to break that rule here–I view my brothers and sisters in the labor movement as family, but I cannot stay silent while the consequences of the upcoming national elections may have such a severe impact on the working men and women of this country.
Let’s look first at our industry – those of us who work in the transportation field are very much affected by decisions made in Washington, D.C. by a number of Federal agencies. Without exception, the people who lead these agencies and have final say over such decisions are appointed by the President of the United States.
For example, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are entities that have a direct impact on all of us, every day that we go to work. These agencies make the rules that govern our licenses and certifications. They enact the rules and regulations that govern our safety and well-being while working on the job.
Our members in the air and rail industry negotiate their collective bargaining agreements and enforce their contractual rights under the auspices of the National Mediation Board (NMB), while such activities for our bus members are governed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has jurisdiction over rail mergers and abandonments. This is the board that decides not only when mergers can happen, but also which line consolidations and which abandonments will occur–and whether labor protection will be imposed as a requirement of the transaction. And 13c labor protective conditions are a requirement of Federal law when Federal funds are used to enhance bus or rail operations.
Retirement, occupational disability, unemployment compensation and sickness benefits for rail workers are governed by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). If you’re a railroad worker and you get sick, you receive Railroad Retirement sickness benefits. If you get furloughed, you receive Railroad Retirement furlough benefits. When you are old enough to retire and enjoy the hard-fought and hard-earned retirement that you’re due, that’s through the RRB.
If you are a rail worker injured while working, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act governs the recovery of lost wages and pain and suffering for you and your family.
If you are a rail worker with 20 years of service and are disabled from working in your regular occupation, the RRB will grant you an occupational disability with full retirement benefits. This occupational disability benefit is something unique to the railroad industry. It exists nowhere else and there are people in Congress today, each and every session, that try to take those benefits away from us – including the Republican candidate for Vice President, Mike Pence.
It’s a fact – Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and former Congressman (R-Ind.), voted against labor’s interests 95 percent of the time while in congress. He voted in 2001 against the railroad retirement revisions that gave us full retirement at age 60 with 30 years of service. During his tenure from 2001 to 2013, there was not a single person in congress with a worse labor record than Pence. The Republican nominee for President has stated that he wants to freeze and roll back regulations, including ones that may affect our safety. Mike Pence has a well-documented history of trying to do just that.
It’s a fact – The Republican nominee for President is Donald Trump, a man without any experience in elective office. Some believe that may not be a bad thing, but it forces us to look at the actual record of Trump’s statements and accomplishments to ascertain his fitness for the highest office in the land.
First, let’s look at Trump’s position on coal, an issue that’s very important to our members. Anyone who watched the Republican convention may have noticed the signs in the audience, “Trump digs coal.” But a review of the facts shows that Trump has no credible plan to return the coal business to profitability, a requirement for increased production. The downturn in coal comes from a number of factors connected to global economics and cheaper alternative fuels such as natural gas. While Trump makes empty promises, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton is actually meeting with workers and labor leaders in the coal industry to develop strategies to support and assist the impacted workers.
It’s a fact – Now, what about Mr. Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing back to America? Another simple statement without any credible plan for actually accomplishing that objective, so once again we are compelled to look at the record. Here we find that Mr. Trump says that he will bring the jobs back but in the next breath he declared that the reason we’re not competitive in the global market is because America’s wages are too high. And the record also shows that every product with Trump’s name on it is currently manufactured in a low wage foreign country.
It’s a fact – Trump supports a national right-to-work rule. We all know what that means. Workers can freeload. They can have a union represent them, and they don’t have to contribute a nickel. They don’t have to support the union, they don’t have to support the effort, they don’t have to support the cause. They can even work against the union and their fellow workers and still get the benefit of your leadership and your activities in the day-to-day ensuring of agreement compliance and a safe workplace.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Trump said he favors states with right-to-work laws because, “it is better for the people to not have to pay union dues if they don’t want to…It gives great flexibility to the companies.”
It’s national right-to-work for less, and nothing more than a Republican-led tactic to take away worker’s rights and bust the unions, because that is exactly what will happen. Unions will weaken, and fade away—the exact intent and design behind right-to-work laws that, if implemented, will result in reduced wages for all workers.
It’s a fact – Trump’s companies have been investigated numerous times by the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices. His companies have been sued by government agencies and his own employees after refusing to pay overtime and benefits rightfully due the employees. He has bankrupted companies to avoid paying contractors who in turn could not afford to pay their employees. He takes pride in not living up to the contracts he signs and has even suggested that is a good tactic for use when he is elected President.
It’s a fact – Presidential appointments impact union workers.
Earlier in this column we discussed the importance of federal agencies to workers in the transportation industry. One need only review the recent history of this labor union and Presidential Emergency Boards to see an example of how Presidential appointees directly impact our members.
On both Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit, management came into the most recent rounds of negotiations firm in their positions that there would be zero percent wage increase over many years while imposing draconian changes to health benefits that would force our members to pay more and receive less. Your union refused to entertain such offers and after negotiation and mediation the carriers still refused to budge from their opening positions. The National Mediation Board released the parties, and President Obama appointed a Presidential Emergency Board for each railroad. Those two Boards ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the employees. Both railroads requested a second PEB, with new members appointed by the President. The two new Boards again ruled in favor of the employees and as a result our members are currently enjoying new contracts with industry-standard wage increases and health care benefits.
We are currently in negotiations on a national rail contract with the freight carriers and a system-wide contract with Amtrak, where the carriers have taken a similar position–insignificant wage increases coupled with draconian cuts to our health care benefits. Who would you rather see appoint the next Presidential Emergency Board to decide these contracts–a Democratic President who supports labor or a Republican President who has stated for the record that he believes American workers are overpaid, supports right to work for less and refuses to pay his own employees the compensation to which they are entitled?
This election: A critical moment in history
This Presidential election is a watershed moment in the labor movement and in the history of our country. Make no mistake – the anti-labor Republican agenda is intended to reduce workers’ pay and benefits while improving the “flexibility” of the companies for whom we work. The so-called “flexibility” that Trump admires is just a euphemism for the reduction if not outright elimination of worker’s rights. While “Make America Great Again” means different things to different people, it is clear that Trump’s version is not good for our members.
The facts matter – and we’re going to do everything we can to educate our members, and we want your help. We want you to communicate these facts to your union brothers and sisters, your friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances. Let them know that this is a big deal. Let them know that Trump and Pence will work to take away from our families the hard-fought benefits, protections and securities that our predecessors worked so hard to secure.
Let’s work together to protect our jobs and our families.