Saturday, December 31, 2016

ASSAULT ON THE AMERICA'S RAIL WORKERS: US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

"Typical of railroad management’s attitude is a December 15 statement that declares, “Now is not the time for excessive demands. Railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.” That leads to a link describing compensation that is full of misleading data. That wages surpassed the inflation rate in the last 10 years is presented as an outrage. The wages that the railroad bosses decry often come from working far more than 40 hours a week, in potentially extreme circumstances."

US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

By Jeff Lusanne
31 December 2016
Long drawn out contract negotiations between rail unions and the major US freight railroads have recently been terminated by railroad management, prompting the unions to seek federal mediation. The railroads leading the contract negotiation are demanding that workers pay more for health care, accept minimal raises and adopt even more concessions on working conditions.
The contract negotiation covers 145,000 employees in 11 unions, the largest of which are the United Transportation Union (UTU/SMART), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED). Representatives from most of the largest US railroads—Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and CSX—form the National Carrier’s Conference Committee (NCCC), which carries out the negotiations. Additional railroads and employees are covered or influenced by the contract, which sets the standard for the industry.
Negotiations began two years ago and agreements expired on December 31, 2015, but rail workers continue to labor under the previous contract. The railroads appear to be biding their time until the Trump administration takes office, a factor they apparently see working to their advantage.
Typical of railroad management’s attitude is a December 15 statement that declares, “Now is not the time for excessive demands. Railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.” That leads to a link describing compensation that is full of misleading data. That wages surpassed the inflation rate in the last 10 years is presented as an outrage. The wages that the railroad bosses decry often come from working far more than 40 hours a week, in potentially extreme circumstances.
Most egregious, perhaps, is the bulleted statement 
claiming that workers enjoy “11 national holidays 
and three weeks of vacation each year.” Railroads 
operate on nearly every major national holiday, and 
have strict “absenteeism” policies that penalize what 
they consider excessive time off. Notoriously, there is
 no schedule for operating employees, and they often 
work 12-hour shifts, longer if travel time is included, 
and are frequently away from home. A common 
challenge faced by many railroad workers is being 
forced to miss family events, holidays, and even 
Presently, employees pay at least $229 a month for health coverage, but the railroads are insisting that this is “below average” and must rise. The BMWED notes that it offered “savings” in health care that do not cost any railway worker or the railroads any money, raising the question of whether the unions are proposing lower-quality health plans for workers. Nevertheless, the railroads rejected that proposal.
The railroads have welcomed the intervention of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that coordinates labor-management relations. Its three members consist of two Democrats and one Republican, and membership will likely change with the new administration.
The Railway Labor Act of 1926 was designed to prevent any possibility of a railroad strike. Whenever the mediation board declares an impasse in the negotiations—which could take months or even years—a 30-day cooling off period begins, during which negotiations continue. After that period, railroads could lock out employees, or unions could call a strike, unless the president authorizes a Presidential Emergency Board. The unions, tied to the Democratic Party, entirely accept this framework, so that even as negotiations have progressed, railroads have been able to impose cuts without opposition.
For their part, the major railroad unions are concerned that the huge concessions demanded by railroads could spark a rebellion by workers. Dennis Pierce, the national president of the BLET, writes that “the level of concessions that were demanded on our health and welfare benefits [are] way beyond anything rail unions have seen in decades” and that the low wage increases would not even cover increased health care costs.
The rail unions have overseen decades of concessions and a dramatic drop in railroad employment (from 1.5 million in 1947 to less than 250,000 today.) The two crewmembers in the cab of a freight train are split between two unions, which have a history of working with the railroads to gain the edge by offering concessions. In 1994, the BLET asked engineers to cross the UTU (conductors) picket line at Soo Line railroad, though the engineers themselves refused by 98 percent. In 2014, the UTU/SMART tried to push a contract with one-man operation, under the condition that they got to collect union dues from the one remaining crewmember who now did two people’s work. Workers also rejected that. Whether the railroads are pushing one-person or even crewless trains in this round of negotiations has not been stated, but it is highly likely.
As certain traffic (particularly coal and oil) fell off over the last two years, many railroads imposed furloughs (layoffs) of thousands of employees. This is not uncommon with the increase and decrease of traffic, but this time, more permanent cuts were also made. Yards, shops, and maintenance bases were closed, and routes in the South and Appalachia closed, downgraded, or sold off to short line and regional operators. Those operators often pay less to employees, effectively serving as cheaper subcontractors to the large railroads, which often maintain the right to all traffic generated on the sold off routes.
Beyond that, there have been significant operational changes aimed at using fewer crews despite the fact they impose more difficult working conditions and increased safety hazards. CSX Railroad has made the most dramatic changes. Historically, the length and tonnage of freight trains has gradually risen, and it is not uncommon for a train traveling longer distances to be over a mile in length. CSX enacted new policies that suddenly have combined what used to be two trains into one monster train, which can be up to 3 miles long and 25,000 tons. The benefit to management is that they only need to employ one crew instead of two.
Employees point out that such monster trains are more prone to problems, operate more slowly and cause traffic delays because they exceed capacity. In the end, they may end up going so slowly that they require just as many crews. Despite this, managers know how to manipulate that data to make it look good for investors.



“Throughout this period, the trade unions 

transitioned from their alliance with the Democratic 

Party on the basis of ferocious anti-communism 

into outright instruments of the corporations and 

the state. They have and continue to collaborate in 

the “orderly shutdown” of factories and 

mines, after pushing through wage and benefit cuts

on the bogus pretext of “saving jobs.”



"At one point she hailed the “record profits” of the auto companies. She did not mention that these profits came at the expense of the jobs, wages and retirement benefits of thousands of auto workers, decimated under the terms of the auto bailout organized by the Obama administration."

Anger mounting among US autoworkers in wake of GM layoff announcement

Anger mounting among US autoworkers in wake of GM layoff announcement

By Shannon Jones
30 December 2016
Frustration and stress is mounting in General Motors plants in the wake of the mass layoff announcement last week by the largest US-based automaker.
On December 19, GM said it would eliminate one full shift, almost 1,300 jobs, at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant in March. In addition it said it would idle five plants for one to three weeks in January, impacting some 10,000 workers.
In November, GM reported plans to eliminate shifts at its Lordstown, Ohio plant and Lansing Grand River plant in Michigan, impacting some 2,000 workers. In reporting the cuts GM cited excess inventories and slower sales. The layoffs, however, are coming at a time when many plants are imposing forced overtime.
The United Auto Workers has given its support to the job cuts, taking the position that the mass layoffs are a business necessity. In a statement issued in the wake of the job cut announcement UAW Local 22 at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant justified the cuts on the grounds of “cost efficiency.”
Hardest hit by the layoffs will be young workers, many of who are on long-term temporary assignment and do not qualify to be placed at other GM facilities. Many are also being deprived of supplemental unemployment benefits, which pay a portion of the difference between their state jobless benefits and their regular wages. Most of the workers facing layoff were hired in April of 2016. That means the layoffs were timed so that these workers will have less than the one-year seniority required to receive supplemental unemployment pay and other benefits.
A young GM worker at the GM Detroit-Hamtramck plant, who wished to remain anonymous, told the World Socialist Web Site she had previously worked for a GM subcontractor, but could not carry that seniority with her. “It sucks. They said they would see if they will transfer us to either Lake Orion or Romulus, but it is not a promise.”
Andrew, another young GM Detroit-Hamtramck second shift worker who faces layoff, said, “A guy who works near me quit a job at FedEx in Cleveland because he thought working at GM would be a more secure job.
“Out of the 1,300 that are being laid off, only about 300 are permanent employees. The rest are temporary and that means they can’t move to another plant. You are out of a job, and we don’t get sub pay.
“What is also upsetting is the uncertainty. I could be out of a job for a year. Do I start looking for a new job or hope to go back to work at GM?”
He continued, “The health insurance part is major. I am only getting one extra month of health insurance. My wife went off her health insurance plan at the job she was working so she could be covered under my plan at GM, which was better. But now she can’t get back on her old plan until November. Meanwhile, she has major medical expenses.”
Under terms of the UAW-GM sellout national agreement signed in 2015, the number of temporary workers that can be hired by management was doubled. This has created a super-exploited, “third tier’ of workers who can essentially be hired and fired at will by the company.
A veteran worker at the GM Delta Township plant near Lansing told the WSWS, “The majority of those being laid off are temporary workers. The shift they are eliminating at the Grand River plant are new hires. They will be coming over here to Delta and they will displace the temporary workers.
“We have temporary workers who work very hard. A lot of them quit other jobs to come work for GM where they thought they could get a foot in the door. They have made purchases and they have bills. In fact we just brought in another 100 temps the week before Thanksgiving.
“We call them ‘perma-temps.’ You can have them in there for years. It is not right. The decision should be made to hire them full time after 90 days.”
Workers pointed to the contradiction of GM insisting that it must slash jobs and production even as it has forced workers to labor extra hours and on weekends in order to build up inventory.
The Delta Township worker commented, “People are working two to three Saturdays in a row and they are laying people off. People are overworked. It is not right. It has got to stop.”
A worker from Ford's assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan said her factory had been impacted by layoffs. “I think it’s horrible what they’re doing. We have no rights. We were laid off for a week before Christmas from December 12 through the 19, and we will be off in February for another one or two weeks. They say it’s due to a slump in sales, yet they’ll work us 10 to 12 hours a day to boost production just so they can lay us off."
Workers also focused on the role of the UAW in facilitating the attack on jobs. Andrew, the Detroit-Hamtramck GM worker, said, “The UAW comes around once in a while. They claim they did not know in advance about the layoffs, but I find that hard to believe.”
The former GM subcontract worker said, “When they made the announcement there was not one UAW person on the stage to answer questions. Their position is basically you are out the door, ‘goodbye.’”
The Delta Township worker noted the fact that the UAW was one of the largest holders of GM stock. “They signed off on the decision to move small car production to Mexico, even though it would hurt jobs.
“The UAW has allowed GM to amend a lot of the old contracts in order to help the company make money. What the union isn’t saying is that it is in the interest of the union itself so that it doesn’t drive their stock down.
“A couple of years ago the union decided to raise union dues, saying there would be a big strike and they needed money for the strike fund. The strike never happened, but they did not lower the dues. Instead they gave themselves raises.”


 “Our entire crony capitalist system, Democrat and Republican alike, has become a kleptocracy approaching par with third-world hell-holes.  This is the way a great country is raided by its elite.” ---- Karen McQuillan THE AMERICAN



"The decline in homeownership is one sign of the 

deep social crisis in the United States. As rents and 

housing costs have soared, spurred on by financial 

speculation that has enriched the ruling elites, 

incomes and jobs for most Americans have 



Clinton, in the guise of a “jobs” and “infrastructure” program, promoted yet another scheme to hand out tax cuts and other incentives for companies to hire workers at poverty-level wages, with the trade unions brought in to keep the workers in line in return for a cut in the spoils.

"These figures present a scathing indictment of the social order that prevails in America, the world’s wealthiest country, whose government proclaims itself to be the globe’s leading democracy. They are just one manifestation of the human toll taken by the vast and all-pervasive inequality and mass poverty

"The same period has seen a massive growth of social inequality, with income and wealth concentrated at the very top of American society to an extent not seen since the 1920s."
"He (Trump) is able to get a hearing because millions of people are being driven into economic insecurity and poverty while the rich and the super-rich continue to amass obscene levels of wealth. He is able with some success to divert mass discontent along reactionary nationalist and racialist channels precisely because what passes for the “left” in American politics, anchor by the Democratic Party, has moved ever further to the right, culminating in the Obama administration which has presided over endless war and an unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder." 


"This offers cold comfort to millions of college students saddled with massive debt and workers confronting the prospect of dead-end, low-wage and part-time jobs. The economic legacy of the Obama administration has been a bonanza for Wall Street, with huge income gains for the top 1 percent and falling and stagnating wages for the vast majority. The main beneficiaries have been wealthy individuals l
ike Chelsea Clinton herself, who is married to a hedge fund manager."

World’s richest increased their wealth by $237 billion in 2016

By Nick Beams
29 December 2016
The world’s wealthiest 200 billionaires increased their net worth by $237 billion in 2016, taking their total wealth to $4.4 trillion as of the close of trading on Tuesday, an overall increase for the year of 5.7 percent, according to calculations by Bloomberg.
The major factor in the wealth increase is the surge in the US stock market since the election of Donald Trump on November 8, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average heading towards 20,000, an increase of close to 9 percent in seven weeks, or 69 percent on an annualized basis.
At the top of the rich list is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose net worth is $85.9 billion. As the Bloomberg report noted, without taking into account any interest payments or other wealth-enlarging factors, he would have to spend $2.3 million every day for the next 100 years to run down this vast fortune.
The biggest gainer for the year was Warren Buffett, whose investment firm Berkshire Hathaway saw its net worth increase by $11.8 billion, largely on the back of holdings in airlines and banks, whose stock values have soared since the election of Trump. His total wealth has risen to $74.1 billion, an increase of 19 percent for the year.
US billionaires have increased their wealth by $77 billion since the Trump victory based on expectations that his commitment to end corporate regulations and carry out both corporate and personal income tax cuts will boost profits.
That perception has been reinforced by Trump’s appointees to key cabinet posts, including billionaire Wilbur Ross to head the Commerce Department and former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary. 
Summing up the post-election euphoria in ultra-wealthy circles, hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, who ranks 63rd on the top 200 list, said last week that Trump had lifted the “animal spirits” of capitalism and the market could rise even further. Simon Smiles, the investment manager for ultra-high-net-worth clients at UBS Wealth Management, said, “2016 ended up being a spectacular year for risk assets.”
Another major beneficiary was oil industry mogul Harold Hamm. His wealth more than doubled, rising by $8.4 billion to reach $15.3 billion, on the expectation that a Trump administration will slash regulations on the extraction of fossil fuels. Overall, the 49 energy, mining and metal billionaires saw the biggest increase in wealth of any category, recording an increase of $80 billion after a decline of $32 billion in 2015.
Other major beneficiaries were Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook. Bezos, who doubled his wealth in 2015 to $60 billion, increased it by a further $7.5 billion this year, while Zuckerberg added $5.4 billion.
The accumulation of wealth at the heights of society is mirrored in income statistics. A recently completed 
study by economists Thomas Piketty, 
Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found 
that the share of national income received by 
the bottom half of the US population has been
 reduced from 20 percent in 1980 to 12 
percent, while the income of the top 1 percent 
has risen from 12 percent to 20 percent. In 
other words, some 8 percent of national 
income has been transferred from the bottom 
half of the population to the top 1 percent.
This trend has been accelerating not least because of the spread of part-time and contract working under the Obama administration, as revealed in a major study released this month. Conducted by Harvard economist 
Lawrence Katz and Princeton economist Alan 
Krueger, it found that 94 percent of the 10 
million jobs created during the Obama 
administration were temporary, contract or 
part-time positions. The proportion of 
workers engaged in such jobs increased from
 10.7 percent of the population to 15.8 
percent. At the same time, the study found 
that under Obama, there were 1 million fewer 
workers engaged in full-time jobs than there 
were at the start of the recession.
The growth of this type of contingent work provides a significant boost to profits. Employers of part-time labour are not required to provide benefits for employees. Young workers have been the hardest hit by the growth of contract labour and were the largest proportion of such employees. The study found that they generally do not receive any benefits, even when they are employed on a full-time basis.
Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said he was surprised by the findings of his own study, noting that the loss of full-time work has hit every demographic. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” he said.
Together with the growth of fabulous wealth for the upper echelons and the figures on rising income inequality, the Krueger-Katz study further punctures the hype of the outgoing Obama administration that it has organised an “economic recovery” benefiting the mass of ordinary workers and their families.
These trends are reflected internationally. A report released by the International Labour Organisation earlier this month found that wage growth worldwide has decelerated since 2012, falling from 2.5 percent to 1.7 percent. If China, where wage growth has been faster than elsewhere, is excluded, the growth in global wages drops from 1.6 percent to just 0.9 percent.
The ILO study also pointed to the rise of social inequality, noting that in Europe, the top 10 percent of employees take home 25.5 percent of total wages, while the bottom 50 percent get 29.1 percent.
This year has been characterised economically by a further increase in wealth and income for the top layers of society, continuing the trend since the global economic crisis. This redistribution of wealth and income from the bottom to the very top has been fuelled by the provision of trillions of dollars in ultra-cheap money to the banks and financial speculators.
Politically, it has been marked by a shift in the other direction, with the growth of social opposition.
This has taken the form of intensifying hostility to the entire official political establishment, reflected most notably in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the US presidential election, not only in the support for Trump but more directly in the support for the self-proclaimed “socialist” Bernie Sanders.
At present, however, the political situation is marked by a profound contradiction. While the growth of social opposition is being driven by growing anti-capitalist sentiment, so far it has resulted in political gains for right-wing political forces, a contradiction that finds its sharpest expression internationally in the election of Trump and his installation of a cabinet of billionaires, military figures and ultra-right-wing and fascistic demagogues.
The responsibility for this situation rests 
entirely with the official “left” parties and the 
trade unions, which have functioned as the 
chief enforcers for all the attacks on the 
wages and social conditions of the working 
class in the US and worldwide since the crisis 
of 2008.
But while right-wing political tendencies have been the initial beneficiaries, the social crisis will intensify and assume ever more explosive forms, posing the necessity for the resolution of the present political impasse through the development of a mass socialist movement armed with a revolutionary perspective for the conquest of political power by the working class.

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