Sunday, September 18, 2022

you've heard that the railroad industry almost stopped, because of a union strike. Did you know why? The railroads wouldn't give employees some damn time off. Because? They laid off 45,000 workers

Freight railroads and the unions representing more than 100,000 rail workers have been negotiating a contract for several years. The stakes were high and a presidential emergency board appointed by President Biden recommended a compromise over the summer that would give workers a 24% increase in wages. Both sides — the unions and the railroad companies — had essentially agreed to the board's economic proposals.

But until early Thursday, standing in the way of a deal were the quality of life issues tied to an attendance policy so many workers hated.

The federal Surface Transportation Board Chair Martin Oberman testified in April 2022 that he'd raised red flags because the workforce had shrunk by 29% — or about 45,000 employees — over the last six years.

With a leaner workforce, rail workers describe difficulties in scheduling time off even for anticipated events. You can't count on getting your preferred holidays off, especially if you lack seniority. Even for other days, workers are often told they cannot have the day off because too many others have already requested it.

The points-based attendance system penalizes anyone who tries to circumvent the system by simply calling in sick on a day that they had requested off but were denied.

The system also ends up penalizing people who are actually sick or have emergencies or family matters to attend to.


  1. The issue driving the current dispute between rail employees and the six class one railroads has it’s foundation in a management concept called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), many analysts agree. PSR was developed by a man named Hunter Harrison, and he became the darling of the rail industry shortly after the year 2000 because of PSRs perceived success. This is not the place for a detailed consideration of the management theory, but two things can be safely said about it. 1) One of it’s major features is that more is to be done with less. The 30% reduction in personnel reflects this point. A section gang is furloughed and it’s territory is split up between two others. A signal maintainer is laid off and his territory is split between two others. Train and engine service employees are let go and the rest of them have to pick up the slack, meaning they have less personal time, if any, between assignments. As well, fewer but much longer trains are part of the deal. 2) It’s primary function is to enhance company accounting documents. Customer service is not a consideration. There is a particular obsession among high level rail executives with the accounting metric of “operating ratio.” (An OR of 60 means it takes 60 cents of every revenue dollar to operate the company.) This obsession cannot be over stated. That preoccupation rail executives have trying to make a company look good for investors, hedge funds and Wall Street has had a disastrous effect the industry, rail customers, employees and entire communities.

    There’s a ton of stuff available searching Google and/or YouTube for “Hunter Harrison” and “Precision Scheduled Railroading.”

    1. thank you! I avoided including a LOT of stuff in my post, because I wanted to focus on the root cause, not how it became.... it's short attention span theater in my head, and when I can't stay interested in the research for accuracy, I expect my readers aren't going to either. Especially when it's not humor, hot rods, or racing focused.
      So I include the links to my sources, and if anyone wants to dive in, there are some steps to begin with.
      But dang, I do want to pitch some news, some times, about big issues.
      Not needed, or wanted maybe, from readers, but I am not blogging for them. I've covered why in previous posts, so I won't waste time typing that out again.
      Thank you for the inside look! I hadn't come across this facet of the analysis of the money making part of the railroads, but, sure it's at least this bad, maybe worse.
      I read about the points system, and felt, hell no, I'm not going into all that.