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Vol. 81/No. 21      May 29, 2017

(front page)

Railroad track workers protest bosses’
health care demands

CHICAGO — Over 30 rail workers rallied May 3 outside the Norfolk Southern’s Calumet yard in Southeast Chicago to protest an outrageous proposal by their bosses to raise premiums track workers pay for health insurance. The action was organized by Lodge 1532 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and most participants were members of that union. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association and the United Transportation Union division of the SMART union, which organizes railroad conductors, joined in.

“What do we want? Health care!” workers chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”

The BMWE organized similar “Healthcare, not Wealthcare” actions at Union Pacific’s Proviso yard in West Chicago; the Union Pacific yard in Roseville, California; the CSX Radnor yard in Nashville, Tennessee; the BNSF Railway’s Argentine yard in Kansas City, Kansas; and other locations.

The rail bosses are pushing this attack as part of their efforts to boost profits at workers’ expense. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees contract — and the contracts of most other rail workers — expired at the end of 2014. The employers are proposing BMWE members get an annual 2 percent wage raise, but are refusing to backdate the increase to cover the over two years since the last contract ran out.

Bill Fletcher, a Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way member and a rail worker for 28 years, told people at the rally that the bosses are proposing to jump workers monthly health premiums by more than 300 percent, from $228 to $780.

“This is a dangerous job,” he said. “We’re out here busting our ass everyday to make their profits.”

Other rail workers also face employer moves to raise health care costs. The bosses argue that workers must pay more to make up for lower profit rates.

Rail workers face obstacles to their right to strike in pro-employer federal legislation that mandates workers go through miles of red tape and months and sometimes years of meetings and arbitration before they can hit the bricks.

Standing on a traffic island in the early morning sun, workers heard from several other speakers from the union, Jobs for Justice, and area environmental groups.

Local activist Olga Bautista spoke for the Chicago South East Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, which has been waging a fight to stop the dumping of the toxic waste on the banks of the Calumet River near where they live.  
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