This negotiation has brought back a really sad memory for me. I was working in an acute psychiatric hospital at the time a woman came in after attempting suicide. About 9 months earlier there had been a head on collision of two trains. The guys responsible forgot to switch the tracks, and one of the engineers had fallen asleep (this was all found out in the investigation). The women who was brought in was the wife of one of the men blamed. After her husband died she had to go to work to support her kids after they lost their home. Her mother moved in to their trailer home to help with the kids while she worked the night shift at a truck stop. While she was at work her trailer caught fire while the family was asleep and her mother and kids all died. Within one year she had lost all of her family. As her therapist I was at a total loss of any words that could comfort her and help her to find a reason for not giving up. Not long after the investigation blamed her husband and the other man for the devastation. The train companies were totally absolved of any blame and the insurance covered all the damages. And now all these years later these corporations are pushing for an even lower level of staff who provide such an important role, and now even when they are sick and exhausted. That these companies are allowed to treat workers this way is criminal. I wish the workers would strike. Their Christmas will not be happy and bright.

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Thank you, Heather, for laying everything out regarding the railroad unions, workers, and management. I thought unions were to protect the people they serve. Seems the workers are treated like slaves. I hear the strict schedules are burning people out. I, for one, have never blamed the workers.

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The filibuster is a misnomer; no-one actually actively filibusters anymore. It's the "threat" of action that preserves the need for the super-majority. The right to control legislation should be determined at the ballot box rather than by a procedural rule in the Senate. If senators were required to actually filibuster in the active sense, they would fairly quickly lose their taste for the trick. The desire to continue with an actual filibuster diminishes as the hours wear on. So let them use that rule for a while and see how effective it actually is at it's objective.

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Zero sick days? Why were the only options zero or seven?

Professor, I don’t understand the failure here. If “adding 7 sick days” could only get 52 votes. Okay, fine. How about 4 sick days? Or one sick day? Why isn’t there a mechanism in our congress to find a compromise that CAN get 60 votes?

Also, I’ve heard that while the unions approved the measure 8 to 4, the four unions that oppose the measure represent more people than the 8 unions that approved it.

Reporting on the “number of unions” makes the vote seem “fair.” But in reality, more than half of union members oppose the current contract.

That’s minority rule. That is not democracy. That is unjust and barbaric.

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From the Brennan Center:

"There are, however, exceptions to the filibuster rule. Perhaps the most notable recent example pertains to presidential appointments. In 2013, Democrats changed the Senate rules to enable the confirmation of executive branch positions — including the cabinet — and of non–Supreme Court judicial nominees with a simple majority. Four years later, Senate Republicans expanded the change to include Supreme Court appointments. Both changes invoked what is known as the nuclear option, or an override of a rule to overcome obstruction by the minority.

At times, the Senate has also exempted certain types of legislation from the cloture rule. For example, Congress’s annual budget reconciliation process requires only a simple majority vote and cannot be filibustered. Likewise, trade agreements that are negotiated using fast-track rules cannot be filibustered. Other exemptions apply to measures that involve, for example, military base closures or arms sales. In total, 161 exceptions to the filibuster’s supermajority requirement have been created between 1969 and 2014, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Molly Reynolds.

What options are available for filibuster reform?

As Senate gridlock persists, calls for eliminating the filibuster altogether have grown louder, especially given its historical complicity in perpetuating Jim Crow laws and thwarting civil rights legislation and voting reforms. Changing the Senate rules — particularly, Rule XXII — would be the most straightforward way to eliminate the filibuster, although such a change would require a two-thirds supermajority. The nuclear option is another way to eliminate the filibuster. Under this method, the Senate majority leader would use a nondebatable motion to bring a bill for a vote and then raise a point of order that cloture can be invoked with a simple majority. "

Given that there are 161 exceptions to the filibuster rule why isn't there a carve out for resolving labor disputes? It is an area that requires rapid action to avoid major harm to the economy or America's security.

And if there is a nuclear option available why was it not used here when there was bipartisan support and the vote in the House was clearly supportive?


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Another point of view vis-a-vis rail labor negotiations I haven't heard much about, including from HCR: In light of the Covid pandemic, (remember that?) how can there be work rules that, in effect, require workers to go to work sick? This is a public health issue more than a labor issue, and thus should give government more leverage in imposing sick leave rules universally, not just on the railroads.

My further two cents worth; parents of young children need more sick days than the rest of us so sick children can stay home from school as well.

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So what happens now? How are we going to protect railroad WORKERS while railroad Profits increase but workers are denied basic necessities like paid sick leave or paid time off for family matters or other human necessities? Workers are not slaves are they? This current policy allows inhumane treatment of human beings who are valued as necessities in our national life while railroad companies are destroying their lives, welfare & well being for insane profits at the expense of workers ONLY because of GREED! What recourse do we have to fairly treat & protect railroad workers?

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I believe the concept of running “Lean” is at the heart of so many of our current problems. In healthcare, lean has been pushed for years as a way to be more efficient. What that gave us was emergency supplies like masks that would only last 3 months (under normal usage which the pandemic wasn’t), and staffing that meets the average daily census of patients but is inadequate for flexing up under periods of high demand, unless staff works overtime. When the stresses in the system dragged on, staff were burned out and left. When the supplies were rapidly exhausted, people got sick and far too many died. During the early lockdowns, Car rental agencies sold all their cars and the airlines gave out early retirements, all to stay lean and efficient. No planning for the future. No “warehousing” of people or product. The railways did the same, and then doubled down, all on the backs of the workers.

We need to reorganize this country, and put people before profits and efficiency. We can’t survive without shipping, and none of us will survive if all the healthcare workers leave.

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"It was about a system that has historically made it harder for workers than for employers to get what they want. And it is about consumers, who—in the past at any rate—have blamed strikers rather than management when the trains stopped running. "

And yet for the most part consumers = workers = consumers. Anyone sociopathc enough to be observed shafting other people will do the same for you in a heartbeat should it suit their agenda. No such thing as liberty and justice without solidarity. That's not just for unions; its the basis of a free society.

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Thank you for this historical context. It really helps.

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Thanks, Heather for shining light on this complicated issue.

So, now what?

As usual, workers will be blamed if the economy shuts down but they are not the unreasonable ones in this disagreement and 7 sick days is not an unusual amount. But, like the oil company's record 2021 profits, the railroads are not willing to give back to those who made the profits for them.

Greed doesn't look good on anyone.

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"And it is about consumers, who—in the past at any rate—have blamed strikers rather than management when the trains stopped running." That's the key point and holds for all such actions. That said, I quibble with the use of the word "consumers."I miss the days when we were citizens and customers. 

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This situation is evidence that it’s all about control; people are nothing more than machines to employees. To be willing to raise pay by 24% but leave any paid sick time as a non-starter demonstrates the inhumanity with which we treat our work force. And it’s not only in railroads. High-skilled jobs in health care have extremely limited sick days.

I heard an Econ professor once recount a story in which her student asked why we threaten people who are unable to work with starvation and death; that seemed like a cruel way to run a culture. The professor said she didn’t have a good answer to that.

This railroad episode shows that our culture values resources more than humanity.

It’s sad.

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And Josh Hawley blames Democrats for denying the workers the additional sick days.

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Railroad management is essentially (and soon literally I fear) running their companies into the ground. Caring for equipment and profits is one thing, but far more important is caring for your people. Regardless of what service/widgets they provide, companies are made of people. Most really successful companies care for their workers, then their facilities, then their profits. Railroads seem to have this in reverse, reflecting what I see is a larger trend across most sectors of the economy. When workers have a strong, reasonable, consistent voice, companies thrive. When they don't, they fail. On the rare occasions when the voice of management is disregarded, companies also fail (think Twitter).

Laws and court decisions undermining Labor Unions are proving disastrous to our economy because the larger and more complex it grows, the more it depends on the cooperation of ALL its parts to function. Management having too much power over workers not only hurts workers, it hurts the entire economy. Balancing the needs of workers and management is essential. Weak Labor Unions are a sign that, for railroads at least, this balance is upset. Failure will be the result. The government needing to step in is also a sign that this is no way to run a railroad.

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Thank you for your summary and for the review of how these matters have been treated in the past. I’m always amazed at how you can take such a complex issue and make it understandable.

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