LINCOLN, Neb. — Chanting “Lincoln is a union town, and us rail workers will not go down!” and “No contract, no peace!” over 100 Burlington Northern Santa Fe union rail workers and their supporters marched and rallied here for nearly six hours July 10. The protest took place at the rail depot in the heart of this city’s Haymarket business district.
Called by Lincoln Rally for Rail Labor, the majority of rail workers at the action were union officials and members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees from eastern and central Nebraska. The BMWE organizes workers that build and maintain rail tracks and bridges on all the six major railroads and many smaller railroads in the U.S.
Protesters demanded wage increases, no more concessions to the railroad companies on health care, not less than two-person crews on trains for the safety of both workers and the public, and for an end to harsh new attendance policies that wreak havoc with workers’ lives and families. “The rail unions have worked without a contract since July 1, 2019,” BMWE member Paul Bellow told the Militant.
The BMWE and 10 other rail unions are bargaining together for a national contract, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen / Teamsters Rail Conference; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Transport Workers Union; Transportation Communications Union / IAM, including its Brotherhood of Railway Carmen Division; and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD).
Along with members of those unions, other unionists joined the rally from the American Postal Workers Union; Communications Workers of America; National Association of Letter Carriers; United Steelworkers; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; union officials from the Lincoln Central Labor Council and Nebraska AFL-CIO; and Greg Regan, president of the national AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department. He is on tour speaking out about the negotiations.
“The railroad bosses have been successful in the past in driving a wedge between the rail unions,” Ash Anderson, organizer for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way working out of Lincoln, said. “Now we are on the road, as this rally shows, of organizing our unions to join together to get a contract by building working-class solidarity.”
A number of signs read “This is not a strike.” They reflected rail unionists’ caution because of the rail bosses’ moves to prevent any interference with the onerous new absentee policy.
Workers and their unions — SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers — had responded to the unilateral imposition of the attendance policy by preparing for a strike. BNSF bosses got a federal judge to ban all strikes, sickouts, slowdowns, picketing, or any kind of workers protests against the policy. The judge also ordered rail union officials to prevent all workers from organizing any kind of protest that could interfere with train operations.
“There are over 10,000 rail union members working for BNSF and Union Pacific as ‘essential workers’ in Nebraska,” Sue Martin, president of the Nebraska AFL-CIO, said at the rally. “We stand with you in your demands for those employers now to show up for you.”
Similar actions are being organized by rail unionists in a number of other cities in the next two months: Omaha at 14th and Douglas streets on July 20; Waterloo, Iowa, on July 20; Galesburg, Illinois, July 30; Toledo, Ohio, Aug. 20; and in Minneapolis.
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