That’s a long-winded way of saying: ‘We’d rather make more money than care about the health of our employees.’
This makes precision scheduling impossible... what this really is, is let's make all the workers wait (for free!) while we figure out how we can finally get the freight in monstrously long trains moving through a system that wasn't designed for it.
The SECOND problem is that slashing the labor pool, and thus reducing the labor cost at the expense of reliability and system performance, appears to be the actual goal of PSR.
I stand with the workers, no essential worker should be forced to work "on-call". Especially not people so important to safety and National Security.
They are 8 hours on, and 8 hours off. The on call call is also 90 minutes ahead of time. So more like 6.5 hours off.
Many end up sleeping in the parking lot.
There's an alarm that rings every minute on the train - a dead man's switch. Oftentimes this is the only thing keeping them awake.
To top it off, no sick leave.
And these people are overseeing fucking trains.
Congress backing these companies in any way is absolutely disgusting.
And since no one can predict when a substitute might be needed, it would take many more spare engineers and conductors to cover for those out on a sick day.
This has to be why the railroads are fighting so hard against this apparently trivial benefit, despite the bad optics etc.
Just to be clear, Congress is not backing them, the Republican Party is.
As I understand it, all but one Democrats (Manchin) voted for the 7 days paid sick leave amendment giving it 52-43 but it needed 60 votes.
The question is why did Team Pelosi not first try a bill with both measures, that's how you get something "hard" passed, bundling it with something "essential."
It's pretty damning that the only politicians making noise about how awful this legislation is are the republicans looking to find a wedge issue and Bernie Sanders.
Just to clarify, did you mean slashing a given company’s jobs? The labor pool is the group of people in the job market available to perform a function. Slashing _that_ would drive salaries and thus labor costs up, not down.
That said they slash jobs, but because it's specifically-skilled labor slashing jobs also slashes the labor pool, when there's no jobs people either never develop the skills/experience or they leave the field --and don't come back-- when they get laid off.
This is an odd straw man. Who would claim that any economic mechanism happens “on its own”?
> as long as you can ignore the demands of that labor pool it doesn't necessarily do anything.
_Specifically with regard to salaries_ this article very clearly says that the opposite is occurring:
> the companies agreed to a 24 percent pay increase by 2024, annual $1,000 bonuses, and a freeze on health-care costs.
> The freight carriers can afford to make concessions on pay. It isn’t that painful to increase wages by a sizable amount when you’ve recently slashed your head count by 30 percent
It seems weird to argue in the hypothetical about what the railroads’ actions might do to constrain salaries when there is ample evidence that’s not true.
I meant the labor pool in existence at the company at that moment in time... the current employees and those that could be contracted in, pulled down from management, etc. The supply of labor physically available to run the trains in that instance, not market wide.
As soon as the Soviet Union went away, the negotiating power of labor started to weaken.
The statements above are not to be taken as an endorsement of the various kinds of genocide and horrors Communism created in the places where it ruled. It is just an observation that power, or the implicit threat of applying it, is what rules in the end. Lots of words are used to cover that raw reality.
We also do need people to operate the rail system. "Everybody just leaves and becomes a software engineer" isn't good for society.
With that said, I don’t think this is about everyone leaving as much as it is about forcing the rail industry to capitulate.
But for the aforementioned reasons, this is unlikely to happen, and rail companies know that.
It’s a really sad state of affairs, and I’m not sure what fixes it aside from drastic political shifts during elections, but even that seems highly questionable.
The managers and leaders keep pushing things because they can.
Which is a legislative form of ‘keep working your field peasant, or else.’
I think I know someone that could start working on it.
Instead of single random days off to get healthcare taken care of, they'll have random worker unavailability of weeks, months, or forever . But, it's postponed so their numbers this quarter look good, but the system is rotting.
Any forking idiot can make numbers look good for a while by rotting the underlying system. This seems to be the trained remit of MBAs. Outside of managing the already-earned profits in the accounts, MBAs really are toxic to the long-term health of any business and especially its workers.
from the article:
>>Last June, one middle-aged union engineer postponed a doctor’s visit for work then died of a heart attack on the job weeks later. A conductor who spoke with the Times began feeling rundown last year but declined to see a doctor for fear of being disciplined for taking an unplanned day off. Instead, he waited months for the next doctor’s appointment that aligned with a scheduled day off. He then learned he’d been suffering from an infection that could have been treated with medication weeks earlier but would now require surgery.
Every large company would rather make more money than spend more on labor. Railroads are in the unique position of having the government break their workers strikes.
Maybe this is better than the old way, but I still don’t see it as optimal.
If their target is to profit 10 cents on every $1 in cost, does that mean they wouldn’t take a job that profits 9 cents off a $1 in cost?
As a shareholder, I just care about total profit. If a railroad grew its revenue 3x but halves it’s margin, I’d be as happy as can be, profits just went up 50%. But it’s PSR would look awful.
I wanted to come here to say the same thing, so I'll quote you instead. Greed over all other things, how swell.
Precision railroading or precision scheduled railroading (PSR) is a concept in freight railroad operations pioneered by E. Hunter Harrison in 1993, and adopted by nearly every North American Class I railroad. It shifts the focus from older practices, such as unit trains, hub and spoke operations and individual car switching at hump yards, to emphasize point-to-point freight car movements on simplified routing networks. Under PSR, freight trains operate on fixed schedules, much like passenger trains, instead of being dispatched whenever a sufficient number of loaded cars are available. In the past, intermodal trains and general merchandise trains operated separately; under PSR they are combined as needed, typically with distributed power. Inventories of freight cars and locomotives are reduced and fewer workers are employed for a given level of traffic. The result is often substantial improvement in railroad operating ratios, and other financial and operating metrics; at the cost of less-reliable service, particularly to smaller customers, long-term capacity issues, increased derailments and other safety risks associated with longer trains, and crew fatigue.
PSR is the reason why half of the US rail fleet is in storage, they are no longer needed. this has significant positive and negative benefits. On the positive side, this includes the environmental impact, on the negative side, it makes US rail systems totally unusable for anyone other then the freight railroads.
Freight railroads (and rail in general) remains one of the most regulated business out there, but the rail companies are aggressively pushing back on new regulations that would address significant problems.
As a matter of public policy, we should make companies bear the true costs of their business and have those costs reflected in their pricing, rather than foist those costs on the public under the table and off the books.
So it makes the companies more money at the expense of everything else and you think that detracts from the OPs point?
Your comment is accurate, I just want to put this here as an analogy to help people in case they read your comment as a defense of PSR or the rail industry as a whole.
Yeah, coming from a country with strong labour laws, it's mind boggling that this is legal in the US.
Is that a nickname for some politician you don’t like, or is an actual serial killer complaining about the president and it’s relevant because… I guess because we weren’t expecting to hear from him?
Help an expat out here!
I'm not sure how it goes down in the USA, but here in Canada, federal transport workers are de facto prohibited from striking or other job action. Every time they go on strike, the next day the government passes legislation declaring the strike illegal because they are essential workers and a disruption poses a threat to infrastructure of national interest, and a new binding labour contract is imposed on the workers. The only legal option is to quit. (But you can't even encourage your coworkers to quit, too. That amounts to illegal labour agitation.) Air traffic control, port workers, railway workers, etc. get this treatment. They have no right to strike, in practice.
Edit: a quick Google search suggests it's same situation in the USA:
> The House has passed a resolution 290-137 that would force unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year between railroad managers and their workers and make an imminent strike illegal.
Given the level of corruption we live with today, that term packs an increasingly weak punch as labor continues to see completely unacceptable work arrangements.
What will eventually happen is they will strike anyway. It plays out in courts and a lot of people get harmed.
That same corruption will be the source of blame placed on labor.
It will eventually be on all of us to reject that proposition, stand up for these people and insist on reasonable and prudent labor arrangements. Yes, this means shit costs a bit more. So what?
The clowns abusing their labor could always give a little margin back too. Think they will? Nope. Not willingly. Not one cent.
Realistically the rail workers almost certainly don't need to strike to cause pain. They can likely slow things down dramatically by following rules and regs to the letter. Perhaps we'll start to see infrastructure sabotaged. Maybe dockworkers will refuse to handle rail cargo. Maybe Teamsters will refuse to do last mile for rail cargo. Who knows.
That assumes a situation where workers are able to do these things. Sure, in theory everyone could quit, but then they would need another way to earn money.
If employers know that their employees cannot afford to quit or risk losing their job, the whole "the market will fix it" theory falls flat, since there is no market.
Not sure how if this is the case for railroad workers.
The workers could decide to stop doing precision train scheduling (or whatever it was called). They could force their employer to give them concessions. If you're saying the workers can't afford to quit or resist then you're saying they have to accept whatever they are given.
But also only “blue” led states have minimum required paid sick laws, so at least they are trying. Given the option between red and blue, it seems obvious which one to support if you support paid leave for all.
No they could not. That would lead to economic catastrophe worse than march/april 2020. Dems would get swept next election and the workers wouldn't even win because dems would be forced to pass this exact law within a week of the strike starting. The government can't let 100,000 unrelated people lose their jobs, and they really can't let grocery stores run out of stuff or coal plants run out of coal causing blackouts.
Fact is they hid behind the parliamentarian, insisted on bipartisan legislation as a priority and then proceeded to cede the power granted to make that excuse a reality today.
Personally, I reject it all and know damn well this could all play out differently and it doesn't because ordinary people are just not a priority.
As you say, they have their reasons for keeping it.
Your claim would be more useful if you pointed out the vote was 52-43; with no great effort six Republicans voted for it, five Democrats are AWOL and Manchin for some reason I can't imagine voted against it.
The Senate also voted 26-69 against 60 more days of negotiations.
> Among the practices prohibited by the Taft–Hartley act are jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. The amendments also allowed states to enact right-to-work laws banning union shops.
Labor in the US is weak by design.
What're they going to do, imprison the masses? Illegal doesn't mean much without realistic consequences.
But, usually the ruling class + capitalist class targeted those they identified as labor leaders (often with bogus charges-- even without evidence, these often ended in convictions. With some of these convictions resulting in the executions of innocent people).
But, just firing all workers who participate as was done in the 1980s when air traffic controllers attempted a strike would likely be sufficient to scare the working class back into compliance.
Or, for a larger action, you could punish the entire working class by sharply raising interest rates and inducing a recession. With the resulting large supply of unemployed/underemployed workers, labor will be too weak to make demands.
Agree, and furthermore, I'd argue that the blue "Third Way" ushered in by Bill Clinton in the US is what hugely screwed labor, and 20 years later leads to the election of DJT.
Why can't Biden/congress make the agreement that the unions want and ratify that? There are multiple ways to avoid the strike; I don't understand why this has to be on ownership's terms. Long term, (or at least in 2024, which is about as long term as we get in American politics anymore) this is going to let team Red claim to be the pro-worker team.
Party of voting against the majority self interests will continue to vote against the majority's self interests.
but they are those who are voting those proposals down.
>Why can't Biden/congress make the agreement that the unions want and ratify that?
because they need 60 votes in senate and obviously don't have them.
I just don't understand how you can rationally reconcile party A voting against those proposals, blaming party B for not passing it, and claiming that party A is for those proposals. It's some weird doublethink.
It's exactly the same right-wing doublethink that spurs budget cuts and justifies the cuts by pointing out how ineffective government is. Anyone promulgating such notions is either a sucker or dishonest.
Nobody sane will believe them; while I believe the start of this was when the New Left captured "Team Blue" in the 1970s and blue collar workers famously became part of the Reagan coalition (and worked with him against the Soviet Union, particularly in Poland), the GOP establishment hates this part of its base.
Repeating part of another comment which in general is a repeat of all of this:
A great deal of Trump's otherwise inexplicable popularity is that he's a 1970s NYC Democrat just like Reagan in the 1980s was a self-described FDR Democrat and he doesn't hate these people. Doesn't care or do much for them, but this is a palpable difference from the GOPe.
Those blue collar Reagan Democrats that you're talking about are the ones that believe that. Same people more or less.
That is why Trump did well, he appeared to them to be a pro-worker Republican in the 2016 campaign and they voted for him.
While anti-communism may have been more impactful in the 70s, the Democrats being solid pro-big-business for the past 30 years has convinced a lot of people to vote Republican since they'll get low taxes and the freedom to do whatever they want personally. You may claim they're not sane or they're stupid, but that doesn't win their votes, and they're not interested in long-winded explanations of what Democrats are providing for them at the margins while yelling at them that they're racist/sexist/homophobic/etc.
If the Democrats were more pro-labor across the board and the message was simply "here is universal health care / child care / college and strong labor regulations for everyone" then there would be a real blue wave.
Edit: A more extreme example; there is a rule that says airlines mustn't make pilots work more than a certain number of hours without a rest period. This rule applies to all airlines. This rule was introduced to reduce the number of planes crashed by tired pilots.
Even still, I think I had 2 days off when my child was born before I ran out of paid "sick" days and had to go to work.
We (in America) saw the costs of this "just in time" slackless logistics in the economic reboot as we rebounded from the first waves of COVID: logjams at the ports.
Good system design allows for the absorption of interstitial disruptions.
There's a reason tall buildings sway in the wind; if they were so rigid that they didn't sway, they'd risk breaking when there is strong wind.
One thing people don't generally know is that as developed in Japan it's a quality control system. If a jig at a supplier gets out of alignment and parts made with it are out of spec and not noticed until assembly, you're better off with a feedback loop measured in hours instead of months.
COVID and the silicon shortage ... I'm not even sure JIT has any relevance, one of the biggest problems in the US was car makers canceling orders when as you could easily predict from historical plague patterns the demand for cars would go up as people left cities. Demand for a whole bunch of things changed due to the secular changes in the economy like work from home, JIT's shorter feedback loop might even help with that.
But chips are indeed one thing that shouldn't be done in JIT style. They inherently take a long time to make and are relatively easy to test. Toyoda was said to have changed their inventory strategy for them after the disruptions of the earthquake and tsunami.
And then there are disruptions like a fire taking out a fab line, I remember this happening in Japan for embedded type chips. Unlikely any relevant inventory policy would save you from that especially if there's an increase in demand where stockpiling won't save you.
The industry can't even in theory surge old nodes for which the equipment is no longer manufactured. We hear a not uncommon pattern is that they'll just suddenly stop making chips forever because they can no longer fix a critical machine.
You're correct, but that still doesn't address the quality control issue for things like metal bending, unless you add intense $$$ inspection to the process. You still have X amount of inventory of items you haven't yet assembled into cars or whatever for the final test of quality.
OK, for some of the upstream problems you could spend extra money to statistically pick individual items out of a designated stockpile/buffer and assemble them.
But stockpiles work better for stuff that can be tested, like piles of ores and elements or at the complete opposite end chips and electronics that can be tested , and nowadays we have the transistor budgets for self-testing.
It seems like the More Bad Advice crowd wants to keep living in a fantasy world.
It was not as bad as the COVID lockdowns, but at the time the changes were pretty drastic.
A lot of overhead was added for security. Now you need ID to get into a lot of places you did not need before. For example: my uncle was a UPS driver, and he said before 9/11 people just saw the uniform and waved him through. Bottom line, I think 9/11 showed there was no slack capacity, and a lot of companies struggled. I guess companies just adjusted to the new reality.
I do remember reading articles/web pages questioning JIT, and stating that if there was more slack capacity adjusting would have been easier, although I cannot think of any specific URLs/writers at the moment.
I am just a software grunt, but I feel like I have seen a similar dynamic in every job/project I have been on. Management keeps yacking about innovation, and pushing more work on us, while dismissing the notion that more time and/or more people would make everyone's lives a lot easier.
Agree on the point - we have a huge amount of fragility built into the system, and just - in - time logistics are a huge driver of that.
I am a supervisor on a commuter rail, and in this respect they operate in a similar fashion.
Like any other business, profits are key. Someone figures out staffing. Pretty much cut and dry. For a line from terminal A to B, there is one train per hour in each direction, 48 trains in a day. We need for example a supervisor at each end, and one engineer and conductor per train. So, say that gives us 48 train crews, and 6 supervisors per day. So, we hire 6 supervisors, and 51 train crews - in case someone calls out sick.
What happens if someone calls out sick? A supervisor? We keep costs down there by requiring the on duty supervisor to stay an additional shift. A crew member? We have that extra crew. If we have too many people call out sick, we force on duty crews to stay on overtime. We don't want to be doing that, now do we? That affects the bottom line.
If no crew is available at all, then the train doesn't run. This is also bad, as it upsets the customer.
Running with a "skeleton crew" ensures we are not spending more on labor than we have to. This is because in some markets, paying fewer workers overtime still comes in at less than having more people to whom benefits are paid.
So, the employees are intimidated into coming to work every day.
What the freight railroads are doing here is forcing the employees to use their vacation pay when they are sick to discourage them from calling out sick at all, in effect penalizing them for calling out sick. That vacation you had planned with the family? Either lose a day (which may require you to cancel altogether), or come to work sick. If they have paid sick leave, they'd use it when sick rather than showing up to work.
My agency uses a different tactic, just as effective in the employer's view, but no less exploitative of the employee. When an employee calls out sick, a Special Inspector may be sent to their home to check if they are really sick and at home. If the employee doesn't answer the door (They're sleeping and don't hear the door? Doesn't matter), they're charged with falsely calling out sick, and face suspension or termination.
Edit: This industry can be very time sensitive. It may not seem to you a big deal if say a train is late, but cargo is critical or a passenger gets to work late, that is not a good thing. The shipper may take some action if it happens enough. That passenger may start driving.
I'll never understand why people think it's alright to infantilise other adults like this. If they're sick and go to the doctor, that doesn't count? If they're sleeping (you know, because they're unwell) _that's_ not ok either? I'm not sure why you're advertising this kind of disrespect like its a genuine alternative.
To help convey your meaning here, it may be better to change it to "My agency uses a different tactic, but just as exploitative and just as effective."
Then again, I've also read in the news here of employers hiring private investigators to catch employees fraudulently claiming sick leave, then firing them and suing them claiming back wages paid along with the P.I. fees.
To play the devil's advocate, since sick leaves are costly for businesses here, it probably sucks hard if you have a few employees abusing it heavily to avoid work (even though it's common knowledge that everyone here takes a sick day off work every now and then after a heavy night out partying and drinking or stuff like that).
But you are! Lots of things can be improved in lots of places, but the problems with US labour don't exist and are mind boggling for developed countries. I'd (and I'm willing to bet all those rail workers would too) a potential egregious invasion of privacy to validate I'm really sick in exchange for pretty much unlimited (details vary by country, sometimes after days/weeks/months you're moved to like 60-70% salary) sick time, instead of no sick time at all.
In Dutch employment contracts this doesn't even have to be specified, this is a general condition applying to all employment contracts.
Most companies won't actually send a doctor over until you've been sick some time but they always have the right if you want to continue to receive sick pay.
Other companies have vacation/sick time as PTO and they don't distinguish between them at all.
Employees get draconian not just because they're wanna-be tyrants. They sometimes get draconian because they're tired of being gamed by a subset of their employees.
I would be willing to place a wager it's similar at freight, on the subject of time off: no guaranteed holidays. My commuter rail runs 24-7, the only way an employee gets the holiday off is if it falls on their regular day off.
At my railroad a lot of the workers did not have the resources to go to college or get a job with better conditions. So, while morale is low, some take the view "it could be worse." I'm sure you get a lot of that there, too.
> If no crew is available at all, then the train doesn't run.
Cool, then treat them better before they all walk out.
Because there are many people for whom that job is extremely well-paid compared to other options they have available. And people put up with tons of shitty situations when they don't really feel they have an alternative.
This song from 1928 indicates this is not a new problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8-PZFPCs3g
This is how many (most) jobs work. There is a bank of "Paid Time Off" (PTO) which can be used flexibly for sickness or vacation. The term bank is used purposefully to describe it, since it can be paid out as pay at separation. Many employers also limit the total amount of PTO an employee can accumulate. This is done to control potential liabilities from the bank.
While I don't call for the elimination of sick/PTO/etc, I also recognize that they are essentially irrational, similar to employer sponsored health care as an artifact of tax privileged "fringe benefits" that come with working in a large org. Funds paid to a worker for not working come from funds withheld from the worker when working. Sick/PTO benefit just makes a complicated system on top of the work/pay transaction.
US jobs, really. The concept of sick days / requiring taking time off from some pool always struck me as a) horribly abusive, b) ripe for employee abuse (sick days when not sick), c) bad for everyone (workers work when sick).
I grew up in Switzerland which doesn't have those. And (to prevent abuse...) you are required to have a doctor's note when sick for more than 3 days. Of course, a bunch of commenters find this kind of requirement abusive... (There is no system that pleases everyone?)
One might say the funding can come out of a different source, a popular go-to is "profit" or government, but all those are downstream from the value created by the worker.
For "knowledge workers" as most of HN is, they can just not show up today and then do today's work tomorrow. But something like a railroad ceases to function at some point and that has severe repercussions.
Now likely the "railroad" problem could be solved with some work, imagine a nation-wide company that handles railroad staffing emergencies, with on-duty employees available to go to a stranded train at a moment's notice. There's some dollar amount this would cost (even if you utilized jets and helicopters, those are just a cost) and it'd work. But that cost is what the railroads don't want to pay, as they could also do the same thing by hiring more employees (and have some percentage of them "idling" at any given time).
At one point the article mentions "on call" (the correct term is "Extra List") and that's exactly what you describe. You'd have say an engineer, who may be new and has no regular assignment - he'd put in his early months or years "on call." The company can call him at any time, and say "get to XXX, your train will be there." The whole issue is having enough to cover shortages.
That another part of the problem with bombcar's concept from the viewpoint of the railroad companies, they'd need a lot more people than you might think so a spare could be close enough to "XXX" to get there without throwing off the Orwellian "Precision Scheduling" of this PSR concept.
The train goes when it's built up to an arbitrary number of cars like 150, not at any set time. Since the system is not even designed for trains that long, it would probably generally back up in any give location if a train was too long delayed in leaving. The companies obviously also wouldn't want to pay for "jets and helicopters" to get a spare to XXX really quickly.
Compare to knowledge workers like programmers needing to know the code base.
For example, you could run slower trains in general which could help with flattening out domain knowledge.
Or you'd pay for engineers to be trained in some large area, etc.
(This all goes to show that the real underlying problem is running at 99% of capacity with no slack at all available.)
It seems strange to me that thousands of tons of goods and materials can be held up by flu season.
In lieu of more reliable methods of managing freight trains, it sounds like railroads put the full-court press on their employees.
Is there a justification for the railroads' practices? Do rail workers frequently call in sick for BS reasons?
edit: also, thanks for weighing in with your viewpoint. from the outside it's kind of hard to understand the emotions and practices that are driving this story.
It should not matter to the employer why an employee is not working.
If the issue is insufficient time off for illnesses, then the negotiation should be for more paid time off (PTO) in general.
This eliminates all the resources wasted on catching fraudulent use of sick days.
In many jobs with separate vacation and sick days, the vacation days still require the "advance notice" for scheduling, but the sick days do not require that one know, days in advance, of an unexpected illness. That gives the employee a few days that can be used for unexpected things, and the employer some assurance that a maximum of X days of unexpected outages will occur per employee.
More often than not, the "only one type of paid leave" comes attached with the "requirement for advance scheduling" of those same days, which does not provide for the unexpected illness situations.
The true cruelty of "no sick days" isn't that employees have to burn vacation days, it's that vacation days have to be scheduled in advance and approved. Neither of those things leave room for sudden illness or injury, and prioritizes company schedule needs over things like scheduling doctor's visits.
States with sick leave policies have stipulations like these:
If you need to miss work unexpectedly, you do so. The employer just trusts your judgement that it's necessary. If it's going to be more than a day or two, you are expected to talk with your employer and explain what's up -- mostly so the employer can adjust assignments and schedules with a better understanding of what to expect.
Do some employees abuse that? Sure. But, in my experience, that's rare and the people doing it are usually poor workers anyway. They can be handled through whatever the normal review mechanisms are.
This is my most common experience. I don't know how common it actually is, and I'm sure other situations would require different, perhaps more formal, procedures. But it's worked well in the places I've worked.
Perhaps a mechanism that allows for unplanned time off, with a little education on how to properly plan PTO to allow for unplanned leave.
If the label between sick and vacation is meaningful, are "Special Inspectors" needed to ensure people are sick when taking a sick day?
California requires overtime after 8 hours of work per day and on the 7th consecutive day.
If that is not enough, make overtime cost 2x.
Lots of ways to ensure employers do not run employees hard without getting into details of sick days and whatnot.
This is how it works in the military. So shouldn't you provide the same benefits? You can't expect to treat people this way without holding your end of the bargain. Namely with guaranteed job security, full paid benefits, set time off and vacation, clear paths to promotion, etc. etc.
Capitalists want to have their cake and eat it too. There's no concept of a social contract anymore.
Here, we see the tug of war and companies trying to have it both ways.
The corporation that takes the union's role would be owned by the workers; that's the whole point. It would be more like a "worker's cooperative" from that point of view, the way unions as they currently exist are supposed to be, but it would be a corporation from the point of view of other corporations who wanted to hire organized labor, so it would be in a better bargaining position than unionized employees are today. The workers would come to a consensus as a cooperative on things like how the corporation would manage the business risk of unscheduled absences, and then the corporation owned by the workers would sell the service of organized labor to other corporations that wanted it, probably with various different service levels depending on things like how critical unscheduled absences would be, and with higher service levels costing more.
(Though to my knowledge WinCo isn't the friendliest to their employees on the floor when it comes to stock ownership, I can imagine something more fair.)
$$ is useless if not flowed through economy.
Regardless, that's not really the point. The point is that if the unions want sick days it's perfectly within their capability to provide it since their salaries are quite high.
The solution, as others have pointed out, is that this should be a regulatory requirement rather than negotiated business-by-business.
There are not really any "losers" in such a fix: The workers get a more appealing and reasonable benefit package and life. Managers keep highly paid managing jobs. The businesses keep making large profits, perhaps a tiny sliver less. The stock remains very valuable, whatever variance this causes would likely not even be noticed among the daily swings of the market. Consumers never even notice their new widgets cost pennies more because of a tiny change in freight rates, etc.
Congress did not see what the winning play was, and instead perpetuated the bad situation.
Absolutely unacceptable (to them). They will fight tooth and nail to prevent any federal action that could harm their bottom line. It's one of the most predictable plays in American politics.
But if they all operated at slightly less margin, this dynamic would not occur; and the vast bulk of investors are not going to flee from an otherwise stable and long-term profitable asset class because it becomes a tiny (perhaps not even noticed) increment less lucrative. The vast bulk of investors are not going to march with (financial) pitchforks to Washington about this.
Think of the alternative: that no stockholder in any business would ever tolerate companies offering reasonable sick day policies. That is obviously not true; in most industries, at most companies, there is some kind of sick policy. So we should look at what is unique about this industry for the cause.
Monopoly behaving like a monopoly. The only real power the employees have in this situation is to leave, especially when the government's interests are also not aligned with employee interests.
Numbers tell us there are 10M open jobs in the US. Obviously leaving the devil you know for the devil you don't is not an easy decision, but I wonder how possible it even is? Are the rail employees in a position in which those 10M open jobs are not viable alternatives for them and how 'real' is the 10M number?
My cousin is a tree guy who runs a crew. He has been with the company more than twenty years and just now started getting a fair cut. They didn't have a choice but to cave to his demands (which were quite modest) because they simply can't run their business without him. They also promised something in the deal that never came through (a $300k piece of equipment to make his job easier).
I had been screaming at him for years that they had no viable business without him and that he should be getting a bigger cut. He just didn't have the business sense to believe it or leverage his power. He got fed up and had a much better offer from a startup and handed in his resignation. They panicked and started pitching better deals to him. Which he took.
This lock-in give the companies more leeway to abuse the workers if the unions are prevented from functioning to protect them. Which is what's happened thanks to Congress throwing the workers under the bus.
This is exactly how you get certain sectors of labor getting rough treatment from the Establishment even though there's a national net labor shortage.
Moreover, I'm more than happy to pay a little more for things in the long term to ensure that there's enough slack in the system to absorb the shocks that periodically come around.
We've just spent almost three years slowly killing everyone in healthcare because every "inefficiency" in the system has been trimmed to the bone. We've been asking people to shoulder crushing loads to make up for the lack of what is normally excess capacity. We shouldn't need a reminder that all that inefficiency is what adds resilience to the system so soon.
Airlines claim to have learned this. They say they're reducing schedules to more realistically match their ability to absorb hiccups during the holiday travel season. Time will tell, but it seems nobody wants a repeat of last year. If you make flying awful enough, evidently people will find ways to not do it.
Maybe part of the solution is to treat other industries like the banking and finance industries. Banks get periodic stress tests; perhaps it's time to do the same for all of the other systems that we rely on holding together but don't have to think about until they're falling apart under load.
As evidenced by the fact that there is no federal law about it, and only a handful of states required a small number of paid sick days.
>if such workers wish to recuperate from an illness or make time to see a doctor about a nagging complaint, they need to use vacation time, which must be requested days in advance. In other words, if a worker wants to take time off to recover from the flu, they need to notify their employer of this days before actually catching the virus.
>Q: Why did the railroads reject proposals to add benefits on top of the framework recommended by the PEB?
>A: The request for additional benefits made by the few unions that have not ratified tentative agreements is similar to a proposal which was carefully considered and rejected by President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). It comes weeks after these same unions entered into tentative agreements that included the most generous wage package in almost 50 years of national rail negotiations.
>The health, safety, and wellbeing of rail employees is a top priority for all railroads, and any suggestion that rail workers cannot take time off when sick is easily disproven. Rail employees can and do take time off for sickness and have comprehensive paid sickness benefits starting, depending upon craft, after as few as four days of absence and lasting up to 52 weeks. The structure of these benefits is a function of decades of bargaining where unions have repeatedly agreed that short-term absences would be unpaid in favor of higher compensation for days worked and more generous sickness benefits for longer absences.
What's happened is that the unions negotiated higher pay for worse benefits. Now some of them are leaning on friendly politicians to get the benefits they traded away back without having to give up the higher pay.
> National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) is an association of all U.S. Class I freight railroads and many smaller freight and passenger lines.
I can see how you assumed the reverse, given the misleading name, but that tells us something too, doesn’t it?
BLET - similar story https://ble-t.org/news/split-decision-unions-for-railroad-en...
IBEW? thats the electric workers union they aren't on call 24/365 to drive a train into the middle of nowhere sit for 12 hours then be shuttled to bunkhouse.
TCU, BRC that communications and car maintainance...
NCFO, well the Firemen and Oilers there refers to fixed plants not locomotives, and they've been part of the service industry union for the last 30 years, I don't know who exactly they cover but it's again probably not the engineers/conductors.
All of which is to say that the unions that have ratified the agreement are the ones that aren't being fucked by PTO/sick day shit (which isn't to say unaffected but, not fucked).
They didn't negotiate anything with the current contract being imposed on them. The contracts have been voted down by membership, hence the union does not agree with the terms.
The group who has "leaned on friendly politicians" is in fact management, who got Biden and the spineless Dems to impose this not-agreed-to contract via legislation.
ProRail has pretty aggressively been removing most track switches not in regular use, reducing their chance of failure at the cost of not being able to reroute around any issues that do occur.
At the same time they've been replacing busy railway crossings with tunnels, and closing or protecting the 150 or so remaining unprotected crossings. The total number of accidental collisions is down to less than one a week. There's still about 200 suicides a year, but they are also actively trying to prevent those by adjusting the infrastructure.
There are significant issues at the moment, but most of them are at NS and other transporters. They are critically short on personnel, and recruiting new people isn't going very well. They've had to cut the number of trains by about 10% already!
In my experience calling, text messaging, and WhatsApp has basically always had capacity issues on New Year's Eve, as literally everyone is trying to contact their family members the moment the clock hits twelve. Failed connections/messages are basically expected, and many people even intentionally call earlier or later to avoid this.
Cellular networks and Meta’s app, likely not so much. It is what happens when you regulate monopolies, you can attach performance requirements.
But, legislation (outside PUCT) has allowed the utility (generators and transmission/distribution asset owners) to cut the system to the bone and defer maintenance and expansion despite a new city's worth of people (~100k) relocating each month to Texas.
I wish it was as cut and dry as telling them to just strike, but I don’t think it’s that simple.
But instead they get the same treatment the airlines do: public support for private profit.
Why though? Railways are a natural monopoly and critical infrastructure, so either they have to be state owned or heavily regulated.
The way events seem to unfold is that asset owners get to take societal stability to the brink to maximize profits, and then non asset owners are the ones forced to blink to prevent societal instability. Aka privatize the profits, socialize the losses.
Wow what a run-on sentence! :P
Longer answer: It is within the federal govt's authority to write the labor agreement from scratch. They could have used the workers' preferred agreement.
In fact, the bill the House of Reps passed did include the seven sick days. The Senate held a vote on whether to include the sick days in the deal; it received a majority of the votes but due to Senate rules (filibuster) that was not enough, and thus the provision failed.
The government went with "lower costs for consumers"
Why "mandate on-call employees to cover sick employees" wasn't an option, I don't know.
It doesn't have to raise prices. The costs imposed by the sick days (millions) are absolutely dwarfed by annual profits (billions).
I'm just hypothesizing here, and I feel like I am missing something since it doesn't seem like having/adding on-call employees was an option.
They would have considered everything you mentioned in their cost estimate.
This situation does not lend itself to pat answers, including why Team Pelosi didn't first try a bill with both provisions combined. This trainwreck (sorry) could be seen coming for weeks, there was plenty of time to try to do the right thing. Except of course for both parties' establishments hating this segment of the population.
This isn't a push against your overall point, but I think a larger systemic view is necessary. E.g., maybe the idea of retirement after 20 years is outdated. Or maybe the system needs to be re-thought in terms of how to keep that paradigm funded, particularly in economies with declining birth rates.
We should keep the 20 year option and pay more, give more sick days, and fully fund insurance. Employees should be agents, not cogs.
Are US railway working conditions really so much worse that people's bodies basically fall apart in half the time?
Same thing with airline pilots; they're all older.
Secondly, the idea of retirement is an anomaly in human history. And it’s not clear that it’s particularly healthy for the individual or society.
I think there’s an argument to be had that in a productive society, people shouldn’t feel financially insecure. But I’m not sure giving 2 years of retirement for every 1 year of employment is the best way to do that.
Funding better benefits is certainly an option, but hard to do while also keeping costs down. Unfortunately, it seems like Americans prefer a consumerist economy and are addicted to cheap shit.
My personal opinion is that if rail (or air traffic controllers or whatever) are so vital to the economy, we should be willing to treat the workers as such.
Sorry if that sounded too harsh, but I take a dim view of the idea that we - in our well-paid industry with all of the benefits that come with it - have any business suggesting that workers who probably already have less than us will need to make do with less pay/holidays/healthcare/retirement or anything like that
It depends. If the primary principle is that retirement is necessary because of the wear-and-tear on one's body, then, yes, we should have some way to gauge that wear-and-tear. It seems odd to me that we can use this as the primary mechanism to justify retirement but also push back on the need to measure it.
As far as this leading to diminishing the collective bargaining of the unions, the unions are in the drivers seat there. I prefer to think of union members as smart enough agents to understand and weigh those ramifications. If it's in their best interest to maintain solidarity, I'd hope they would. But maybe you're right and it plays on short-sightedness inherent in people.
FWIW, I am in favor of giving sick days to the rail employees. It seems a bit absurd not to. I don't know the particulars of the way PSR works, but it seems like the objective function/constraints need tweaking to capture the negative externalities to employees. To me, it's the govt's role to ensure those negative externalities are accounted for and they probably have a number of tools to accomplish this, up to and including regulation.
If they strike, the trains just won't run.
We cancelled all flights in the USA for two days after 9/11 and it really didn't do much of anything major, but Walmart turns over all stock every month or so, and groceries are turned over much faster.
Trains also provide a significant amount of coal still used to fuel power plants.
Otherwise these people will strike to gain some decency in their labor conditions, but it will be "wasted" effort in the sense that other industries will still lag behind with similar problems. Wouldn't it be better to have a more general change that applies to everybody? Companies are greedy, they'll always try to get as much as possible from their workers, if law allows for it.
(note: not american. I'm just an observer from afar, in an european country where a lot of these worker rights are coded in the law; companies can offer perks above those rights, but never below)
It might not remain legal to strike (for this set of workers on this occasion).
On several occasions, Congress has intervened to delay or prohibit strikes. For example, in 1994, Congress passed P.L. 103-380, which extended the final cooling-off period by four months to allow the United Transportation Union and the Soo Line Railroad to continue negotiations. In 1970, P.L. 91-226 imposed a tentative agreement ratified by three unions but rejected by a fourth, similar to H.J.Res. 100.
Each day the rail industry strikes costs 2 billion dollars.
This type of loss would most certainly have a permanent effect on prices. Given how bad inflation is currently, this would further drive inflation higher. This complicates the decision to strike when people are already having trouble affording basic necessities as it is.
Sure would. Sounds like the railroad should give sick days or be nationalized.
True, but like all rights, they aren't unlimited. There are both lawful and unlawful strikes and the delineation between the two is sometimes hard to determine.
I support their right to strike. It should not be impeded in any form. I also support the right for society to take back all the land they freely gave for use of the railroads, and then to rent it back by imposing a tax against the paycheck of railroad workers equal to whatever gains they made by shutting down freight to the US.
More to your point, why would you tax the employees rather than the company that actually has the land easement? The former seems to absolve the shareholders while the latter would likely affect both the shareholders and the employees.
* this is one of the reasons Warren Buffet invested in rail a decade or so ago.
Great, since the shareholders of these companies are also involved in shutting down the rail network since they refuse to give a humane employment contract, you should be equally unsympathetic to their side. Since all else is equal on who should be blamed for shutting down rail or the economic impact this will have, then should we not be preferring the side that has the better ethical claim?
If you tax the company, both sides will be affected. The company directly through the fines, but also the workers indirectly as the company pay structure will have to adjust to remain viable. If you only tax the workers, only one side of that equation is affected.
>They aren't advocating fining for ethical violations,
Your statement is a contradiction of GP's statement. Preferring the side with better 'ethical claim' is in effect a redistribution in the form of discount to the more 'ethical' with a fine to the less 'ethical'.
1) Fines are appraised for damages
2) When there are competing claims, one should favor the side with a stronger ethical foundation
These are not equivalent. Just because #1 is true does not mean fines are appraised for ethics violations. They also don't have to be mutually exclusive. Not sure if you're trying to misdirect or just misunderstanding the distinction.
This is exactly why a strike is devastating and the point of the talk about Congress intervening. However, if it goes down like the air traffic controllers in the 1980s, their labor monopoly may be broken while the rail monopoly remains intact. So again it creates an asymmetry in power which is why taxing the employees is wrong-headed.
Tax the companies and they will adjust their rates, pay, and dividends. Tax the employees under a monopolistic employment, all you'll do is make the pay absorb the externalities. It becomes just one more way of socializing the risk of shareholders at the expense of labor.
>way of socializing the risk of shareholders at the expense of labor.
The strike would socialize the risk of employees/rail companies at the expense of the public who on average are far closer to the poverty line than the median rail worker.
If the companies are backstopped by the govt prohibiting a strike, they will go down to the absolute lowest level tolerable, until people retire and nobody is willing to take on that job. Likely, we'd see what happens in other industries that create a bimodal tiered system, where the grandfathered employees are still paid well while the newer tier are paid a fraction. Or, wages will stagnate until the equivalent occurs.
Again, taxing the companies will make sure incentives are more aligned between workers, shareholders, and the public. The problem with one-sided approaches is that it's very easy to levy a fine that someone else has to pay. The public and the shareholders can favor an ever-rising tax as long as long only the employees are burdened with it. Taxing the company will ensure that everyone is incentivized to find a reasonable taxation level.
Theorize the govt owns land that has the sole unobtanium mine that the fulfills some public necessity. I have the only equipment that can process the ore. You have the only skillset to operate it. Overtime, my contract terms get to a point that you feel is unreasonable. But the govt says you can't walk away because the public needs their unobtanium. Your solution is that the government tax you for the privilege to continue to mine - which they've also said you can't walk away from. Meanwhile, I pay no penalty to continue to press you for less favorable contract terms so that I can make ever increasing profits. Does that sound like a reasonable arrangement or is it marching towards a Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas scenario?
By taxing me instead, it forces me to find the right level of salary to you, rates to the public, and profits for myself. Everybody has skin in the game, unlike when your scenario that gives you an ultimatum you can't walk away from.
Taxing an activity makes it happen less. If the gov't want fewer railroad workers (or in your hypothetical example, mining equipment operators), they'd tax them like this! there'd be fewer operators as a result, and any shortage of them will cause problems. These operators aren't slaves - they can quit the industry.
The gov't would instead tax those employees _less_, in order for them to keep more of their wages, and thus encourage more of them to exist.
Also, I did not say their labor is inelastic (at least not at the collective level). The employees have a right to strike. However, the govt has said their labor is a necessity for the public good and has reserved the right to regulate it. Therefore, there is not a free market to set the price for labor as long as that regulatory mechanism exists.
As a matter of imperfect pragmatism I would support a bill that equally collects from the employees and employer as it would still be some way of extracting rent from land provided freely by public for a service they were cut off from.
>Your solution is that the government tax you for the privilege to continue to mine
No my solution isn't to tax for the privelege to mine, it's to tax for damages for loss of use of public lands that were only given up conditionally so they could be used productively by employees and employers of the railroad.
2) already addressed this once, but that is $130k in total compensation. I don’t have enough information to fully gauge their fringe benefits, but it’s not uncommon for them to total as much as 50% of total compensation. Additionally, rail engineers are often on call 24/7. So is, say, $75k in salary luxurious given no sick days, 24/7 on call, physically demanding job, and lots of travel, for what the country is saying is a critical role? It doesn’t seem so to me. That’s in todays dollars that will be eroded in the future if the companies have their druthers. It doesn’t seem like the great deal you’re painting it as when ignoring the total picture.
3) again, the land easements are to the company, not the employee. So it doesn’t follow that you want to tax the employee for a right given to the employer. It’s such odd logic that it comes across as a trolling effort
Yes. And you forecast it will be lower in the scenario you proposed of "monopolistic employment." But it is not lower, which logically concludes there is not the condition of monopolistic employment you claim.
>2)2) already addressed this once, but that is $130k in total compensation. I don’t have enough information to fully gauge their fringe benefits, but it’s not uncommon for them to total as much as 50% of total compensation. Additionally, rail engineers are often on call 24/7. So is, say, $75k in salary luxurious given no sick days, 24/7 on call, physically demanding job, and lots of travel, for what the country is saying is a critical role? It doesn’t seem so to me. That’s in todays dollars that will be eroded in the future if the companies have their druthers. It doesn’t seem like the great deal you’re painting it as when ignoring the total picture.
Then it makes even less sense the employees should socialize the risks onto the general public, who receive (by median) less than 130k in total compensation. The tax on employee is to compensate for these socialized losses for privatized gains, imposed against use of land given freely by the public.
3> again, the land easements are to the company, not the employee. So it doesn’t follow that you want to tax the employee for a right given to the employer. It’s such odd logic that it comes across as a trolling effort
Employees OF THE COMPANY -- the employees in collusion (monopolistic collusion if you are to be believed) to stop operating the railroad on these lands. Who are disproportional beneficiaries of the land, and by your prior statement equally to shoulder of the damages. The damages imposed by the employees are damages against use of the land.
Your absurd trolling accusation, and apparent willing disregard that employees are disproportionate beneficiaries of the land, show you are no longer acting in good faith, so at this point I wish you good day and will give you the joyous benefit of whatever name calling you wish to continue in unopposed.
Note the intervention of the govt is the key factors that changes this dynamic. E.g., why aren’t monopolistic utilities constantly gouging their customers? Because they are regulated monopolies.
The trade off with the public that you mention is how these endeavors become regulated monopolies in the first place. Society gets efficiency from the private sector in exchange for giving a public resource. The regulation is the mediating condition of that agreement.
Yes, employees of the company. That doesn’t negate the point. We disagree that the employees are disproportionately benefiting. All you have to do is see who’s equity is most aligned with the land. (Hint: it’s the billions of dollars of company equipment of the company). It’s absurd to tax at a level one degree removed while leaving the primary beneficiaries (the company) without accountability. It’s obvious you have an axe to grind that need not be encumbered with logic.
Clearly the Biden administration understands that these factors, when combined with a huge supply shock caused by a rail strike, would devastate households (the vast majority of which don't earn premium tech salaries - the median household income in the U.S. is $70K).
How many millions would need to go bankrupt before you would reverse your position? This is the calculus being done by Biden's admin.
Isn't the largest share of household debt a home mortgage? Implying that talking about the rail strike is a distraction from the root cause. There are still real consequences to Americans from the rail strike, but (very much like the student debt crisis) it seems like tap dancing around the root cause doesn't really fix the problem.
A large chunk of the population is clearly dealing with inflation through credit cards. More inflation for them just means more CC debt, and if everyone is getting as many "free balance transfer no interest for the first year" offers in the mail that I am, that's some extra fuel for a crisis.
And some percentage of that is paid off each month (but I'm not clear how to determine that - seems it might be 54% of cards but that doesn't answer "of dollars").
Average credit card debt is roughly on par with pre-pandemic levels. Dipping during Covid is probably an artifact of the govt stimulus (speculatively). Without digging further, it’s not clear to me that it’s not a return to normal. If that normal is still bad, my guess is there are more deeply rooted issues.
CC debt is also far more damaging to household finances, particularly during high inflation as you're just piling ~%20 CC interest rates on top of the inflation rate. So a "return to normal" is going to be far more damaging in 2022/2023 conditions than it would be in 2019 conditions. There's also no indication that CC debt is going to level out, the "normal" in 2019 was an upward spike as it was, and inflation is likely going to continue due to structural factors, which is going to continue to force people to compensate, which likely means an even sharper increase in CC debt.
Getting back to the potential railroad strike, put an extra 10% inflation on top of everything and for many people that's another 30% after they put it on a CC they can't/don't pay off. For many households it would appear we're looking at literally exponentially increasing levels of debt, mostly fueled by CCs and high inflation. That's a crisis.
I think I would lean toward household mortgage. The reason is simple. With a quick (and admittedly superficial) search, the average minimum credit card payment was $110, while the average monthly mortgage or rent payment was $2100. Despite the fact that many people don't have mortgages, they still need a place to live, and you can't decouple rent and home prices. Which is particularly pernicious for renters because their home costs are not fixed. Add to it that many people use their home equity as a revolving credit line and I don't think the costs are as fixed as one might first assume.
I think an underlying issue is that people have an optimism bias in terms of budgeting. They live riiiiight up to their level of income. I think the stat goes back at least a decade, but something like 65% of Americans cannot afford an unforeseen $500 emergency. Some of this is attributable to wage stagnation, but I also think much of it is due to another type of inflation: lifestyle inflation.
Inflation is largely caused by the same issues driving this rail strike: corporate profits. Maybe Biden should actually tackle directly that rather than continuing to shit on the working class.
In the social media circle-jerk, yeah. In economist circles that include the advisors consulting on policy, no. Corporations are/have always tried to maximise cost and profits. They didn't suddenly decide to get greedy 18 months ago. "Blaming inflation on corporate profits is like blaming gravity for a plane crash, technically right but totally misguided." Remember, gravity is always trying to crash a plane.
Frankly I will always side with expert opinion over karma farming social media commentary. I know it feels good to blame the shadowy cabal of fat men with a top hats and eye pieces, but it's just not what is going on.
Actually they did:
They exploited the supply chain disruptions to justified price increases that weren't warranted. The data is pretty clear on this point so I don't know what "experts" you're listening to.
Hence the example "It's like blaming gravity for a plane crash". Gravity's behavior is a constant, its something else on the plane that failed.
My original point was that corporate greed was behind much of the recent inflation and that Biden should tackle recent corporate greed directly if he actually wanted to reduce inflation.
You disagreed because corporations didn't suddenly become greedy and so couldn't be behind recent inflation, and I provided evidence that yes, they are in fact the main cause.
I don't really care whether corporations "suddenly" became greedy or were always greedy, that's entirely beside the point.
Now this wasn't terrible, mind you, because I did get to disconnect and enjoy some quiet time in my private room. But it was obvious the whole thing was still run like it had been for decades.
There's always some vocal sociopaths, I mean libertarians who won the career lottery coming out to defend this behavior on here too. Sad it's so internalised that workers should suffer for their employer.
This means that if benefits are increased, one way or another, that comes out of the employee's paycheck.
Nothing comes for free. The so-called "employer's contribution" to Social Security is actually paid by the employee in the form of a reduced paycheck. The same for the "employer's paid sick leave benefit".
Or maybe it comes out of stock buybacks.
What they can't do is reduce staffing further if they're already operating with a skeleton crew, which is what additional time off would do. This appears to be one of those cases where efficiency and resilience in a system are at odds.
Aggressively cutting staffing levels to the bare minimum required to operate leads very directly to worse service, more disruptions, and more sick and injured workers.
It leads less directly to lower wages, via higher unemployment, a catastrophic loss of institutional memory, as there's rarely anyone in your position when you're hired—you're just expected to figure it all out once you get there, rather than have anyone who can train you.
Lean staffing is devastating the middle and working class, and it needs to die a thousand deaths.
It is important to remember that the railroad industry was THE original big money monopoly that made its money exploiting workers. It's just continuing its tradition in the hands of Warren Buffet and similar owners.
There are also monopolistic forces driving control of certain tracks, routes, and stations that make deviating from this system hard.
I would think breaking the rail industries monopoly would be a priority to giving the laborers what they want.
Such double standards don't do well to mend confidence.
That said, I won't be surprised if there are sick outs in the coming weeks. This negotiation might be over for now, but it's not over for good.
I'm holding out hope for a wildcat strike the way this went down. Remember, union negotiators sent this sellout contract for a membership vote, and now it's being imposed by the party that at least pays lip service to labor. People are going to be pissed. Teachers won some solid victories over the past few years doing wildcat strikes against top brass' wishes, and these guys genuinely have the whole economy by the throat.
It's also going to be interesting how this plays out during the next election cycle.
People still talk about COVID testing as if it is a "Are You Contagious?" testing. Even medical facilities keep pushing COVID testing even though it doesn't change the diagnosis, treatment, or outcome; even if you test negative for COVID, you could (1) still have COVID, or (2) still have another contagious disease. If you test positive, you could (1) have COVID, (2) have something else similar enough to COVID, or (3) be a false positive.
It's entirely inconsistent and useless. If your sick and you might be contagious, stay home. If your not sick (or sick but not contagious), then you do you.
For some people their infection with covid is going to be mild, and their infection with a cough or cold is going to feel to them similar to covid. But for other people covid is very much more severe than a cough cold.
I have cancer, I'm going through chemo. I must not catch a cold, because it could be really serious. But I really must not catch covid, because it could kill me.
I'm not expecting society to live in lock down to accommodate me, but if an event asks people to do lateral flow testing before attendance, and someone tests and is positive, I'd like them to not attend, or attend with masking and social distancing. I don't want them to attend, not mask, not socially distance, and then near the end of the event say "oh, by the way, I tested positive for covid this morning". I don't attend events because this is a thing that people do.
If you're not very sick then sure the treatment isn't going to change much (just fight it off with OTC drugs). But if you actually need any sort of intervention (rare) they'll give you different drugs than say an Ebola infection.
> If your not sick (or sick but not contagious), then you do you.
Unclear how you know if you're not contagious if you don't actually know what you're sick with.
That's literally what I just said - medical facilities keep pushing COVID testing even though in 99% of cases, it's not going to be used to modify the diagnosis or treatment. As you said, the other ~1% or less of cases that might make a assist or alter a decision based on information provided by the test is rare, and nor did I say that in that scenario that it shouldn't be done.
> Unclear how you know if you're not contagious if you don't actually know what you're sick with.
There's more than just COVID testing, and some tests can reveal an infection that isn't contagious. For example, many bacterial infections are no longer considered contagious after ~24 hours of antibiotic use . A positive on a bacterial infection can give enough confidence on the risk of being contagious.
However, with a negative COVID test, you could (1) still have COVID, or (2) have another infection that is contagious. Doctors can't assume you have strep throat or a sinus infection from a negative COVID test, but doctors can make a diagnosis based on a positive strep test that you don't have something else based on your symptoms.
Another difference perhaps is that the SOP treatment, US, U.K., don't know where else is to give anyone bad off enough to require supplemental oxygen a steroid to suppress the innate immune system.
This isn't unique to Covid and Covid testing. It's simply much easier to see.
- Take back the railroads that the public built and maintained. Then charge commercial rail for the use of them. This is a huge issue since it currently is a major limitation of passenger rail in the US, and once again, having these be public could help spur the necessary improvements for passenger rail.
- Breaking up the railroad monopolies. We've broken up companies before, so there is precedent to do it again.
- Nationalize the railroad companies. This is highly unlikely it will ever happen in the US, but it should be discussed. It could become something similar to the post office.
A great deal of Trump's otherwise inexplicable popularity is that he's a 1970s NYC Democrat just like Reagan in the 1980s was a self-described FDR Democrat and he doesn't hate these people. Doesn't care or do much for them, but this is a palpable difference from the GOPe.
Okay, it's a scheduling problem. It's an optimization problem. It's possibly to a significant extent an optimization under uncertainty problem. Oh, and it's an optimization over time problem.
Did my Ph.D. dissertation in one of those, not for trains but for airplanes. Oh, for math majors in the audience, yes, did use Fubini's theorem (the core of the proof that the work really was in a very general sense actually optimal) and measurable selection.
Such problems can be challenging in practice for business operations, for the math, and for the computing.
And, right, the problem is no doubt, oh, I mean, even quite simplified versions of the problem, in NP-complete or if don't like that fact then can be challenging to get even approximately optimal solutions.
But, however look at the complexity of the problem, I'd
Guess: Including a 7 day paid sick leave should be possible to include in the problem.
That is, just because are attacking a challenging optimization problem, there is likely no fundamental or even very important practical reason can't also include as a constraint, feature, property, requirement, whatever, something like 7 days of paid sick leave.
Besides, we're talking about scheduling workers to run freight trains, maybe 100 cars long, with several big Diesel-electric engines, across major parts of the US. Uh, just the Diesel oil costs what? And in comparison for that trip the workers cost what? I'd guess a small fraction of even just the Diesel oil. Then there is the capital cost and maintenance cost of all that equipment. E.g., the track has to be in really good condition or ... don't want even to imagine what the costs could be, i.e., the term train wreck is used broadly as a really big disaster. And just a little maintenance on one of those Diesel-electric engines costs, how many hours of worker pay?
My nose smells more politics than business, applied math, computing, technology, etc.
And CSX and Norfolk Southern's response is just: "too bad"
There is no equivalent here in Germany, if you're sick you're sick and you do get paid (long-term illnesses are handled differently, but that's almost an entirely separate topic). This is really a subject that should be regulated from the top, and not something everyone has to fight for over and over again.
Trains got longer than the yards they are assembled in and that results in 10-12 extra hours. Now multiply that times the number of trains per Railroad. Result is the real reason why paid leave was not given. Not as a logic way to solve a problem but as a way to avoid solving the problem that would work as workers have the least amount of power in the economic equation.
Personally, I think nationalization is good for many reasons, but just wondering how government workers collectively bargain, if at all. How does this work with USPS for example?
Can probably also optimise things such that shifts and/or journeys start and end closer to home for workers, less nights on road more overtime / less overtime when people want it etc.
And that was just the first paragraph. The use of similar terms were repeated further in the article.
Read a better article - this one isn’t worth the electrons.
In his telling (and I'm paraphrasing heavily here), PSR — as it was originally designed — was meant to get everything on precise scheduling (surprise), thereby allowing you to better predict when and where you'd need workers well in advance. That would let you better optimize not just your trains but also your workforce. If you have a schedule, you can make optimizations that keep train cars from sitting around, and your workers reap the benefits of a fixed schedule (time off, less on-call time, things like that).
In practice, getting things to run on a schedule often meant capital costs that a of these companies balked at, like upgrades to rail yards and track maintenance to keep things running on schedule. The only real part of P.S.R. that ended up getting adopted, as this article points out, is the optimization part. But without the capital investments, you don't get a precise schedule, nor do you get any of its implied benefits.
Optimizations ended up meaning things like pulling more cars with fewer trains. I don't think the article mentions this in explicit terms, but these longer trains are often a few miles long. This length means the trains don't fit in rail yards, nor do they fit in the sidings that allow Amtrak trains to pass them (which in turn keeps Amtrak trains from running on time). Since trains don't fit in the yards, they have to leave as soon as possible, and since there's no fixed scheduling, "as soon as possible" ends up meaning any time at all with little notice, meaning engineers are on call almost all the time. Plus, when you have a train that's almost 3 miles long, they're more likely to derail on curves, and staff have to walk literal miles to fix problems along the train.
There's a whole lot more to this than I can repeat off-hand on a Friday afternoon, but this issue isn't going to go away. The rail industry is untenable, and given how scared everyone is of a rail strike, it also isn't going away any time soon.
> A decade ago, the activist investor Bill Ackman won a proxy battle at Canadian Pacific and proceeded to replace its management with a team led by Hunter Harrison, the railway executive who’d pioneered P.S.R. After imposing the gospel of “more with less” at Canadian Pacific, Harrison left to spread the good news to the freight giant CSX. At each firm, P.S.R. succeeded at generating higher returns. Pretty soon, major investors in other railroads started calling on their firms to imitate Harrison’s methods. Testifying to the government’s Surface Transportation Board about freight rail’s performance last spring, industry analyst Rick Paterson said, “Lurking in the background is the constant threat of shareholder activism if any of the railroads’ operating ratios become outliers on the high side.”
It could be considered a key defect of American railroads that they are operated as for-profit corporations with public stock listings and shareholders. In such a scenario, so long as profits can be raised, they must be — or else hostile takeovers will be led to do so regardless. America’s government is poorly equipped to combat this with the usual hands-off approaches. They would need to either pass laws guaranteeing sick days, nationalize rail services to protect against hostile takeovers, regulate that rail networks must be operated by (for example) “B Corps”, or other similar steps taken that interfere with corporate sovereignty. Such interference is typically avoided by modern American labor politics, and so here we are.
(Note: You did not state whether you endorse the possibility you describe, so duly noted given the style of reply, as it seems that omission is accidental.)
Railroad retirement begins full strength at age 60, and looks to be $4,838/mo for an ex railroad employee and spouse. In contrast, Social Security on $130,000 earnings would be $1,919/mo if you retired at age 62. The railroads pay for the retirement expense via tax.
So yes, by US labor standards, railroad employees are quite expensive.
I'll preface this by stating that I have not looked into the railroad pension, but instead I will draw a parallel to my own. I can get 80% of my top recent pay when I retire after 32 years, which is quite generous as pensions go. The long-term cost of this is around 16-18% of payroll - 8-9% from my employer, 8-9% from me. Current cost to be in the social security program is about 12% of payroll. Increasing current retirement spending by 1.5x is enough to get you to an extremely generous pension. This is a decent amount of money but far from back-breaking.
With a DB pension, you have to add agency risk to the equation. There is no need for that now when you can get a Vanguard/Fidelity/Schwab 401k and pay the same 0.03% expense ratio to get the same investment performance that a pension fund manager would. And you never have to worry about the pension fund manager stealing from it, or the politician directing investments to their nephew’s real estate company.
I would rather have whatever normal cost the employer is contributing for DB pension given directly to me so I can drop it in VOO and cut out all the middlemen and reduce agency risk.
> The long-term cost of this is around 16-18% of payroll - 8-9% from my employer, 8-9% from me.
Assuming you work for the government in the US, this is false. Government entities in the US are allowed to use whatever nonsense assumptions they want to value liabilities, and obviously they undervalue them now and lay the extra cost on future taxpayers. Hence the underfunded DB pension and retiree healthcare crisis plaguing many taxpayers.
Finally, DB pensions and deferred benefits in general make it hard to compare compensation offers from different employers, which is also bad for workers trying to negotiate the highest price. Very few people are equipped to be able to properly price the value of a DB pension from one entity to another.
>I would rather have whatever normal cost the employer is contributing for DB pension given directly to me so I can drop it in VOO and cut out all the middlemen and reduce agency risk.
It's a tradeoff. The risks you describe are real, on the other hand, no reason why the pension needs to be actively managed. It's certainly perfectly viable for the pension fund to be managed by plopping money into a few low cost vanguard funds, and the reason it doesn't work that way is probably partly inertia and partly job justification. But your individual investment has a big risk too - what happens when you turn 80 (90? 100?) and the money runs out? What happens if the market takes a shit the day before you turn 65? Time to start buying Alpo if you're not in a pension.
>Assuming you work for the government in the US, this is false. Government entities in the US are allowed to use whatever nonsense assumptions they want to value liabilities, and obviously they undervalue them now and lay the extra cost on future taxpayers. Hence the underfunded DB pension and retiree healthcare crisis plaguing many taxpayers.
You're confusing the pension fund liability with the actual long-term cost of the plan. The cost of the plan can indeed be gamed, but there's not much point. It's just an actuarial calculation with all the assumptions that entails, and the actuary shows that long term, investment of this amount is sufficient to cover all costs.
The liability is the part that can be gamed for political purposes - either maximized to spread fear/blame, or minimized to get a politician money to spend today. But importantly, the liability doesn't really have much to do with the long term cost of the plan, except to express that past funding has not been sufficient to cover all costs.
You can buy target date funds to minimize how much you have to manually reallocate between equities and bonds, and you can buy an annuity from an insurance company to guarantee a certain income.
I do not understand your distinctions between liability and cost of a DB pension.
> The cost of the plan can indeed be gamed, but there's not much point. It's just an actuarial calculation with all the assumptions that entails, and the actuary shows that long term, investment of this amount is sufficient to cover all costs.
There is a point…to contribute less than necessary for the pension plan to have sufficient funds, in order to make benefits appear cheaper today. For private company DB pension recipients, this results in them not being paid, hence strict laws like PPA 2006 and ERISA 1974. For taxpayer funded pensions, politicians just continuously increase taxes, so it is not as apparent of a problem.
For the DB pension recipient, they have the risk that the DB pension sponsor will come up short, either due to incompetence or corruption. That is a cost. Even taxpayer funded DB pension recipients have had their benefits cut when state and local governments could not come up with the cash.
Unless I had a federal government DB pension, I would assume there is nonzero risk of benefits being less than expected. Also, as a US resident, I have no doubt that even CPI adjusted benefits will be cut in real terms due to impending demographic issues and that is just how the game will be played. Feds will bail out equities over and over, and people with fixed incomes will continuously have less purchasing power.
Either way, I would rather own the assets being bailed out directly so that I can gain the most from the bail out, rather than pension fund gaining it and then still giving me a fixed benefit.
So to minimize the risk of market crash, you have to give up probably 4 or 5 years of decent returns by sitting in bonds instead. And if you want security of annuity you have to pay for that too, plus pay for the insurance man's profits. I just did a quote to put specific numbers in, to get 80k on my 100k salary for a set period of 20 years, I'd need to pay 1.1 million. That's 11 years of salary needed after taxes. Possibly I could have it after 32 years.
>I do not understand your distinctions between liability and cost of a DB pension.
The pension fund is a big pot of money that's supposed to have enough in it to pay costs for the next 30 years, assuming that the pension closed to new hires today. So the actuary says the present value of those costs is 10 billion, maybe the fund has 9 billion, you have a 1 billion dollar liability. This can be gamed.
But the actual costs for the next 30 years, based on actuarial assumptions and existing retirees, maybe are 18 billion in nominal dollars. Again, making assumptions about payroll, we can calculate this 18 billion as a percent of payroll over the same time. In my case, 16-18% is enough to cover. Unrelated to the fact that the fund has 9 billion or 11 billion or 1 billion.
The insurance company selling annuities and defined benefit pension plan sponsor selling annuities are doing the same thing. Although, based on history, the insurance company is subject to better regulation. Insurance company profit margins are ~5% at most, and I am sure DB pension plan management gets paid just the same. And it is all getting invested into the same equities and bonds.
The only difference is if you are a recipient of a taxpayer funded DB pension, then your DB plan sponsor has the power to increase taxes and will be more likely to stick around longer than a private company.
The reason that non taxpayer funded employers moved away from defined benefit pensions is because proper accounting made them too expensive. The old days of counting on explosive inherent growth due to everyone have 3+ kids is over.
The taxpayer funded DB pensions stick around because it remains politically possible to keep kicking the can to future taxpayers. The fact that the rules around taxpayer funded DB pensions are basically non existent and non taxpayer funded DB pensions are strict is all that needs to be said. Why would the same liabilities be allowed to be accounted for in different ways?
> So the actuary says the present value of those costs is 10 billion, maybe the fund has 9 billion, you have a 1 billion dollar liability. This can be gamed. But the actual costs for the next 30 years, based on actuarial assumptions and existing retirees, maybe are 18 billion in nominal dollars.
How can an actuary say present value of liabilities is $10B and also $18B?
As well, I have no clue what their benefits are like. It is quite possible they contribute to their benefits as well as most people do, which means their take home may be even less than you'd expect. I for one have employer provided health coverage where the employer contributes, as well as a portion comes out of my paycheck, with co-pays upon an office visit.
No. Railroads have the largest profit margins in American business.
> For the nation as a whole, profit margins generally sit at about 9% (8.89% to be precise), however, in transport, specifically railroads, this stands at 50.93%, the highest in the US.
> US freight railroads are in a bit of a predicament, and it’s not just because they are going down to the wire on labor contract negotiations with their 115,000 workers.
> Large railroads, including Union Pacific Corp. and Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway Co., have juiced their profits so high by increasing efficiency and paring their workforces over the last several years that they have boxed themselves into a corner with no catalyst to keep attracting investors. Adjusted operating margins for the five largest US railroads were 41% last year, compared with 29% 10 years ago and 15% less than a couple of decades ago. Those margins are off the charts when compared with other transportation companies, including trucking, parcel, air freight, maritime shipping, airlines, you name it.
> In pushing those margins over the past five years to a level that analysts most likely would have thought were unobtainable, the railroads have angered their customers with high prices and poor service and have alienated their workers, who complain they’re being overworked after the railroads cut their ranks as much as possible.
> But far from looking to improve those relationships with customers and workers, the railroads still seem fixated on operating margins. Even as negotiations with the labor unions have dragged on for more than two years and have frozen rail workers’ salaries at 2019 levels, the railroads are asking union members to pay more out of pocket for health care.
> And no one can argue the railroads can’t afford their workers. In one example, Union Pacific, the largest publicly traded US railroad, paid investors more than $41 billion in dividends and share buybacks over five years through 2021. In the first six months of this year, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company heaped an additional $5 billion on shareholders.
> Instead of looking at the labor contract as an opportunity to win over their employees and work together to improve service — again, the key to any strategy to take truck traffic — the railroads seem to be more concerned about protecting their profit margin gains.
The requirement for always increasing profits has resulted in mismanagers squeezing the railroad system until there is no further slack in the system. Because railroad workers form an "equal but separate" employment system to what the rest of the public sees, the public ends up staying terribly misinformed about just how different that railroad employment system is.
Since the executive classes get bonuses based on the wrong sort of incentives, the only way they can get bonuses is to abuse their workers to the point that even the public starts to notice.
> Railroad pensions are the only private pensions that I know of that are specifically called out in IRS tax forms. That has always seemed odd to me, and is probably some indication of how tightly regulated labor in the railroad business is.
Railroad workers have been kept out of the Social Security system from the very beginning. They can only get retirement benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board. Until recently (most of the changes were in 2006), many state & local government workers were also kept out of Social Security and were forced to rely on underfunded public pensions. No such changes have been made for railroad workers.
I'm not defending the lack of sick leave, but that profit margin figure is just wrong.
Notice the names of the railroads involved: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_United_States_railroad_la...
In February 2022, BNSF Railway implemented a points attendance system named "Hi Viz" that a union president called, "the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier." In the system, each worker starts with 30 points and loses points for taking a day off. Workers can accrue 4 points by being on-call for 14 straight days, but any time off, even for illness or a family emergency, resets the clock. Unions representing about 17,000 workers threatened to strike over the points system, but BNSF Railway sued and won a restraining order to prevent the unions from striking.
There are vacation days (guaranteed by law!). And then there is sick leave, and there is no fixed number of days.
They’re totally separate. If you’re sick, you’re sick - if you’re sick long term it’s covered by insurance. If you’re sick on holiday you even can get your vacation days back.
It’s so gross to me how this is handled in America. Certainly there are flaws in the Dutch approach, but it’s inhumane and precarious for so many people in America.
Makes me never want to return to life in the US.