Local union workers rally in Schenectady for rail workers’ rights (with video)

Union members rally on Erie Boulevard outside the Amtrak station in Schenectady in support of rail workers on Tuesday.

Union members rally on Erie Boulevard outside the Amtrak station in Schenectady in support of rail workers on Tuesday.

SCHENECTADY — Local members of the Industrial Workers of the World union rallied in solidarity on Tuesday for their counterparts in Railroad Workers United in the wake of a congressional resolution passed this month to avoid a national rail strike.

The rail contract imposed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 2 did not include the seven paid sick days sought by union freight workers, instead, it awarded one annual paid personal day off and three periods off each year for medical visits.

At a rally outside the Amtrak station on Erie Boulevard, Greg Giorgio, Upstate NY Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) delegate and member of Railroad Workers United (RWU), said the half-dozen union workers at the rally came to display their unity with rail workers.

“We have a longstanding tradition in the local IWW of standing with rail workers,” he said. “Railroad Workers United and some of the mainstream rail unions put out a call for a solidarity effort to call attention to the unfairly imposed contractual agreement that the president and Congress passed, which didn’t even include one of the most basic demands — which was more than just a few paid sick days, which railroad workers basically got nothing out of.”

Giorgio said the union was calling for public ownership of the national rail system.

“We’re also trying to call attention to the fact that the big private carriers have really just turned the railroads into a banking investment device,” he said. “Instead of providing good service to the customers and the public, they’re turning over stock dividends as the main priority. Put it back in the hands of the people and let it be regulated in a fair way and let workers have union democracy and autonomy over how the system is run.”

Giorgio contended that the rail union negotiations should be reopened.

Martin Manley of the IWW said that he came out to the rally on a frigid afternoon to stand behind the rail workers.

“We want to support the RWU and its efforts to organize rail unions to work together for justice,” he said. “In the long-term, I believe rail workers need the right to strike to defend their interests. In the short-term, it would be nice if they got their vacation days through [presidential] executive order. But more than that is the issue of the way that work is scheduled. That needs to be dealt with through negotiations.”

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The union workers held signs reading, “Sick Days for Rail Workers,” and, “I Support Rail Unions,” at the event.
Pete Looker of Glenville came dressed as Santa Claus to the rally.

“I just think that rail workers, who work very hard, should get the same benefits as my elves get,” Looker said. “My elves get unlimited sick time.”

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During the fall, a Presidential Emergency Board was convened to produce a rail contract that was agreed to by the rail companies and eight of 12 national rail unions. The congressional act was finalized a week before a potential rail strike was set to begin on Dec. 9.

“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” Biden said following the congressional action to avert the rail strike. “I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country. And, the agreement will raise workers’ wages by 24%, increase health care benefits, and preserve two person crews. I have long been a supporter of paid sick leave for workers in all industries — not just the rail industry — and my fight for that critical benefit continues.”


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