Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Railroad Worker vs. The Railroad Corporation

The Railroad Worker vs. The Railroad Corporation

We might think of ourselves as Railroaders, but don't forget, most of us rails work for multinational billion-dollar "fortune 500" corporations. And remember, the very nature of corporate thought does not take into account human factors. When it comes to communication and management, numbers are very important to the corporation. Numbers can be crunched and manipulated. Dealing with issues on a human level however, is not exactly management's forte. 

Corporations suggest that because they are made up of shareholders, that they are indeed not a simply a corporation, but a group of like-minded folks. They want the right to lobby and spend money to influence government just like an individual citizen is able to. And they won this "right" to "corporate "personhood" with the landmark case Citizens United vs. FCC. This Supreme Court decision paved the way for corporate sponsored superpacs and unlimited corporate spending to lobby congress. 

Recently, CSX took a survey on the company's internal intranet web service. Based on the survey results, CSX expanded our face-to-face rules classes by one day, as they had come to the conclusion that they needed to communicate more with us. They also determined that we needed to be cut in to the business model and this extra day of numbers and graphs would “help” us to “understand” customer service. To further remedy the problems that they discovered by asking us our opinions, they have spent thousands of dollars on "CSX TV". Large digital screens were mounted at the entrance to terminals. Is this really what we told them we needed? I am sure we didn’t tell them that that harassment is out of control. I am sure we didn't tell them to stop whittling away every pay claim we have in our so-called agreements. I am sure we asked
 them to spend thousands on silly division newsletters, the ones where the person who interviews you makes up little comments that you didn't say. I am sure we told them in the invite-only focus groups to spend thousands on all of this? Is this where our bonus money went?  

Railroaders already care about service, that's why we ask questions like: Where are my orders? Is our train ready? Why can't the bowl job throw out this shop car? Why is that signal yellow? And in the hopes of using another human trait -- common sense -- we ask many other questions that involve common decency. Common sense tells you that if a person is trying to make ends meet, take care of a family, that you don't harass, threaten and charge them for every miniscule "violation". Common sense would tell you that you can't look through someone else's eyes. The new CSX TV doesn't hear about the person who was harassed, fired or charged. The computerized communication doesn't hear about their children and lost wages. The corporate model does not have a conscience.

Hours of Service, Tour of Duty, Class of Service, On-Duty Time…you get the drift. Notice the terms "service" and "duty". These words pop up in everything from agreements to pamphlets about fatigue management. Who are we servicing and to whom is our duty? If we were military instead of railroad, our service and duty would be to uphold the constitution and serve the people. So my argument is this: If a corporation is a person, are we servicing that person with a duty to protect? Or are we servicing our communities and country with our work? As railroaders we should ask: Is it the duty of the corporation to make sure the shareholders have their dividend check?  Likewise, should it be their duty to have the decency to pay claims, abide by contracts and pay bonuses? Especially since corporations have convinced the Supreme Court that they are indeed people. 

Most workers know the sad truth: that the shareholders come first. We and our agreements are the last thing of concern to the rail corporation. If corporations were in fact people as the Supreme Court holds, then they would have compassion, grace and the ability to listen. They would care to hold their word. They would not harass their employees, the folks who dutifully perform service. Corporations do not possess human traits. Their service and duty is to provide maximum profits to the shareholders, period! And if that means cutting healthcare, breaking contracts, denying claims, harassing and disciplining the workforce, stealing bonuses and all the rest, then that is what they will do. That is the nature of the Railroad Corporation
J.P. Wright is a locomotive engineer with CSX out of Louisville, KY and a member of BLET #78.  He currently serves as the Organizer for RWU.

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