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Tue, Jun 18, 2024 01:10
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The Latest Railroad Dispute: How Does it Affect Your Mill?

You can't make sandcastles without sand, you can't make skyscrapers without steel, and you can't make paper without wood or fiber. And it's trains that are central to the transportation of products into and out of a pulp and paper mill.

Back last December, we had quite the problem with the railroads, but what exactly was going on? The problem boiled down to record profits for the railroad companies, but zero paid sick days for employees, in an industry that's essential to our economy. All that the workers wanted was two weeks paid sick leave like anyone else gets. But management wouldn't budge, wanting to keep their record profits coming in.

Why did it end up in Congress? Just shy of 100 years ago, in 1926, The Railway Labor Act was passed as one of the very first labor laws. Because most railroads were already unionized at that time, the purpose of the law was to be able to regulate and negotiate between the unions and management, ensuring trains would continue running. (Airplanes also answer to this act now, as well.)

How was the current problem solved? I'd venture to say it wasn't solved eloquently. The issues were discussed and bounced around congress, and the decision voted on. And however it came out, both management and the unions had to abide by the decision. The railroad management had no say in the matter, nor did the unions.

This time, the government decision leaned heavily in favor of the management. Union workers gained a single personal day per year, but no sick days. - And sick days was the issue that the unions were on strike for. This decision really lowered morale for the workers.

Then days later, as if morale wasn't already low enough, the railroad management launched a campaign for reducing train crews from two-man crews to one-man crews with a ground-based "expediter". Common sense steps in here and points out the problems with a one-man crew: what if the lone engineer on the train has a health emergency, is incapacitated, or a 10,000 ft. long train separates? Needless to say, the unions are against this campaign. (This one-man crew idea will take a long time and a lot of work to get approved, if it's approved at all.)

So that's how we ended up hearing about a labor dispute in congress that affects paper mills, and that's what's going on behind the scenes. And I can't help but wonder how lowered morale will affect train operations, in an industry that's integral to pulp and paper manufacturing?

Here's a suggestion: If you're the person who greets the train crew, put some extra effort into making their day better for having stopped at your mill. No single person can fix the whole system, but you can make the day better for a few people.


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