New Maintenance of Way boss Al Wojcik is losing no time in attacking long-held Trackworkers’ rights.
He is moving to eliminate all restricted duty jobs: anyone who can’t pick a full duty job will face reclassification. Track has been steadily losing restricted duty jobs for some time. Now, if Wojcik has his way, all Track workers who are unable to work full duty jobs because of injury or illness will be forced into other positions like being Station Agents. They will thus lose their seniority and often be placed in the jobs everyone knows the TA plans on hitting with layoffs as soon as they think they can get away with it.
Wojcik is also moving for Picks by phone, not personal appearance, for the next and all succeeding Picks. Because they are not done under the watchful eyes of large numbers of workers, phone-in picks give management an opportunity to manipulate the pick to their advantage. With this attack, Wojcik hopes to keep track workers on the job rather than spare the time for the pick, and deny us an opportunity to gather in large numbers, where we can and often do discuss work issues and organize against management. Elsewhere in Maintenance of Way, Signal Maintainers and Helpers already pick by phone instead of in person. If Wojcik’s attack on Track succeeds, the TA’s whittling away of our work conditions will turn into slashing. Infrastructures, Power and so on will be next. Save Our Restricted Duty Jobs! No Phone-in Picks!
We have to stop this attack now! There should be a mass meeting of all Maintenance of Way workers to discuss and plan a fightback. But on this score, so far nothing has been heard from Maintenance of Way Vice President Julio Rivera. John Samuelsen, Track Division Chair (and sometimes Maintenance of Way Acting Vice-President, appointed by President Toussaint without notification or explanation to the membership) has correctly called for a fightback against these attacks and has at least called an emergency Track Division meeting for Wednesday, July 9, at 5:00 pm. This is welcome, since he wavered on Phone-in Picks during Track contract negotiations last fall. Since division meetings are open to all workers to attend, RTW encourages all Maintenance of Way workers to come to the Track Division emergency meeting.
Brother Samuelsen has correctly been pointing out that Management continues to violate elementary job safety and argued that we must greatly step up the safety fight, starting immediately. Good. And as he has said, in this fight we can especially use the new contractual Safety Challenge written form. This orders the bosses to stop all challenged work immediately, on the demand of one or more workers who fear a danger to life or limb. If the foreman and then the Superintendent do not conform the job to the TA’s own safety rules, union representatives or other workers can then invoke Contract Section 1.9, phoning Control and top Maintenance of Way management to stop the job as a safety emergency.
A stepped-up struggle against unsafe work conditions that sees workers organizing to shut down dangerous jobs, will show management that we’re serious about defending our work conditions. If we use this struggle as an opportunity to also demand an end to attacks on our restricted duty jobs and pick rights, we will be able to not just win safe work, but also beat-back Wojcik’s attacks.
Stepping up safety interventions on the road by the officers whom the members elected – or, as Bro. Samuelsen plans, by his personal appointees – could be a step toward workers’ mass action. His regime’s history, however, is just the opposite. Poorly-attended Division meetings, occasional floods of union literature followed by weeks of drought, unanswered phones at the Local Track desk, rare sightings of union representatives in much of the field, are all symptoms of a bureaucratic union leadership isolated from the ranks.
A result of this functioning is that Trackworkers and other Local 100 members, even some militant ones, dread safety inspections as attacks on them. Of course, militant union representatives or other militant workers have to enforce safety, as this author does, despite the inconvenience felt by co-workers. But it requires explaining how, after over 2½ years of Samuelsen’s supposedly militant regime, many workers feel even more distant and alienated from the leadership and its actions than before. Bro. Samuelsen’s method of scolding the ranks as deal-makers with the bosses is slanderous and will inspire few struggles.
What’s necessary is a massive intervention in the field to shut down unsafe jobs, but not only that. Officers and other militants who want to build the struggle for safety, as well as against Wojcik’s Pick and Restricted Duty attacks must go to quarters and job sites and patiently and persistently explain – and listen! – to their co-workers about Wojcik’s attacks, and about what unsafe conditions exist and how workers in gangs and groups can unite to challenge them. This can help bring up the new, militant leadership we need to fight the other big attacks the MTA is planning against us.