“What’s Your Hurry?” That was the headline of the July 5 RTO Newsletter. The accompanying article lectured Train Operators and Conductors to follow management’s rules in order to work safely. But the article insults workers’ intelligence by pretending that there is no pressure from management to hurry.
Mobilizing to strictly follow the rule-book should be part of a campaign to make the system safer. Obviously, each and every T/O must operate slowly through job sites, for example. And T/Os and conductors cutting corners elsewhere run the risk of management using it as an excuse to discipline them. But working according to the rulebook will never last long-term without a fight against the bosses’ many pressures to rush. However the article contains no hint of the sort of collective workers’ action against the bosses that is needed to win safe work conditions. Instead it encourages workers to enforce the rules individually, regardless of the consequences, and conveniently sets up the RTO leadership to blame the ranks when they don’t.
Every T/O and Conductor knows that on many lines the schedules don’t work: if you operate “school car” (as per school-car instruction), there is no way you can make your run in the allowed time. Even some of the better lines often work on long-term supplements due to General Orders (service changes due to planned track work). So your choice is: hurry up, or operate “school car” and come in late every time. T/Os and Conductors who operate according to the rulebook often lose their breaks between runs as well as their lunches and often clear late: you bring your train into the terminal and the dispatcher is waiting for you on the platform saying “That’s you to go!” We all know how draining the road is: those few precious minutes in between runs help us shake off the last trip and recharge for the next one -- they mean the difference between a normal (hard) day, and a hellish one. And not having to make another run when you’re exhausted from the one you just finished is a safety issue itself!
Many workers who go “too slow” become a target of management’s attacks. Train Service Supervisors ride them, looking for any excuse to bang them into Labor Relations on disciplinary charges. Dispatchers will remember you and may send you back out on the road right away -- even when you are not late. Low-seniority workers who operate “too slowly” for management often get assigned to the worst jobs with the shortest lunches and breaks and at the most remote locations. And RTO members who individually work to management’s rulebook may even face trumped-up disciplinary charges. Of course, some workers get away with being slow regularly, but not those with little seniority and without picked jobs. They are at the mercy of the crew office.
Management does occasionally write workers up for going “too fast.” But everybody knows that the bosses attack us much more for going “too slowly.” They can thus single out the most safety-conscious workers and pressure them to operate faster.
Some say we have a choice -- that we don’t have to go out right away after we just got in. Sadly, the contract does not entitle us to breaks and we don’t even have to get a lunch break, as long as they pay us a “no lunch.” They can’t deny a “comfort” (bathroom break). This is one of our few rights. However, if you operate school car, get in late every time, and keep telling the dispatcher that you’re taking a comfort every time he or she tries to send you out, you can be sure that dispatcher will remember you and make your life miserable: they can send you out whenever, give you extra work -- lay ups or switching if you are a T/O, platform if you are a Conductor, and give someone else the drop you’re supposed to get.
The “What’s Your Hurry?” article almost admits that operating schoolcar will make us late when it reminds us to put in for late clears. But most RTO workers don’t think the “blood money” they get for late clears is worth being singled out for constant management harassment.
Mobilizing to strictly follow the rule-book should be part of a campaign to make the system safer. But working according to the rulebook will never last without a fight-back against the bosses’ many pressures to rush. Such a struggle demands a leadership prepared to show the way forward and back the members up against the bosses with all the Local’s resources.
In RTO, the top union leader is Toussaint’s staunch ally, VP Curtis Tate. Tate spouts management’s worker-blaming “culture of safety” line at the drop of a hat. But he’s not the only elected official in RTO. The Train Operator Chair, Steve Downs, has for years claimed to be an opponent of the union bureaucracy, including Toussaint. He is one of the few Independent anti-Toussaint candidates to win any Local office in the last election.
But Downs, too, puts forward the “What’s Your Hurry” line. This only encourages and covers for Toussaint’s anti-worker “partnership” with the killer MTA bosses. A true militant would at least warn against the individualistic trap of “What’s Your Hurry?” and argue instead for a serious union safety mobilization. But Downs hasn’t done that -- and as a union official with a militant reputation who many members respect, he could help kick off a real safety fight-back.
Train Operators and Conductors who want to see a real union mobilization for safe work conditions including operating according to the rulebook in RTO should attend their upcoming Division meetings and demand of their leaders: Stop pretending there’s no hurry! Publicize and organize a real union campaign against the bosses’ pressures to rush and for us to win a general right to breaks between runs and for lunch! And promise full union backing for any worker who faces harassment from management as a result of working according to the rulebook! That would be a great step toward a sustained campaign of working according to the rulebook and winning safer working conditions.
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