Fair Treatment for Railroad Workers

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 5, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, this will be a parable to greed and modern predatory capitalism.

We used to have the most efficient, reliable freight network in the world. Freight was delivered safely, at a reasonable rate, and on time. They had a large skilled workforce reasonably compensated, and the railroads were all moderately profitable.

Then came Hunter Harrison, now deceased. He thought there was something wrong with this. He took over CSX. There is something wrong here. He invented precision scheduled railroading, which is anything but. He slashed the workforce and started running trains that were 4 and 5 miles long. They don't have sidings that are that long, so they block intersections all across the country.

He found new ways to gouge the customers with a host of new fees and jacked-up rates and, as a side effect, as the agriculture, energy, and construction customers have all testified to the Surface Transportation Board, delayed deliveries, disrupted businesses, and increased costs, which ultimately get passed on to consumers.

But he accomplished his goal. Profits are up. In the last decade, railroads bought back $230 billion worth of stock and dividends. In 2021, it was $26 billion in dividends and buybacks and $29 billion in profits. The CEOs, like the now-gone Hunter Harrison, are making out like bandits. They all earned $16 million a year on average or more.

The Wall Street jackals, well, they are just thrilled with the stock price. Warren Buffet was bragging on making $6 billion last quarter with BNSF, which has become the most abusive railroad in the system. They used to be the best. They were the star. I don't know what happened.

Last week, we had to legislate here on the floor of the House. 115,000 rail workers had gone 3 years without a contract. The railroads were intransigent. They couldn't afford pay raises. What? Oh, and no paid sick time. Oh, we couldn't do that.

They testified to the Presidential Emergency Board that record profits were not due to ``any contributions by labor.'' I guess the trains run and maintain themselves.

Despite massive layoffs and a 600 percent increase in productivity of the remaining workforce, I guess it is their just fabulous business acumen that is making all this money.

Because they cut the workforce to the bone, they are particularly adamant that there can be no paid sick time--well, no sick time at all, in fact. They are forcing workers to come to work sick and fatigued in an industry where one little mistake will lose you a limb or might cause a catastrophic accident. There is a 60 percent increase in the violations of time by the railroads.

If they gave all the workers 7 days paid leave, it would take 1 cent off of their profits, 1 cent per dollar of those profits.

Last week, the House voted to lock in the tentative agreements that provide historic pay raises and guarantee reimbursement for work expenses, and they prevented a massive disruption. In addition, 221 Members of the House voted to impose 7 days of paid sick leave--with only three Republicans. Pretty pathetic, guys. Pretty pathetic.

Congress took action because we recognized who makes this country great, who makes it run. It is frontline workers. Without them, just under one-third of our country's freight would sit idle.

It is time for the railroads to face the music. Precision scheduled railroading is an abject failure. Your service is atrocious. You treat your workers with no respect. Don't come crying to the Federal Railroad Administration and Congress to bail you out for your ineptitude, greed, and profit taking. If you can't provide your workers with paid sick time because you don't have enough people working, well, then, maybe the CEOs could take a shift in the rail yard to cover them.

It is time for this to end. Unfortunately, it didn't last week because the Senate overrode us.

I thank my staff who worked so hard on this legislation last week: Auke Mahar-Piersma, Andrea Wohleber, Frances Bourne, Katherine Ambrose, Alice Koethe, Jill Harrelson, Kathy Dedrick, and all the other fabulous members of my team.