American Rail Worker Strike Likely Imminent, Amtrak Cancels Most Long Distance Routes

Amtrak Work Stoppage 11 photos
Photo: Amtrak
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As reported by the New York Times just after 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday, September 14th, unions representing America's railway workers, authorized a work stoppage related to an ongoing labor dispute by 12:01 a.m. this coming Friday morning.
According to reports, the announcement stated that contract negotiations between two of America's top railroad worker's unions and the domestic rail freight industry had failed to yield mutually satisfactory results. As the minutes count down to Friday morning, hopes of a miraculous change in fortunes appear to be slim to none. As a federally initiated 30-day cool-down period comes to a close, it appears the people most likely to suffer the most are Amtrak's passengers.

Much of the debates between Amtrak and railway freight industries are driven by an issue as old as Amtrak itself. That being the unending freight-train supremacy over America's railway's that's gone mostly unchallenged since the nationwide collapse of the country's great private passenger rail companies like New York Central and Penn Central in the second half of the 20th century.

Ever since, and even pre-dating the formation of Amtrak, American passenger trains have been stricken to sit at stations across the country, waiting for much favored and high revenue generating freight trains to clear tracks along the same routes passenger trains are forced to travel on. Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the single natively owned Amtrak route in its repertoire, the entirety of the privately owned heavy-duty rail lines in the United States are subject to freight supremacy.

What does this mean for the consumer? Well, in short, if a freight train is traveling in front of your train on the same route, you're going to sit idle while it clears the tracks ahead of you. Based on union negotiations, decades long squabbles between freight and passenger railways are just the tip of the iceberg of greivances levied against Amtrak's higher ups. Further battles regarding Amtrak and private rail employee benefits are driving a further wedge between the government-privately owned hybrid company and its increasingly disgruntled laborers.

Amtrak Work Stoppage
Photo: Amtrak
All the while, both Amtrak and private freight rail workers have have become increasingly louder in voicing their greivances with their respective management. Relations between rail worker unions and representitives from private freight rail companies have deteriorated so severly, that President Joe Biden is reported to have personally gotten involved. Ostensibly in a bid to try and limit the damage such an even could cause to both freight and passenger rail.

Chief among demands on the union side is a call for more predictable schedueling on the part of both Amtrak and private freight rail services, alongside an inflation adjusted pay raise in tandem with substantial back pay for American rail employees on both sides of the aisle. Other notable union demands come through calls to abolish the decades old pracitce of docking employee pay for visiting the doctor during the work week.

Such benefits are commonplace with government funded rail programs across Europe, Asia, and Oceania, but isn't always a given for American employess in similar industries. Meanwhile, interruptions in long distance Amtrak rail services are expected to take effect as soon as Thursday. Outright suspensions are expected to be applied to the Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago and the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco.

Over 115,000 workers represented between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division, the livelihoods of so many Americans rest on the negotiations taking place over the next two days. The future of all future passenger and cargo rail in the U.S. depends on it, and perhaps even some supply chain snafus as well.

Amtrak Work Stoppage
Photo: Amtrak
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