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Equity and Responsibility

Fire and Steam

A railroad worker writes:-
I am an operating employee with the Union Pacific Railroad Co., and have experienced first-hand a "progressive" wage system whose origins lie in an agreement signed with the carriers back in 1985.

As a post-1985 employee, I agree 100% with the points made at nomoretiers.org, especially where it concerns matters of dignity. However, I would like to add one additional point that I consider at least as critical: equal pay for equal responsibility.

On the railroad - and by that I mean all railroads - workers are required to handle equipment and freight possessing a monetary value of seven figures or more per day; additional issues we contend with on a regular basis deal with safety, both for our sake and the public's. It is in this context that I ask the question: are the employees at, for example, 85% of what they should be, only 85% as responsible when something goes wrong?

In my industry, if a bad enough accident occurs and the carrier even suspects it's your fault, you're 100% fired, regardless of where you sit on the tier system. This situation is greatly magnified when one considers the heavy-handed approach that railroads have traditionally had (and still have) in nearly all matters of discipline; most of us carry insurance policies exclusively for that purpose.

It is to this end that I propose making the issue of equal pay for equal responsibility one of the platforms of your argument, or at least a part of it. I wish you the best of luck in your fight against this most demoralizing and divisive method of compensating employees for their work. Furthermore, I can assure you that you are not alone in your struggle.

Chris Harrington
United Transportation Union Local #835
Rank and File Member

NoMoreTiers replies:
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The point you make is a good one and perfectly valid, and yes, it is an aspect of the problem that hadn't occurred to me. I also couldn't have put it more clearly.

Now, in terms of responsibility and percentages, one point that has occurred to me, is that if a person on 100% pay and benefits, is expected to do a fair days work, then someone earning only 85% of the full rate for the job, should not be expected to do more than 85% of a fair days work. And if also they are deprived of normal benefits (sick pay, LTD etc.) then they should be expected to do substantially less than that. However employers’ expectations are rarely honest, fair or realistic. And yet fortunately, many employees are creative and moral enough to contrive ways to "go canny" without being too obvious about it.

Of course any action by workers is best taken democratically, collectively and in solidarity, but the existence of contracts that permit these two tier systems, indicate that these three pillars of working class organization (democracy, collectivity and solidarity) have already been seriously eroded. The time to start fighting back to recover this lost ground is not in the few weeks leading up to the next contract negotiations, but rather, the time to start fighting back is today, if not yesterday.

In Solidarity,
John Barker

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February 2004