New York City Railroad Workers & Future of American Labor

Jack Rasmus invites guest, Chris Silvera, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 808 in New York City, to discuss the current struggle of New York City’s Long Island railroad (LIRR) workers for decent wages and benefits and their possible strike on July 20 that could shut down New York City, stranding 700,000 commuters into the city from the Long Island and the ‘Metro North’ rail-lines. Jack comments how the LIRR negotiations today are a microcosm of management’s successful anti-labor core bargaining strategy of the past 20 years: i.e. a strategy in which previously hired workers are given token wage increases just sufficient to pay for rising health care premiums, deductibles and copays—while new hires and younger workers’ wages are reduced and their healthcare cost contributions are raised. Chris explains management’s latest proposal to LIRR workers—who haven’t had a wage increase in 5 years—is a 2% annual wage increase for current hires, to pay for their rising out of pocket healthcare costs, while new hires will have wages cut 4% and their benefit contributions increased another 4%.  LIRR unions and workers vow to break the 20 year pattern of making new, younger workers pay for existing members token wage gains and benefits maintenance, in what promises to be an important effort to break from the past. Meanwhile, railroad workers appeals to Democratic Party politicians in the city, to New York governor, Cuomo, and to Democrats in Congress to intervene are being ignored, as politicians run the other way revealing the ‘dead end’ of labor’s political strategy of recent decades.

In the second half of the show, Chris and Jack discuss how the LIRR negotiations represent a bigger picture of the growing ineffectiveness of traditional union strategies—both bargaining and political. Chris notes a new kind of ‘McCarthyism’ prevailing in unions today, where militant and radical rank and file workers no longer run local unions and have been replaced by what he calls ‘staffism and intellectuals’.  Jack discusses the ‘legal web’ that has arisen in recent decades that has given national and regional union leaders excessive legal and political intervention power over local unions, and how the power and independence of local unions must be restored and raise if change is to occur. Jack concludes that restoration will require,however, structural change and new organizational forms at the local union level.


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