Call it the twilight zone of reality when three rail unions embrace the convictions of far-right public figures Tucker Carlson (Fox News), Republican Governors Greg Abbott (Texas) and Ron DeSantis (Florida) and Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Kentucky) and oppose vaccination mandates intended to protect society from the deadly COVID-19 virus and its delta variant.
Inexplicably, as America rushes towards 730,000 deaths attributed to this respiratory virus – the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 280,000 of these deaths could have been prevented if the victims had been fully vaccinated – three rail unions are threatening to stop work if Union Pacific Railroad (UP) follows an executive order from President Biden.
The ordinance requires employees of all federal contractors – which include most railroads, as they transport defense and other government goods – to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the Delta variant from here December 8. Those who have not been vaccinated by December 8 will be medically disqualified from work.
The three unions are the Transport Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers (SMART-TD), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Brotherhood of Track Maintenance Employees (BMWE).
Norfolk Southern announced its intention to comply with the decree on October 20, with more railways expected to follow.
While unions do not directly oppose mandatory vaccinations, their demands for Union Pacific to collectively negotiate such an outcome, including additional pay for getting vaccinated, could create a significant delay that would endanger the life of all UP employees, their families and others with whom the unvaccinated comes into contact.
These are the same unions that perpetually threaten actions at work if even minor health problems are not corrected immediately.
The real world reality is that vaccinations save lives, employers have an obligation to obey the law and provide a safe working environment, and unions have a contractual obligation to pay their dues to promote health and the good. -be one of these members.
Yet as some 1,500 Americans die each day from COVID-19 and its Delta variant, UP and these unions are in court over whether the presidential decree trumps existing collective agreements – with unions demanding UP to bargain collectively. whether employees should be vaccinated and how much they should be paid to do so. UP is seeking binding arbitration, which itself can take a long time.
While UP says existing union-management agreements allow it to establish fitness for duty standards, SMART-TD says “all necessary steps will be taken to prevent such vaccination mandates”, with BLET and BMWE in trailer. And every day, as Rome burns down and policymakers manipulate the process, more than 1,500 more Americans, most of them unvaccinated, will die and several thousand more will be hospitalized.
This kerfuffle has no place in courts or before arbitrators. It is owned by a mental health professional with expertise in psychiatric disorders. What may well be in court eventually – and to the dismay of the unions – are civil lawsuits brought by the survivors of those who have died due to the intransigence of union policymakers in putting saving lives before the process. in the midst of a global health emergency.
Giving lip service to the consequences of not vaccination – saying only that they encourage voluntary vaccination – these three unions are demanding instead that the lengthy collective bargaining processes of the Railway Labor Act be followed . An example of the potential slowness of such a process is that independent negotiations over changes in wages, benefits and work rules have dragged on between these unions and the railways for almost two years. Even a further month of delay in complying with the executive decree is likely to devastate many railway families as they lose a loved one as a result.
Do the operating unions – SMART-TD and BLET – really want their vaccinated members to share the locomotive cabs with the unvaccinated? In many ways, these cabins look like an elevator. When it comes to such an enclosed environment, explains Richard Corsi, an indoor air quality expert at Portland State University, if the occupants “look at you and talk to you, or if they cough, you will get this very high concentration of droplets even over a short period of time. Medical experts warn that a virus thrives in closed environments. The track workers represented by BMWE are also at risk, often being in close proximity to each other.
There is also a bizarre economic result to union resistance to mandatory vaccinations. COVID-related hospital costs, as reported by WebMD, exceed $ 40,000, not counting more expensive intensive care stays. Inexplicably, these unions, although they already resist higher health insurance premiums, are themselves contributing to significant new health costs by failing to embrace the science of vaccination and the imperative of immediate compliance. of the decree. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 99.5% of COVID-related deaths in the past few months are among the unvaccinated.
There is also the threat of infectious infections caused by interactions between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. While medical data shows that vaccinations are 95% effective in preventing hospital admissions, people who are immunocompromised, such as those who are overweight, have lung disease, have diabetes, or are battling cancer, “are particularly vulnerable to a disease. infection breakthrough because they “don’t build the same level of immunity” from the vaccine, reports the Centers for Disease Control. Even fully vaccinated and unimmunocompromised people are receptors for the virus spread by unvaccinated people. It can be taken home for children too young to be vaccinated.
Christopher Martin, professor of public health at the University of West Virginia, told Bloomberg News that “under-vaccinated pockets create more opportunities for the virus to mutate” and that “unvaccinated people are factories. potential variants “. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia warned that “the more unvaccinated people there are in a community, the more likely the germs are to spread. This means that outbreaks are harder to contain and everyone is at greater risk of exposure, including those who have been vaccinated. “
The unvaccinated do more than risk their own health. They are, say infectious disease experts, a risk to everyone if infected; and they become the source of new coronavirus variants, one of which could become even more deadly than the Delta variant.
If these unions continue to put the process ahead of the health and well-being of their members – in violation of the very purpose of their existence – then, perhaps, some enlightened leadership from the Federal Railroad Administration will step in and issue an order. emergency requiring immediate compliance with the President’s decision. Executive order.
Previously, the FRA promoted – and with union approval – employee safety by banning the use of personal electronic devices while on duty. The unions have also not opposed bans on alcohol or drugs that compromise workplace safety. Such risks pale in the face of the COVID pandemic.
Union leaders have certainly not fallen victim to the cesspool of disinformation spread through social media. And they surely did not rise to the top of elected positions playing Casper Milquetoast in the face of adversity. Bending to the process, or whatever, of the health and well-being of their members will prove to be a dark stain on their legacy. There is still time for these union leaders to do what leaders do, which is to lead responsibly and aggressively.
Frank N. Wilner, author of “Understanding the Railway Labor Act” and other books, is a former public relations manager for SMART-TD and its predecessor United Transportation Union. He is a former senior official with the Association of American Railroads, served in the White House as chief of staff to the Surface Transportation Board, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics and human relations. work of Virginia Tech.