Rail carriers and union leaders reach an agreement to avoid a national rail strike. President Biden (aka Dark Brandon) does it again!
"The deal highlights Biden using the power of the presidency to protect the American people while trying to be fair to labor and management, a system pioneered by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt and adopted afterward by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Republican Dwight Eisenhower. It’s a very different principle than the idea that workers should accept whatever conditions management imposes on them.
The deal is a big deal (yet to be accepted by union members). Workers will still be on tight schedules although they can now take unpaid time off for medical emergencies without losing their jobs." - Letters From An American
Dark Brandon strikes again!
Biden announces tentative railway labor deal averting strike
“Rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned,” Biden said. “The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that is the backbone of the American economy.
The five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses that a Presidential Emergency Board recommended this summer. But railroads also agreed to ease their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions’ concerns about working conditions.
Railroad workers will now be able to take unpaid days off for doctor’s appointments without being penalized under railroad attendance rules. Previously, workers would lose points under the attendance systems that the BNSF and Union Pacific railways had adopted, and they could be disciplined if they lost all their points. The unions that represent the conductors and engineers who drive the trains had pressed hard for changes in the attendance rules, and they said this deal sets a precedent that they will be able to negotiate over those kinds of rules in the future. But workers will still have to vote whether those changes are enough to approve the deal." - CPR
The Freight Rail Network
The U.S. freight rail network on almost 140,000 route miles and provides more than 167,000 jobs. The nearly $80-billion freight rail industry is operated by seven Class I railroads (railroads with operating revenues of $490 million or more) and 22 regional and 584 local/short line railroads. Railroads have benefits over other modes of transportation including reductions in road congestion, highway fatalities, fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, cost of logistics, and public infrastructure maintenance costs. Unlike roadways, U.S. freight railroads are owned by private organizations who are responsible for their own maintenance and improvement projects. - Federal Railroad Administration
The U.S. railroad industry consolidated in the 1980s and 1990s into seven main carriers, which are now making record profits. In 2021, profits for the two largest railroad corporations in the U.S.—the Union Pacific and BNSF—jumped 12% to $21.8 billion and 11.6% to $22.5 billion, respectively. But those profits have come from cost-cutting measures that included job losses from an industry that had remained stable for the previous 25 years. Between November 2018 and December 2020, the industry lost 40,000 jobs, most of them among the people who actually operated the trains, as the railroads adopted a new system called Precision Schedule Railroading (PSR).
This system made the trains far more efficient by keeping workers on very tight schedules that leave little time for anything but work. Any disruption in those schedules—a family emergency, for example—brought disciplinary action and possible job loss. Although workers got an average of 3 weeks’ vacation and holidays, the rest of their time, including weekends, was tightly controlled, while smaller crews meant more dangerous working conditions. - Letters From An American
Storytelling with maps and GIFs
- This story uses quotes from Heather Richardson's excellent Letters From An American newsletter, and details on the settlement from CPR News.
- Details on railroad tracks was obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration and mapped with ArcGIS Online. (A nonprofit license for the app costs about $50/month).
- This map includes details on 302,835 railroads.
- A special thanks to Warren Langley for suggesting this story.
- We decided to use the Dark Brandon meme for this story. The “Brandon” nickname once used as an insult against the president by conservatives, has now been coopted by Democrats.
Design your own GIF
We used a Dark Brandon GIF from GIPHY and added a caption (Dark Brandon fights for railroad workers) with the free EZGIF app. Use GIFs to add a touch of color and animation to your message.
Build the story
The map of the railroads, GIF and call to action were assembled into a single infographic. Each element serves a purpose. The GIF adds animation and visual appeal to an otherwise static map. The map is interactive and invites the reader to explore railroads serving the area where they live. The text block provides details while the Call To Action directs the reader to what they should do next.
TakeAway: Keep your stories short, visual and engaging. Dark Brandon deserves no less.
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