PNW railroad engineer explains why nationwide strike may be necessary

As tens of thousands of railway workers across the country could strike as soon as Friday, impacts of possible labor interruptions have already begun across Puget Sound. 

Vacationers were stranded in Seattle on Wednesday and garbage has been piling up in Snohomish County as officials complain of a container shortage. 

If labor unions and freight rail companies do not reach an agreement by Friday, countless points of our economy could grind to a halt. 

A locomotive engineer living in Idaho explains why industry employees believe companies are shortchanging pay and benefits while they have worked without a contract for three years. 

"We are the most productive workforce they’ve had in 150 years," said Michael Paul Linsey II.  "We’re moving more efficiently and they don’t want to acknowledge our contributions."

Lindsey has worked on the railways for 17 years. He lives in Idaho and drives freight that eventually ends up in Puget Sound ports. He is a member of one of the unions that have yet to reach a deal with carriers over pay, healthcare and sick leave benefits. 

"Congress needs to look at the railroads and go, you guys need to offer a better deal," he said. "Something that offers real purchasing power, and gives people a better quality of life, better control of their life and be able to take care of their families."

Federal mediators came up with recommendations for a deal 30 days ago. Though multiple unions signaled they might sign, the deal has yet to be approved and other union workers have rejected concessions.

Even though labor and carriers have not officially announced any work stoppage, the impact of a looming strike is hitting Puget Sound.

In the north Sound, Snohomish County officials say garbage is piling up. Normally trash is shipped via rail to Eastern Washington, but a lack of containers means trash has nowhere to go. 

On Wednesday, Sound Transit said it is working to figure out how to move customers if trains cannot run on Friday. Amtrak also announced long distance service would be canceled Thursday. 

WSDOT: Prepare for possible Amtrak cancellations on Sept. 16 as worker strike looms

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is warning those who commute by train that there could be cancellations for Amtrak Cascades services starting Friday, Sept. 16 due to a possible workers' strike. 

"I don’t know what to do," said traveler James Cranston. 

Cranston says Amtrak had canceled the train he planned to take to Chicago on Thursday. He said he is unable to afford other forms of transportation in order for him to return to his home in New York State.

"I’m not the only one. There are thousands of people going through what I'm going through right now," he said.

Freight companies say they have invested record profits improving infrastructure and rewarding stockholders with dividends. 

The emergency board appointed by President Biden suggested terms for companies and labor unions a month ago. While pay rises were suggested for many employees to pass 20%, changes in healthcare benefits and inflation chips away at the double-digit offer.

Also at issue is a complicated point system for some railway workers that penalizes workers for seeking sick leave. Even though some workers are required to be on-call for days at a time, tending to an illness or family emergency too frequently could lead to discipline up to and including termination, says Lindsey.

While some freight operators said they would agree to the proposals, the board’s report says carriers and labor unions fundamentally disagree about widespread frustration and dissatisfaction among workers about their jobs’ demands, scheduling and an inability to take time off. 

Carriers insist their investment and risk are the reason for record profits, not the work of their employees. Lindsey disagrees, hoping the public might endure supply chain shortfalls and stand united with the men and women working the rails. 

"We are the true capitalists because we are actually producing capital," he said. "Our bodies, our finite lives in this world we are sacrificing for this company, and they are dealing with cheap and free credit from the FED and funny money and other shenanigans."