Member statements on GR3: Solidarity with Railroad Workers Struggling for Sick Leave and Better Working Conditions

This is a thread of member statements on GR3: Solidarity with Railroad Workers Struggling for Sick Leave and Better Working Conditions.

Statement by Hayden G. AGAINST the resolution:

Thank YOU Comrades for taking the time to read my thoughts on this matter. My name is Hayden (she/her). I am a union organizer and a proud union member. If I was on strike at work, I’d be deeply insulted by someone else thinking they had a right to say what the strike demands of elected officials ought to be. As members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we believe that democratically governed movements are critical. We navigate difficult choices together. For instance, after this chapter’s most recent convention, we voted on which chapter campaigns should receive priority funding and status for this coming year. That’s a critical movement question. Our democratically-elected National leadership have already publicly acknowledged the merit of a ‘No’ vote on the Congressional action in question. There are times for us to speak up, and times for us to uplift. The good work that DSA members do is recognized by the labor movement, writ-large. It has become an expectation that when there is a strike anywhere in this country, DSA members will be on the picket line, standing with our fellow workers, shoulder-to-shoulder. This body recognized this by taking a line-item amendment to our yearly chapter budget to contribute to strike support nationwide. Standing in support in the labor movement means listening to the workers and doing 100% of what they ask for. The largest rail worker unions, SMART-TD. BMWED-IBT, and BLET made the demand for members of congress that they vote for the legislation under consideration that would have provided 7-days of paid leave. All DSA-electeds met this goal. It is my view that passing GR3 would set a dangerous precedent because its spirit is not what labor support looks like. Passing GR3 would put a bad taste in the mouth of so many in the labor movement. One of my closest comrades and coworkers is a card-carrying member of the Operating Engineers Local 99. He lost the tips of his fingers after decades on the railroad. I think it’s downright wrong for any of us to say we know a better strategy than him or any railroad workers. One of the things you just don’t do is make your own demands. You uplift those of the workers affected. We should honor the internal democracy of unions. I strongly recommend a ‘no’ vote.

Statement by Philip B. AGAINST the resolution:

My name is Philip B. and I am on our chapter’s Steering Committee. I am also the President of my union, the Congressional Workers Union, which represents hundreds of workers in the United States Capitol. I am writing to urge my chapter colleagues to vote AGAINST GR3: Solidarity with Railroad Workers Struggling for Sick Leave and Better Working Conditions. Simply put, the average rail worker is not hyper focused on the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ legislative strategy and inner workings. It’s clear that the process from the jump is inherently anti-worker and designed to stifle meaningful organizing efforts. It’s true that Congress should not have this power, nor should the Executive Branch. However, the energy of the resolution is misguided. President Biden and Senate Republicans ultimately sided with the managerial class and that’s where our anger should be directed. It was a clarifying moment for everyone to see where Biden stood in perhaps the most pivotal labor fight of his administration. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) were working closely with militant rank and file workers throughout the entire process, along with union leaders that voted no on the Tentative Agreement (TA). As you likely know, 12 of 12 major rail unions including all who voted NO on the TA wanted a YES vote on the TA in the House. Throughout these discussions, it was shared that many conservative rail workers were actually moved to the left because of the justified decisions being made by members of the CPC. The spirit of the proposed town hall does not center the workers at the heart of this fight, it simply centers DSA and this should give pause to anyone considering the intent of the resolution. I urge members of our chapter to vote NO on GR3 because we shouldn’t be demoralizing people at moments like this where we as a movement are gearing up to do a lot of meaningful labor organizing with several more fights ahead.

Statement by Aparna R. AGAINST the resolution:

My name’s Aparna, I’m a union member, and I’ve helped organize DSA solidarity efforts to support workers at Union Kitchen, La Colombe, Amazon, and more. I also led the chapter’s Initiative 82 fight to raise the wage for DC tipped workers last year.I am voting against GR3 for one big reason: by the cosponsors’ own admission, this does not have railroad worker support.

No railroad workers unions have asked for this and union members haven’t voted for this. In fact, despite the name, the resolution doesn’t call for accountability on behalf of railroad workers, it calls for accountability on behalf of DSA members. The first rule of strike support/ labor solidarity is that it’s about what the workers want. Being pro-labor means understanding that the workers lead actions, that they make explicit asks of allies based on their own assessments of power, goals, and possible tactics, and that we follow those asks. Ignoring the wants of the workers and deciding on our own that this is how we show solidarity isn’t allyship. It’s centering ourselves instead of the workers at the heart of this fight. It’s asking railroad workers to participate in a town hall that they don’t want and haven’t asked for and for our benefit, not theirs. Calling for things that the workers didn’t ask for risks our relationships with those workers, takes air away from the tactics they do want broad support for, and could have unintended consequences that could actively hurt their organizing efforts for future contracts.

This is what Ross Grooters, co-chair of Railroad Workers United said in an interview with labor reporter Jonah Furman, praising progressives in Congress: “The [proposed] seven paid sick days [bill] is probably what’s being paid attention to the most. That’s a win. That took a lot of work from the same progressives who are coming under fire — people like Jamaal Bowman, who really stood up and were advocates for including the paid sick time. I think they need to be commended for that action. That was not easy to do, especially in the face of your president, your party leader essentially, saying “Nah, railroad workers don’t deserve anything more.” They’ve stuck their necks out for railroad workers, and I think they deserve praise for that. Progressives like Jamaal Bowman really stood up and were advocates for including the paid sick time. I think they need to be commended for that action. I understand the frustration. But my frustration is not with the politicians who voted to implement this thing, it’s with the process itself. I don’t blame Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, for voting yes for it. “

It is not our place to prioritize ourselves over railroad workers in this fight and it is not our place to impose things that the workers don’t want and didn’t ask for– it’s our place to follow their lead and respond to the asks they do make.

I also want to clarify a few points:

  • This is not a vote on whether or not railroad workers should have sick days. This is a vote on whether or not there should be a DSA Town Hall with the congressional electeds who voted both for the deal as it stood without sick days and trying to add sick days to the deal. As I stated above, this is not something the workers have called for.
  • This is not a vote on whether or not the Tentative Agreement was good. I think most people agree that the imposed deal was bad (I do too!) - workers overwhelmingly were opposed to it but didn’t get the chance to vote on it. This is not a question of that, this is a question of whether we should have a town hall with railroad workers that railroad workers have not asked for.
  • This is not a vote on whether or not we approve of the Squad’s votes. I did not think it was a good political decision to take two separate votes and vote yes on the deal and then yes on the paid sick leave, and I was glad to see national DSA put out this statement about it. But this is not a vote on that- this is about us calling for a town hall that is supposed to feature railroad workers (who again, don’t want this) and congressional DSA electeds to “explain their vote to DSA,” not the railroad workers.

I encourage you to vote against this tactic that was not developed in consultation with or with approval from railroad workers.

Statement by Carl R. AGAINST the resolution:

I am opposed to GR3: Solidarity with Railroad Workers Struggling for Sick Leave and Better Working Conditions for relatively straightforward reasons. First and foremost, it is not in line with what workers wanted. There have been plenty of interviews - for example, here - saying that the strategy pursued by some DSA members in congress was appreciated, as it kept the possibility of sick leave alive. I don’t think I know better than the railroad workers about their struggle, and so I defer to them. It’s worth noting as well that this was the specific strategy the unions pursued after Biden’s anti-worker decision to ban the strike, precisely because it was not symbolic, but instead a way to keep sick leave on the table. I for one agree with the workers that material victories are more important than moral victories. We workers will only win the world we deserve with the former, and a strategy that prefers the latter is a strategy that will consign us to the dustbin of history. I have no interest in such a strategy. I also think it’s very important that we recognize that the chapters who originally endorsed the three electeds have not signed onto this letter. There is no mention of organizing work done by either the letter writers or the members of Metro DC DSA to talk with those three chapters about the vote, and work to agitate their electeds on the issue. It concerns me that the organizers of this letter, as well as the chapter members sponsoring this resolution, did not think it relevant to explain how - and if - they had engaged with the chapters our congressional electeds are members of. As an electoral leader and organizer in our chapter, I would appreciate knowing the steps taken prior to starting a public letter campaign. I believe those chapters - and their electoral organizers - would be able to provide valuable insight into this situation. But I defer to them on the matter - a courtesy I’d also expect others to extend to our chapter, and thus can’t in good conscience support signing onto this letter. Lastly, I’d like to state that I am deeply frustrated by the strategy of the dual vote. I don’t agree with it, and I believe Tlaib did the right thing to vote to oppose it. But signing onto this letter will not give railroad workers sick leave. It will not nationalize the railroads. And it is not about proving the chapter’s commitment to solidarity with railroad workers. It is about how we relate to our electeds. I think that question is much, much better left to national convention and the chapters elected members are from.

Statement by Tim S. AGAINST the resolution:

There is very little, if anything, that deserves to be a higher priority for our chapter than providing useful support to workers standing up to capital together. I am a union member, whose union has done a great deal to maintain my safe working conditions during the pandemic, and I became active in our chapter because of its zealous work on the national PRO Act campaign, a hard-fought and strategic campaign, which nevertheless ended in defeat, in which the DSA worked closely with allies in the labor movement and in the national legislature. If there were something we could do that had a real chance, even a small one, of winning railworkers better benefits and working conditions I would be happy to devote time, energy, and money to it, and to vote to commit our chapter as a whole to the same, but I am not at all convinced that passing this resolution has any chance of contributing to winning these demands. This resolution commits us, a chapter which neither campaigned for, endorsed, nor fundraised for the Representatives in question, to a statement made by another chapter with what appear to be similar connections to them, asking the NPC to call on endorsed Representatives to explain a tactical vote in which they followed the direction of elected union leadership, and did not, to my knowledge, have any direction from their chapters or from National. I oppose this resolution, rather than merely declining to support it, because I believe that if it accomplishes anything, it is to alienate potential allies in the labor movement – coming, as it does, from a small group of DSA organizers without a collective, democratic ask from the unions themselves – and to reinforce the unfair perception among much of the general public that socialists prefer dramatic confrontation to the unglamorous work of building a mass movement. My understanding is that supporters of this resolution see this as a means of standing with rank and file workers and enforcing discipline on elected leaders, both of which are reasonable things to do when we can affect something tangible, and which deserve energetic, principled political debate, but I do not believe that making a symbolic statement on a fight workers have already lost accomplishes either of these worthy objectives. I commend their zeal on behalf of workers getting a raw deal, however, and look forward to hearing their other ideas on how the DSA can strengthen its relationship with organized labor and elected officials in order to contribute to winning a fight the next time capital inevitably tries to do this to workers.

Statement by Kareem E. AGAINST the resolution:

Hi Comrades, I am writing today to urge you to vote against GR3. This resolution represents a knee jerk reaction to a complicated event. Our organization is capable of a more serious understanding of the events that took place, why they took place, and how we can respond to them going forward. DSA did not conduct any outreach to our elected officials in the house prior to the vote. Ideally, members in congress would have received a phone call making DSAs position clear: vote no on the unamended contract, vote yes on the amended contract with expanded sick leave. This did not happen. The only outreach elected DSA officials did receive prior to this vote was from the rail unions, who requested that they vote Yes on the contract unamended, and Yes on the contract with the sick leave section amended to 7 days of sick leave. The unions involved, perhaps incorrectly, believed this was the best strategy to pursue to get the expanded sick leave into the final version imposed by congress. This resolution would condemn the DSA members in congress for failing to do something we never asked them to do. The left has a responsibility to push labor to be better, but we have not been involved in this fight and have no stake in it. Our role here for better or worse has been as spectators. Any attempt, such as the one laid out in this resolution, to push labor to be better only highlights our status as disengaged from the labor movement as it is currently constituted. It is also worth noting that the rank and file members are not targeting their ire at DSA electeds. In this case, chapter member Jonah Furman appeared on a podcast alongside rank and file leaders of RWU and BMWED IBT, (Link: Spotify) where he clarified that the squad fought hard to get a vote on the sick days in the first place - something that would not have happened if they had not made noise and created public pressure. In his words, “it was the 4th quarter and they attempted a hail mary” in order to get a vote on the extended sick leave agreement. Jonah expands on this by clarifying that there is no deal within congress where there would exclusively be a vote on the agreement with expanded sick leave. The advocacy of DSA electeds got these workers within inches of getting the sick leave they sought. If they had not fought for the sick leave amendment to be considered, the only vote would have been to impose the tentative agreement as is, then the squad would have voted no, the strike would still have been broken, and none of the workers demands would have been centered in the public forum the way they were. While I may not have been pleased with the Yes/Yes vote, I am glad that the members in congress are doing all they can to center the workers’ cause by getting the floor vote on expanded sick leave in the first place, something that would not have happened if not for their leadership .This vote, the circumstances leading up to it, and the aftermath all indicate that it is much more complicated than simply saying “the squad broke a strike”. By reducing it to these terms, we resign ourselves to the role of spectators who are unwilling to engage with nuanced politics. Rank and File leaders of RWU and BMWED IBT have demonstrated that they have nuanced views on this issue. We should follow their lead. Please vote no on GR3

Statement by Greg W. IN FAVOR of the resolution:

In the world of politics it might seem like a lot of time has passed since Congress and the Biden administration decided to intervene in the collective bargaining process of the railroad workers and to impose a contract that denies them even a single paid day of sick leave in late November 2022. However, the workers continue their struggle for fair working conditions and the decision of progressive DSA-supported members of Congress to vote in favor of the imposed contract sets a dangerous precedent. If DSA does not challenge or even question their vote, it opens the path towards a slippery slope of backsliding and of siding with the anti-worker Biden administration that takes away the leverage US progressives have in the fight for workers’ rights. This anti-worker intervention in the railroad workers’ collective bargaining process, which 55% of railroad workers had rejected in a vote, should not be forgotten or excused and DSA-supported members of Congress should be asked to account for their decision to side with Biden on this issue.

Statement by Yi W. IN FAVOR of the resolution:

I am writing in support of GR3 because it shows DSA stands with the rank and file railroad workers. The administration and Congress had blatantly taken a drastic and harsh action against labor by imposing a contract and banning strikes, and it should be common sense that DSA and especially our elected official in Congress ought to stand up for the workers against this travesty of justice. The “deal” passed by Congress granted no sick days, meaning railroad workers can still be forced to work while ill - and the majority of workers voted against it. Unfortunately, our elected officials fell short in this instance and this resolution is necessary to nudge DSA’s elected comrades to do the right thing in the future. For these reasons, I urge comrades to vote Yes on this resolution.

Statement by Hector M. IN FAVOR of the resolution:

I am writing in support of GB3 - Railroad Workers Solidarity Resolution because, although the “deal” proposed by President Biden and Congress was accepted by union leadership, the struggle for improved working conditions for railroad workers, including the demand for 15 days, continues. The accepted contract did not even include the modest proposal introduced by progressives in the House of Representatives for 7 days of paid sick leave. Unfortunately, Rashida Tlaib was the only DSA member and endorsed Congressperson that voted against this contract. DSA members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman all voted for the contract, effectively breaking the upcoming strike, and should be considered a blow to the struggle for workers’ rights. It should be demanded of these 3 Congresspersons and DSA members to explain their votes to our organization and to set the precedent that DSA members elected to office must be held accountable to votes and positions that conflict with the DSA platform. The request of NPC to set up a town hall meeting with railroad workers to further build support for their struggle is important for DSA to send the message that the workers have not been forgotten. Their plight for better working conditions is no longer a story for the mainstream media but it continues. After the deal was forced, SMART-TD has begun urging the Biden Administration to issue an executive order to guarantee sick leave in the railroad industry, or alternatively, include guaranteed leave in new safety rules proposed by another executive branch agency, e.g. the DOT. Rank and file railroad workers are also preparing for the next round of contract negotiations scheduled to happen in less than two years. It’s not unheard of for union leaders (union leaders that endorsed pro-business Joe Biden instead of outspoken pro-union candidate Bernie Sanders) to vote against the will of rank and file members and that is what occurred here. BLET - the second largest rail union has already voted their union president out of office. Other unions and union caucuses continue to struggle for better working conditions and as a party that champions itself the party of the Working Class. DSA members, whether elected to office or not, should be held accountable when and required to explain positions taken that are against the platform. Being elected to office does not shield them from criticism or from demands to explain those positions, to allow for better understanding. Additionally, not taking action only further gives DSA critics on the left further ammunition when accusing the party of simply being free labor for the Democratic Party. Please vote in favor and stand in solidarity with railroad workers.

Statement by Stuart K. AGAINST the resolution:

I’m writing in opposition to GR3: Solidarity with Railroad Workers Struggling for Sick Leave and Better Working Conditions. This resolution—and the letter that it signs the chapter onto—appears to intervene in a struggle without a clear invitation from the railroad worker unions to do so. The letter requires that the DSA National Political Committee (NPC) take two actions: (a) hold a townhall with DSA members about the railroad strike vote in Congress—which the NPC has already committed to—and (b) calls on three DSA members of Congress to “explain their votes.” During the Metro DC DSA chapter’s general body meeting last Sunday, there did not appear to be any clear evidence that railroad worker unions (i.e., their duly and democratically elected leadership) had officially requested that the DSA NPC make demands of DSA members in Congress. Therefore, this latter demand seems more like an unauthorized intervention in the democratic relationship between a union’s membership and elected officials that union has endorsed. If such an intervention occurred on behalf of members of Metro DC DSA, without the express consent or request of Metro DC DSA’s democratically elected leadership, I doubt we would welcome such an action. As such, I’m urging fellow Metro DC DSA members to vote against GR3.