BMWED's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Message 2023

Published: Jan 16 2023 8:32AM

As we mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national remembrance day, it feels particularly hollow this year to not discuss the railroads’ shameless lip service and double talk on inclusion and diversity.

The latest bargaining round rightfully left the Class I freight carriers shamed in the court of public opinion. With the Congressional spotlight fully illuminated, every American witnessed the railroads’ greed and duplicity in messaging. If anyone was ever fooled by the corporate sweet talk of respect and dignity for their employees, that gig is up. Everyone now knows that the railroads are obtuse, vindictive, and horrid employers who steadfastly value profits over their people.

So, this year, when the carriers undoubtedly proclaim in flowery social media posts to support the ideals and values of Dr. King, ask them why their contract employees do not have the holiday. Decades have passed with the same tired excuses and it has been long enough.

Yes, trains run every day of the year. And, yes, we take great pride in our work. But if management is going to proclaim some grandiose stance of inclusion and appreciation for diversity within their workforce, then abide by those very principles. That is: Afford those you employ the ability to recognize the holiday that nearly every other person in Corporate America acknowledges. Otherwise, your dishonesty just shines brighter for all to see. 

The railroads are of course going to state that railroad workers just received an additional paid personal day and they can choose to observe Dr. Martin Luther King Day as a holiday if they so desire.  But this is disingenuous, because the railroads refused to let Veterans observe that holiday last year due to the lack of manpower from “Precision” Scheduled Railroading.  

There is no argument that Dr. King would have joined us in the public admonishment of the railroads and helped champion the cause of improving the working conditions and quality-of-life of all railroad workers. His support of labor is well-documented and his tragic assassination in Memphis took place moments before he was to meet with striking sanitation workers there.

The railroads have a battered and bruised reputation that is well-earned. Their disregard and disrespect of their employees was put on full display last month for all to see. In the aftermath of the public admonishment, the carriers issued public statements, vowing to improve the culture in the workplace by implying they were going to make changes, but this was all a rouse to restore their polished image.  Nothing has changed.  Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.  So, if the railroads are serious about mending employee-management relations, then recognizing federal holidays centered around diversity, inclusion and unity would be a good step in that direction.  Dr. King, of course, would urge the railroads to do so.