Rail- Chicago Rail Workers Strike, Alleging Shady Layoffs and Poor Safety Conditions – Working In These Times

Posted: August 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

Aug. 7, 2013

Eric Vazquez started working for Mobile Rail Solutions, a family-owned company that services locomotives in Chicago-area rail yards, a month and a half ago. He quickly came to feel the job was hazardous. In the course of his workday, he said, he was supposed to climb a tower more than 10 feet high to release thousands of pounds of sand into his truck, without a safety harness or a respirator to protect his lungs.

Nor, he says, was he provided sturdy gloves or other protective gear for dealing with human waste while cleaning out septic systems. “They didn’t give us hepatitis or tetanus shots,” he said. “I have a 1-month-old. I definitely don’t want to bring that home to my little man.”

So Vazquez filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July. Meanwhile OSHA separately opened investigations in mid-July into three Chicago-area Mobile Rail facilities—in Northlake, Bedford Park and Aurora. The agency has six months to complete the investigations, U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson Rhonda Burke told Working In These Times, but said she could not comment further on ongoing investigations.

Workers report that after the OSHA investigations began, they were provided protective gear and their bosses seemed more concerned about safety. (Company officials did not respond to a call and email for comment.)

But then on July 26, Vazquez lost his job. Before the end of the month, two more workers lost their jobs. They were told that their positions as “helpers” who do a variety of tasks were no longer needed and that they would have to get commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) if they wanted to remain employed. But they believe the layoffs were retaliation for complaining about safety practices and for organizing a union. On August 14, Mobile Rail workers will vote on whether to join the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), giving the progressive and storied union official collective bargaining power with the company.

Burke said that if the workers feel they were retaliated against for complaining about safety issues or other protected activity, they can file claims under OSHA’s whistleblower protection policies. If OSHA investigates and finds the company guilty, Mobile Rail can be required to rehire the workers and/or pay them damages.

But their fellow workers aren’t waiting around for an OSHA ruling.

After the second and third workers lost their jobs, Mobile Rail workers at various sites went on strike in solidarity on July 31, forming a picket line with IWW members and supporters outside the Union Pacific rail yard at 14th Street and Western Avenue in Chicago. They say they informed company owners of the planned strike ahead of time and requested a meeting. But the strike is in its seventh day, and no one from the company has met with them, they say.

via Chicago Rail Workers Strike, Alleging Shady Layoffs and Poor Safety Conditions – Working In These Times.

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