The train derailment in Ohio forced thousands of residents to evacuate and is now spreading a noxious plume of carcinogenic chemicals across the area. Thirty-eight cars on the train derailed in the town of East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania border, including 11 cars carrying hazardous materials that incited an evacuation order, a controlled release of chemicals, and fears of harmful chemical exposure to residents, wildlife and waterways.
The six major railroad corporations reported over $22bn in profits and spent more than $20bn on stock buybacks and shareholder dividends last year. Unions say rail companies’ desire for increased profits is driving up safety risks – and more accidents will happen without action
Leo McCann, chair of the rail labor division of transportation trades department explained, “The railroads are more interested in profitability and keeping their return on investment up and their numbers down so they can satisfy Wall Street, and they just live behind this shield hoping nothing will happen.”
Union officials cited the Norfolk Southern Railway derailment in early February as a glaring example of why safety reforms to the industry – which include providing workers with paid sick leave – need to be made.
“Without a change in the working conditions, without better scheduling, without more time off, without a better work-life balance, the railroad is going to suffer,” said Ron Kaminkow, the general secretary of Railroad Workers United, an Amtrak engineer in Reno, Nevada, and the vice-president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (Blet) local 51. “It’s just intrinsic, with short staffing. Corners get cut and safety is compromised.”
With a loss of 40,000 railroad jobs between November 2018 and December 2020 Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department, said the loss of workers in recent years, which has coincided with record profits for railroad corporations, was the driving force for deteriorating conditions on US railroads.
“It increases a lot of risk in what is a very dangerous industry. When things go wrong there can be very tragic consequences,” added Regan.