Freight Railroad Worker Stories: Justin Ratcliffe of BRS

Justin Ratcliffe

At a recent virtual U.S. Freight Railroad Worker Town Hall, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (TTD) President Greg Regan introduced a group of workers who explained the challenges they've faced in their three-year fight for a new contract with U.S. freight railroad companies:

Since 2015, seven major railroad companies made $146 billion in net profits off the backs of these workers. That’s the most money they’ve ever made in the history of railroading—even more than the Gilded Era railroad robber barons. During this same time period, the companies eliminated 45,000 jobs from the industry. Instead of recognizing the value of these workers, the companies have enacted massive job cuts and offered the remaining workers a net pay cut and worse health care benefits than they have now. This is unacceptable.

In the coming days, the AFL-CIO will share the stories of those workers. Check back here every day for more.

Today's story comes from Justin Ratcliffe, a signal maintainer and member of the Railroad Signalmen (BRS) in Decatur, Alabama. Signal maintainers are responsible for the inspection, testing and troubleshooting of wayside signal systems, positive train control systems, and highway grade crossing systems, and sometimes the construction and installation as well. Ratcliffe said: 

“I've been on the job for 24 years. I’m a fourth generation railroader. My dad retired as a general supervisor for the signal department. It's sickening to me what the company has done to the employees.

“The railroad line that I work on goes from Memphis, Tennessee to Stevenson, Alabama. Due to the job cuts, all maintainers' territories have gotten bigger. That means more equipment and miles for signal employees to have to cover. Bigger territories and less people have led to traveling further and more frequent interruptions outside regular working hours.

I live in Alabama, which is the Eastern part of this railroad line segment. My first 17 or 18 years, I never had to take a work call in Mississippi or Tennessee. Since the job cuts, I've been several times. I'm an early riser, so usually on a Saturday morning I'm awake at 4 or 5 a.m. I've had work calls come in at 7 p.m. and had to travel to Memphis, Tennessee. That's a four-hour minimum drive in a company truck. I can work eight hours when I get there and drive four hours back home. That's 30 hours without sleep.  

"Over a 20-year career of not having a regular sleep cycle, I'm sure you can imagine the constant state of fatigue that goes with it."