Freight Railroad Worker Stories: Luke Edington of SMART-TD

Luke Edington

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 Luke Edington, a member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Transportation Division in Topeka, Kansas. In 2015, he was elected as a full-time officer of SMART-TD’s General Committee of Adjustment 953. As the general chairman, Edington represents conductors, brakemen, yardmen and engineers across the northern region of the Union Pacific Railroad, stretching from Chicago to Seattle. 

Edington was hired as a switchman for the railroad in May 1998 and worked a variety of yard and road assignments throughout Nebraska and the surrounding states. 

Edington said: “I have worked the majority of my years in the rail industry as a conductor on road extra boards. Most weeks, I would be home an average of 48 to 60 total hours. That’s all the time I would have to see my family and get rested for my next assignment. The balance of my time each week was spent on a train or in a hotel room while on layover. 

“Unfortunately, the quality of life for rail workers today has deteriorated even more. In my union office, we deal with countless employees who are burned out, injured, or resigning because they can’t take the pressure Union Pacific has them under. Workers are tired, they have mental fatigue and body fatigue. Many are resigning because they just can’t take it anymore. The employees resigning aren’t brand new employees, they are veterans who have been in these jobs for 20 years or more. They have invested the majority of their adult life in the rail industry but are willing to let it go because they just can’t take the workload and stress the railroad is placing them under. 

“Employee workloads have dramatically increased and they are constantly being pushed to increase production. The expectations from management are unrealistic and place employees in a no-win situation because, in most cases, it’s impossible to complete the volume of work they are given within their shift. To make matters worse, when they fall short of meeting management's inflated expectations, they are threatened with insubordination. This results in employees working long hours, including mandatory overtime hours, and little or no ability to take compensated days off due to manpower shortages. 

“The railroad’s hiring plan for this year in the northern region doesn’t even cover the number of employees who have retired, resigned or were dismissed for minor rule violations. As a result, the remaining employees are expected to work more days and longer hours to pick up the slack. My members are professionals and take great pride in their work. They know their jobs inside and out and want to move freight and keep the nation’s supply chain flowing. They can’t do this with the current resources the railroads are providing. Railroading is a demanding job with a lot of responsibilities and these workers need a new contract that rewards and recognizes the hard work and sacrifice they’ve made during some very difficult times in our nation. We need a contract that makes these jobs competitive again and improves the quality of life for railroad workers in order to attract new employees to the industry.”