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IWW Rail Workers Strike To End Illegal Retaliation

By Kevin Robinson in News on Aug 1, 2013 7:00PM

Photo Credit: Matt Muchowski

While fast food and other low-wage, marginal workers in Chicago and around the country engage in job actions today, another group of workers in Chicago are striking for the freedom to be in a union, too. Thursday morning the Industrial Workers of the World announced that rail service workers at Mobile Rail Solutions are engaged in an Unfair Labor Practices strike. In early July, workers at the company, which operates specialized trucks to service locomotives in rail yards around the Chicago area had self-organized a union and sought recognition under the banner of the IWW.

Mobile Rail Solutions workers decided to organize in an effort to address long-standing workplace safety issues, and to try to bring pay and benefits up to what they are across the rail industry. From July 26th, through July 29th, the workers contend, management at Mobile Rail Solutions fired three workers that were actively involved in the unionization effort in retaliation for their organizing activities. In response to the firings, which workers claim are unfair and illegal, as well as the safety violations, Mobile Rail Solutions workers “ have self-organized a strike” and “demand a meeting with Mobile Rail's general manager to discuss the recent wave of Unfair Labor Practices and for the reinstatement of their three fired workers.” According to the IWW’s Facebook page, all of the workers at two job sites have joined the strike and walked off the job, and half of the workers at a third job site have joined as well.

A key distinction in this situation is the IWW's assertion that this strike is an "Unfair Labor Practices" strike. Under U.S. labor law, strikes are categorized into three different types: an unfair labor practices strike, an economic strike or a strike for recognition. Workers always have the right to take collective action at work, such as going on strike, whether they are formally represented by a union or not. In this case it is important to note that the IWW Mobile Rail workers are striking not to extract an economic concession from their boss (such as a raise of a change in benefits), but rather to demand an end to what they claim are unlawful practices in their place of employment. While the union notes that the workers "feel that only an Unfair Labor Practice Strike can protect their livelihoods," the IWW Mobile Rail Workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret ballot election to determine union representation. With today’s strike, workers are hoping to win reinstatement of their fired co-workers and resolution to the safety violations at work.