A U.S. Court Just Intervened to Stop 17,000 Railroad Workers From Going On Strike

A conversation with Jeff Kurtz, a railway engineer and union member for 40 years.

Maximillian Alvarez

A passenger walking past a train on the platform of a railway station in San Mateo city, California. Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling via Getty Images

We’re gearing up for Season 5 of the show and will be back very soon! In the meantime, if you’re looking for more important coverage of worker struggles from Max, go check out the interviews he’s doing for The Real News Network. With permission from TRNN, we’re publishing the audio of his most recent interview with retired railroad worker and union officer Jeff Kurtz. 

A crucial labor battle is currently unfolding between railroad workers and BNSF Railway, the largest freight railroad network in North America. Earlier in January, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), which together represent roughly 17,000 railroad workers, initiated steps to prepare for a strike that would have begun on the Feb. 1. This would comprise the largest railway strike in recent memory, and the unions have cited as the main point of contention a new BNSF scheduling and availability policy that workers say will separate them from their families and make it next to impossible to live and reasonably plan their lives. BLET National President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson called BNSF’s so-called Hi-Viz” policy the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier.”

However, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, a U.S. District Court judge granted BNSF a temporary restraining order blocking the two unions from striking, saying that a strike would cause the rail company substantial, immediate and irreparable harm.” In this interview, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with retired railroad worker and union leader Jeff Kurtz about BNSF’s Hi-Viz” policy and why workers in the railroad industry are prepared to strike.

Jeff Kurtz was a railway engineer and union member for 40 years. He served as a union officer most of his career, including eight years as president of BLET Local 391 and chairman of the BLET Iowa State Legislative Board, where he oversaw safety and legislative matters for the union in the state for four railroads for 10 years. He retired in 2014 and served as state representative for one term in the Iowa House after winning the 2018 election in his House district. He now works in a volunteer capacity with Railroad Workers United and the local labor chapter of the Iowa Federation of Labor.

Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino

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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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