The importance of worker solidarity

“An injury to one is the concern of all.” – slogan of The Knights of Labor, circa 1880?s

This slogan is perhaps of greater importance in the railroad industry than most other industries in America. Railroad workers are not covered by workers’ compensation, so the mere fact that a worker is injured on the job does not entitle him or her to damages. A railroad employee must prove that the railroad was at fault before he or she can recover lost wages, payment for medical bills, or other damages. Injuries in the railroad industry tend to be more severe than in other jobs because of the inherent dangers of the workers’ duties, so receiving compensation is often necessary to avoid economic collapse for the injured person. (These cases do not involve workers sitting comfortably at home getting rich off the system).

Because the stakes are so high, it is vitally important for railroad workers to stand up for each other against employer intimidation. Proving fault in FELA cases requires testimony from co-workers, about both the dangerous conditions allowed to exist at the time of the injury and about the railroad’s past practice of ignoring complaints. Unfortunately, I have seen many employees refuse to testify in support of an injured co-worker, particularly when that person has become the target of harassment. “I don’t want to put a target on my back, too, by helping him,” is the usual response.

The only reason railroads practice such intimidation is because workers allow it to be effective. If everyone stands together, the intimidation will end. The rights of all railroad workers under the FELA and FRSA can be fully protected if workers remain committed to each other. If one of your union brothers or sisters is hurt, do everything you can to help them; next time it might be you who needs help.

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