An early morning deluge would never stop railroad employees from doing their jobs, so it did not deter them from making their voices heard on Friday.
More than two dozen members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division protested in the rain in front of the corporate headquarters of Genesee & Wyoming, a short-line railroad operator based in Jacksonville.
In a federal lawsuit filed this month, the brotherhood alleges Railroad Engineering Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming, fired 31 people on May 25, less than two months after they unionized and joined the brotherhood.
Maintenance-of-way workers maintain tracks, bridges and structures on railroads. Typically, workers are based across the country and travel in units across a rail network to areas that need improvement.
Brian Gordon is the union’s legislative director in Florida. Because railroads and their employees have a partnership that benefits not just both, but consumers and producers as well, he said, it is vital for the perception of union busting to be challenged.
“Norfolk Southern, CSX all come right into Jacksonville and do an interchange,” Gordon said. “It’s very, very important for people of Jacksonville to support the union, plus the railroads, because we need it on both ends. … We need the railroads to succeed for us to succeed in our pockets.”
Railroad Engineering Services was founded in 2015 to service tracks throughout Genesee & Wyoming’s 13,000-mile network. According to the lawsuit, the company splits its maintenance-of-way employees into three teams that replace railroad ties and two more teams that replace bridges and buildings.
The 31 employees were all members of Tie Gang 2. The two other railroad tie teams did not receive any terminations.
In April, employees, from across all three teams, voted 39-9 to join the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
To date, contract negotiations have not begun.
Railroad Engineering Services spokesman Tom Cibua, in a statement to Jacksonville Today, said the company cannot comment on active litigation but it recognizes the brotherhood’s right to peacefully protest.
Thomas Kirby, the union’s director of organizing, said the aim of Friday’s protest and the suit is to help the men find new jobs and obtain lost wages.
“People don’t realize that just the heat patrols, the cold patrols that our members have to go out and maintain the safety of the tracks of trains coming through our communities,” Kirby says. “You know, nobody wants an East Palestine incident or anything else. It all boils down to just trying to get more money with less workers.”
Genesee & Wyoming is one of three railroad companies based in Jacksonville. It controls 110 short-line railroads in the United States, Canada and Europe, including the First Coast Railroad, a 46-mile track that connects unincorporated Camden County with Fernandina Beach.
Gordon notes that though Genesee & Wyoming may not control much track in Florida, the company interchanges with larger railroads, including Jacksonville-based CSX Corp. and St. Augustine-based Florida East Coast Railway.
“They make them travel from California to Florida, working on these short lines,” Gordon said. “Their quality of life at home is not very good. They are enjoying our state, here to work, and then, all of a sudden, they’re fired because of policies.”