Just a geek who lives in Olympia, WA with my wife, son, and animals. In my free time I play board games, write fiction, and make stuff.
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London's forgotten river and the barrister who saved it | The Lead

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The Roding is London’s largest forgotten river. From its source at the perimeter of Stansted Airport, it fidgets its way south through the Essex countryside, reaching London’s outer limits just shy of Epping Forest. Here, it endures every modern indignity: scythed by motorways and concrete bridges; choked with sewage and rubbish; canalised, fly-tipped, retail-parked, thickened with the polluted slime of London clay. It is a forbidding place to call home. 

Yet on a cold winter day in 2017, that is exactly what Paul Powlesland - a boat-dwelling barrister with a penchant for trees, rivers and psychedelic cat leggings - set out to do. An ongoing dispute with the Canal and Rivers Trust (who manage 2000 miles of Britain’s waterways) left Paul looking for a fresh place to moor his narrowboat, and a dream to make the mooring matter. “I wanted to be able to have an impact on the area I’m living in” he tells me by phone call, the Roding’s huge reeds visible over his shoulder, “rather than having to ask permission all the time to do something good.” His vision was a boating community with a difference. Rather than pay dues to a landlord, marina or regulatory body, it would pay them directly toward the transformation of the river itself. 

Though some, like the Thames and the Lea, are well known, many of London’s rivers pass through the city unnoticed. As the city expanded rivers like the Fleet, Tyburn and Walbrook, were buried beneath the streets, either transformed into sewers or diverted by culverts into haunting subterranean passages. For a brief moment after the Great Fire in 1666 the notion of their restoration became fashionable, with Christopher Wren theorising a Venetian-style city criss-crossed by rivers, canals and bridges. But the idea was abandoned. Depending on what you count, up to twenty one of London's rivers have since been submerged beneath the tarmac.

Yet others, like the Roding, were hidden in plain sight, lost only to neglect. “There were a few options but the Roding was the best. It’s the third largest river in London but no one was really in charge of it.” The Thames and Lea had both seen a boom of liveaboard boaters as the city’s housing crisis deepened. But no-one had lived on the Roding in living memory – at least not above the creek which forms at its lowest reaches. To access the river, Paul would have to navigate the wide, tidal waters of the Thames: no mean feat in a 45ft narrowboat designed for the placid canal system. It was not a journey for the faint-hearted. “You don’t realise how big it is out there until you’re on it. You feel like a tiny little dot with these big clippers racing by. I was completely unprepared. My engine was not in a good state. The propeller nearly fell off during the journey. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Five years later, the River Roding Trust, established by Paul and fellow boaters in 2019, is a celebrated charity feted with multiple awards and a litany of impressive achievements. The Trust has planted hundreds of trees, removed over a thousand bags of rubbish and hoisted precisely 75 shopping trolleys from the Roding’s clay-thick riverbed. Boxes for the river’s many avian species line its footpath, which has been extended a further two miles to Ilford (the former footpath stopped ignominiously at a railway bridge). Nesting rafts for wading birds festoon the channel, draped like bunting along the watercourse. 

When Paul arrived, shaken from a dramatic journey which had at one point seen him temporarily stranded in the middle of the Thames, such an outcome was hard to imagine. “The first months here were some of the hardest in my life,” he recollects. “There were no mooring facilities, no communal areas. It was very hard to get off and on the boat. The river itself was much more full of rubbish and dirty and dangerous. There was a lot of hostility from local kids. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a community around me.”

Bit by bit, things improved. The first local resident to introduce herself was Elaine, who lived in a tower block opposite the river. Her granddaughter had been astonished to see a narrowboat out of the window and wondered if it was pirates – perhaps a ghost of the viking raiders who once sailed down the Roding to sack Barking’s ancient abbey. Elaine promised to go and check. Paul and Elaine quickly became friends. She had the local connections Paul lacked and set about becoming the unofficial godmother of the project: warning off the local lads who threw rocks at Paul’s boat and introducing him to the neighbourhood. “She’s our oldest friend. We get stuff delivered to her house, she makes us nice food. She’s our local, land-dwelling patron!”

Despite the near-constant roar of the North Circular, the site is almost idyllic. The boaters live nestled among the reeds, supported by jetties pinioned into the riverbed.  Decades of neglect have imbued the Roding with a striking wildness at odds with its industrial setting. Strange lagoons wend their way between fly-tips and shanty encampments; host to herons, kingfishers and long-tailed tits. A community of sand martins return each year, making the most of the pockmarked concrete of the river wall to host their minute nests. For all the pollution and rubbish that cloud its waters and its banks, the river can still be beautiful.

~

The Roding was once a river of eminence. Its name derives from Hroða, the Anglo-Saxon chieftain who sailed from the Thames to settle the riverside in the 6th century. In AD 666, Barking Abbey was founded next to the riverbank – becoming one of the most significant religious and political centres in Britain until its dissolution under Henry VIII. Over the following centuries, the river sustained one of the largest fishing fleets in the country.

But as the industrial revolution took hold, the river’s advantageous proximity to the Thames became its undoing. Newspapers from the late 19th century start to describe a river in ‘filthy condition’, beleaguered by effluent and chemical refuse. The fish died. Its waters, once admixed with the sacred, became a dumping ground; a place for profit to be accounted at nature’s expense.

Barking’s industry came – and then mostly went. But the attitude it afflicted on the river has persisted. It had become a forgotten back region, barely accessible by foot and mostly ignored by the bodies tasked to care for it. Even in the 19th century medical officers had regularly patrolled the river’s banks to survey, if only to denounce what they discovered. In the 21st, few authorities - from Thames Water to the Environmental Agency - even bother with that. The result, as the Essex Wildlife Trust noted, is that the Roding River Valley ‘virtually disappeared from public consciousness.’ 

Then came Paul, more boaters, and with them: the Trust. “The river needs someone to be its voice, its eyes and ears. We can say ‘we plant this many trees’ but it goes wider than that, you need a group on the ground looking out for the river and its interests in all the different forms that might take.’ 

An incident in 2021 brought this need sharply into focus. While out litter-picking on a tributary of the Roding called the Aldersbrook, volunteers from the Trust noticed a grim smell. As Paul reported at the time, “I traced the source of this to an outflow, which was clearly spewing raw sewage (visible poo, toilet paper, condoms and all) into the brook and from there directly into the Roding. From estimating the rate of flow, it would appear to be spilling potentially hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage into the Roding every day and appears to have been doing so for some time. This is the worst pollution event that I have ever seen.”

The Trust reported the spill. And though Thames Water came to investigate they have so far not resolved the issue. The Trust has kept up the pressure on the company, who are finally exploring various engineering solutions to prevent further discharges taking place. Unlike legal CSO discharges - which are sometimes permitted by the Environment Agency, to prevent sewage backing into people’s homes when the network is overwhelmed by heavy rainfall - what was happening at the Aldersbrook was completely illegal. “We’re unfortunately now used to non-permitted CSO discharges. But this went well beyond that. The Aldersbrook system is only supposed to deal with surface water and is not part of the sewerage system at all. It was never designed to carry human waste. The Trust is now threatening to prosecute Thames Water for failing to maintain inspection of the site (which spills every time the sewage system is blocked) until a more permanent solution can be implemented.

For Paul, it illustrates the need for a network of guardians who regularly explore their rivers and stand up for its interests: “If someone damages the river, who is speaking for it? Most regulators have completely given up. It’s shocking that it falls to a bunch of amateurs. But a bunch of amateurs is better than no one, and you can have a really big impact.”

The difficulties of managing a community while also rehabilitating an ailing river can, at times, be overwhelming. “The demands of it are going up all the time. There’s so much that needs doing. There could be, and should be, a team of dozens working to uphold the interests of the river.” The fact there isn’t stems, for Paul, from a deeper problem. Despite underpinning the viability of life itself, nature’s contributions are absent from most economic modelling. And unlike corporations, nature has no legal standing: a river can neither sue its polluters, nor charge for the many services it provides. This has allowed it to become a “free” externality: something neither capitalism or the state has to account for, or take seriously. 

“It’s effectively stealing from nature”, Paul says. “Thames Water don’t have to pay when they do an overspill into the river. The Highways authorities don’t have to pay when they discharge stormwater into the river. They don’t pay when they extract from the river.” If the full actual cost of what companies like Thames Water take from, and put back into, the Roding were actually accounted for, Paul believes “we could easily pay for dozens of people to look after the river.”

While the idea of a river being paid for its services might seem radical, it is gaining ground. Natural capital - the idea that nature provides intrinsic economic value, either through services it provides (e.g. the pollination of crops by bees) or the preservation of life (e.g. through the carbon dioxide it absorbs) is slowly becoming more normalised in policy circles. Beyond that, the concept of the rights of nature - that a river or forest ought to be treated as an entity with its own legal standing and defensible rights, regardless of economic interests - has found legislative acceptance in several countries across Latin America, as well as New Zealand. Another charity co-founded by Paul and the legal academic Brontie Ansell, called Lawyers for Nature, is pushing for such ideas to gain a hearing in the UK too.

In the meantime, simpler options are available. Paul suggests that the fines derived from enforcing existing environmental protection should go directly into the protection of rivers themselves, rather than to the treasury (as they currently do). These, he believes, could fund enforcement teams tasked with patrolling the river catchment and actually prosecuting the laws which already exist but which mostly go unenforced, creating a virtuous circle of self-funded guardianship. 

~

Britain is a country of river lovers, with 88% agreeing they should be considered a ‘national treasure’. Public outcry after the government voted down an amendment to the environment bill last October, which would have penalised water companies who pumped waste into rivers spanned the political spectrum: with rebellions erupting even within the Conservative Party’s own ranks. Yet only 14% of England’s rivers are in “good ecological status”. A tiny, 3% of them are publicly accessible. The disconnect between our passion for rivers and our ability to care for them is vast. 

Paul too has come to know the Roding so intimately he can tell whether it has rained in Essex or in London just from the colour and texture of the water. “I initially chose the Roding out of practicality but I have come to genuinely love the river. It has become a deeper, more spiritual quest.” And the Trust’s clear-up operation has surfaced evidence that the river’s sacred status was, even today, still being secretly upheld, with religious votives appearing amid the piles of garbage.

Developing such connections on a broader scale will still mean challenging norms of ownership and access, and replacing them with the moral right of guardianship. “A lot of the work we’ve done on the Roding has been trespassing but ultimately it’s quite hard to challenge what you’re doing if what you’re doing is good. We need to be able to get into these cordoned off, hidden corners of our rivers because that’s often where the greatest damage is.”

Visiting the Roding offers a small glimpse of what the river, restored to its historic primacy, could again become. Its waters, reprieved of runoff from farm, sewer and road run clear, permitting gravelly shoals to be glimpsed beneath the surface. The vast reedbeds are harbouring nests for birds, some even roosting in the fenders of the narrowboats themselves. The trees, natural and freshly planted alike, bloom into life. Plans are afoot for a new riverside park, ‘The Edgelands’ turning this forgotten landscape into something loved and protected. “Even in a heavily urbanised and poor area of one of the biggest cities in the world this river could be a small slice of paradise” notes Paul wistfully. “It almost is, almost! And it could be again. That keeps you going forward.”

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acdha
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Inspiring
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Review: The Golden Enclaves

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Review: The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

Series: The Scholomance #3
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 0-593-15836-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 408

The Golden Enclaves is the third and concluding book of the Scholomance trilogy and picks up literally the instant after the end of The Last Graduate. The three books form a coherent and complete story that under absolutely no circumstances should be read out of order.

This is an impossible review to write because everything is a spoiler. You're only going to read this book if you've read and liked the first two, and in that case you do not want to know a single detail about this book before you read it. The timing of revelations was absolutely perfect; I repeatedly figured out what was going on at exactly the same time that El did, which rarely happens in a book. (And from talking to friends I am not the only one.)

If you're still deciding whether to read the series, or are deciding how to prioritize the third book, here are the things you need to know:

  1. Novik nails the ending. Absolutely knocks it out of the park.
  2. Everything is explained, and the explanation was wholly satisfying.
  3. There is more Liesel, and she's even better in the third book.
  4. El's relationship with her mother still works perfectly.
  5. Holy shit.

You can now stop reading this review here and go read, assured that this is the best work of Novik's career to date and has become my favorite fantasy series of all time, something I do not say lightly.

For those who want some elaboration, I'll gush some more about this book, but the above is all you need to know.

There are so many things that I loved about this series, but the most impressive to me is how each book broadens the scope of the story while maintaining full continuity with the characters and plot. Novik moves from individuals to small groups to, in this book, systems and social forces without dropping a beat and without ever losing the characters. She could have written a series only about El and her friends and it still would have been amazing, but each book takes a risky leap into a broader perspective and she pulls it off every time.

This is also one of the most enjoyable first-person perspectives that I have ever read. (I think only Code Name Verity competes, and that's my favorite novel of all time.) Whether you like this series at all will depend on whether you like El, because you spend the entire series inside her head. I loved every moment of it. Novik not infrequently pauses the action to give the reader a page or four of El's internal monologue, and I not only didn't mind, I thought those were the best parts of the book. El is such a deep character: stubborn, thoughtful, sarcastic, impulsive, but also ethical and self-aware in a grudging sort of way that I found utterly compelling to read.

And her friends! The friendship dynamics are so great. We sadly don't see as much of Liu in this book (for very good reasons, but I would gladly read an unnecessary sequel novella that existed just to give Liu more time with her friends), but everyone else is here, and in exchange we get much more of Liesel. There should be an Oscar for best supporting character in a novel just so that Liesel can win it. Why are there not more impatient, no-nonsense project managers in fiction?

There are a couple of moments between El and Liesel that are among my favorite character interactions in fiction.

This is also a series in which the author understands what the characters did in the previous books and the bonds that experience would form, and lets that influence how they interact with the rest of the world. I won't be more specific to avoid spoilers, but the characters worked so hard and were on edge for so long, and I felt like Novik understood the types of relationships that would create in a far deeper and more complex way than most novels. There are several moments in The Golden Enclaves where I paused in reading to admire how perfect the character reactions were, and how striking the contrast was with people who hadn't been through what they went through.

The series as a whole is chosen-one fantasy, and if you'd told me that before I read it, I would have grimaced. But this is more evidence (which I should have learned from the romance genre) that tropes, even ones that have been written many times, do not wear out, no matter what critics will try to tell you. There's always room for a great author to pick up the whole idea, turn it sideways, and say "try looking at it from this angle." This is boarding schools, chosen one, and coming of age, with the snarky first-person voice of urban fantasy, and it respects all of those story shapes, is aware of earlier work, and turns them all into something original, often funny, startlingly insightful, and thoroughly engrossing.

I am aware that anything I like this much is probably accidentally aimed at my favorite ideas as a reader and my reaction may be partly idiosyncratic. I am not at all objective, and I'm sure not everyone will like it as much as I did. But wow did I ever like this book and this series. Just the best thing I've read in a very, very long time.

Highly, highly recommended. (Start at the beginning!)

Rating: 10 out of 10

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jepler
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Read this series
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
acdha
105 days ago
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The alien shrub that can't be stopped - BBC Future

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28 Freight Rail Workers Tell Us What They Want You to Know About Their Lives

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For years, freight rail workers have been literally begging anyone to pay attention to what is going on in their industry. Long before pandemic-induced labor shortages, they have watched giant corporations slash the workforce, deteriorate working conditions on the railroads, and enact increasingly draconian attendance policies. The overall conditions, they have been saying for years, make the railroads more dangerous not only for themselves but for all Americans who live in the towns and cities these trains pass through.

"I implore anyone who might be watching who has the authority to act to please act now,” said Jason Cox of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen in a video posted to Youtube in February 2021. Nobody did.

But after years of begging, people are finally listening. The plight of freight rail workers has become front page news in recent days as an industry-wide strike looms and threatens the nation’s economy. Early Thursday morning, the union leadership reached a tentative deal to temporarily avert a strike, but that deal still needs to be approved by the rank and file union members.

Thus far, media coverage of the looming strike has mostly focused on how the economy is going to grind to a halt in the event of a strike and how this would affect the midterms elections and you, the consumer, who for your entire life has been relying on this largely invisible but very dangerous and difficult labor. This coverage typically summarizes the labor dispute as one about sick time. While not factually incorrect, this drastically oversimplifies why freight rail workers want to strike and why they may vote against the tentative agreement.

In the hours immediately before the tentative agreement was announced, Motherboard spoke to 28 freight rail workers and wives of freight rail workers—the workforce is overwhelmingly male—over the phone and email. Motherboard asked them what they wanted the American public to know about their jobs. These people work for different companies in different jobs in different parts of the country. But they all told a remarkably similar story, one of desperation, exhaustion, anger, and resentment towards management for years of having basic dignities taken away from them. The unifying message was this is not about pay, or even about sick leave per se. It is about having a life outside the railroad, not missing out on their kids growing up, being able to attend to one’s basic personal needs. For some of them, it is about the basic concept of restoring hope that their lives can be about anything more than the railroad. 

Nearly all of them referenced a quote from the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations meant to broker an agreement that only fanned the flames: “The Carriers maintain that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.” They see this as a slap in the face after years of being told to show up to work during a pandemic because they are “essential.”

Sign up for Motherboard’s daily newsletter for a regular dose of our original reporting, plus behind-the-scenes content about our biggest stories.

One worker named Andrew quit his job at one railroad company, BNSF, about a year ago. “By the end of my 10 years it didn't matter how much money they threw at me,” he told Motherboard. “That job changed me. I didn't feel as if I was even a person anymore. I'd lost my hobbies, my friends, and my fiancée. More importantly I'd lost any reason to live.”

Motherboard granted the workers anonymity so they could speak freely as there is a widespread culture of retaliating against workers for speaking to the press. The testimonials below have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Conductor and Engineer, BNSF

The best thing to tell the American public is we have so little time off now that we have to parent our children via FaceTime. In order to discipline my children or console them when they’re upset about something or why they never see me, I have to do it via FaceTime. To go to a sporting event, I have to go via FaceTime.  

As a patriot and someone who really cares about this country, I do not want to strike. But we’re past the point of being polite. 

Locomotive Engineer, BNSF

This inevitable nationwide railroad strike is NOT about money! It is about dignity and the balance of a fair work life. Being subject to work 90 percent of the time is not what we signed up for! We signed up for a 75 percent availability policy! 

For every one day that I take off unpaid, it takes me 14 continuous working days to earn it back. Do that math. That is our so-called "sick time.” If you want to remain employed you better not take more than one day off a month, and you most definitely better not miss a call or get into an accident on the way to work. That will eat half of your lifetime points and will take you six months to gain back from continuous day-after-day working events.

Every day is the same for us. We never know when we will be going to sleep on any given day or night

Understand that we do not have set days off a month like most all other jobs. We do not have weekends. We do not have a routine or accurate schedule. Every day is the same for us. We never know when we will be going to sleep on any given day or night. 40 hours a week does not apply to us.

That is why we are fighting back. That is why we want to strike. That is why we are asking Congress to NOT intervene in our legal process. This is why we need public support.

Conductor, BNSF

One thing people fail to realize is a day off is not an off day. My call time is from 5 am to 8 am and then from 2 pm to 4 pm and then 9 pm to 12 pm. So say I make it through. That’s a day wasted where I sat around instead of taking care of everyday life, because I have to be in position if that phone rings. 

Conductor, Union Pacific

The manpower issues on the railroad are self-manipulated. All through the pandemic they told us how important we were, as they were furloughing people to maximize their profits and break records. They furlough people so willy-nilly between that and the attendance policies people don't want to come back. The benefits get worse, the raises don't cover inflation, we have been working without a raise for three years, there is no reason for new people to hire out. Magnifying the man power issues. It wasn't always like this. As short as 10 years ago you could be proud to work for these companies. 

Engineer, BNSF

This looming strike has very little to do with money (yes everyone would like more money) the main thing us rails want is unpaid time off when we are sick, our families are sick or to make a loved one’s funeral!

I’m tired of being tired all day every day and having to listen to every one of my coworkers being physically sick from sleep deprivation, most of my coworkers can’t stay awake anymore during a 12 hour trip! So I’m the only one running the train and if I fall asleep that could mean catastrophe running a loading oil train through highly populated urban areas!

Conductor, BNSF

I wish people knew that we don't get weekends off and can, and frequently do, work up to 276 hours a month by law.

Track Inspector, CSX

The railroad used to be a good career. Now it's just a job. You just hope to not be injured just so some rich guy on the board can buy another Ferrari. 

Wife of Conductor, BNSF

I wish people understood this isn’t a case of “they knew what they signed up for.” This is NOT the railroad of yesteryear. This is NOT the railroad my husband signed on with in 2012. We knew going in it would be overtime, trips away from home, hard work in the elements, etc. These workers are fine with that. It used to be that they compensated them for it appropriately with pay and benefits, including time off.

They go to work sick, they miss funerals of loved ones, they miss final goodbyes to parents on hospice, they miss holidays, birthdays, all of it.

Over the last 10 years, our insurance coverage has gotten progressively worse, wages have stayed stagnant, and demands placed on the workers in the form of draconian attendance and availability policies have reached an unlivable point. They want them on call or on shift 90 percent of their life. They go to work sick, they miss funerals of loved ones, they miss final goodbyes to parents on hospice, they miss holidays, birthdays, all of it.

Locomotive Engineer, CSX

Most of us have a sense of pride in the execution of our craft, and its effect on our nation. We are cognizant of its importance to the supply chain and what we mean to the customers who depend on us to deliver the raw materials and finished goods this country demands. I am proud of that. But there is a personal toll when you spend most of your life away from home, eating cheap food and sleeping in hotels you probably wouldn’t choose to spend your vacation in. All of it on-call, 24 hours a day. I don’t think we mind what is asked of us, as long as we are treated with the dignity and respect us railroaders are asking for in these contract negotiations. 

Wife of Engineer, BNSF

I have a shirt that says “I’m a railroad wife” on the front and then on the back it says “Yes, he’s working. No, I don’t know when he will be home. Yes, we are still married. No, he isn’t imaginary.” It used to be a joke shirt, but now it’s just a sad shirt.

Conductor, BNSF

I just think it's so hard for people to grasp how shitty most railroader's quality of life is. You literally could get a call to go to work at any minute. Doesn't matter what you’re doing or where you are, if your phone rings, you have 90 minutes to be at work. You will then work 12 hours, after which, you will be taken to a hotel for an indeterminate amount of time. This hotel time is generally, in my experience, 12 to 36 hours. During this time, you are supposed to get rested, however, you have no idea when that phone will ring, could be midnight; could be 8 in the morning, you never know. When the phone does ring, you work 12 hours and go home. That would conclude one trip. After 12 hours, you start the process again. 

This is your life, no set days, no real way to make sure [you’re off] for a doctor’s appointment, a kid’s birthday, anything. Ever. Even if you were to get a day off, you wouldn't know if you actually had that day off, up until the minute the day off is scheduled to start.

Conductor, BNSF

Despite having a near perfect attendance record in over 10 years, if I for some reason sleep through my call tonight (I’m available to be called at around midnight tonight), I will automatically be served an investigation letter (in addition to losing my hi viz points) to put me basically on trial as to why I’m such a bad employee. One more missed call, or any anomaly to their system in the same calendar year and I will be assessed 10 days off unpaid to go permanently on my record. They have no empathy or compassion. 

What people don’t understand about my job is the fact you have no life.

Most guys out here including myself, are either on prescription antidepressants or self medicate alcohol. Like most guys I work with around my age, I’m currently filling out a resume. 

Conductor, UP

What people don’t understand about my job is the fact you have no life. Precision railroading has only made this worse. Your life revolves around waiting for the phone to ring to come into work or sleeping to be ready when the phone does ring. 

Andrew, Former Conductor, Norfolk Southern (quit last year)

We're on call 24/7/365.  You get a handful of personal days. The problem is they never approve them. The company decided for attendance-related issues the weekend ran from Thursday afternoon til Monday.  If you tried getting a day approved during that time, forget it. If you got approved in the time they allowed that still didn't mean you were going to get the day off. They could call you up until 11:59 p.m. the night before and be on a train going to who knows where coming back who knows when.

Forget taking the kids to the beach, going to the fair or apple orchard, but what about things you have to have off? My doctors aren't going to be ok with me waltzing in whenever I want. For stuff like that you can't risk taking a personal day, you have to call in sick. Some feel this is intentional, but they cut the call offices down to bare bones. Most feel this is to persuade you not to call in. Most times you're on hold for over an hour waiting for someone to pick up. In that time you're on hold they can (and have) called people on a different line for you to go to work. At that point if you mark off on the call [don’t go into work] it's a pretty fast track to termination.

By the end of my 10 years it didn't matter how much money they threw at me. That job changed me.  I didn't feel like I was even a person anymore. I'd lost my hobbies, my friends, and my fiancée.  More importantly I'd lost any reason to live.  

Signal Maintainer, BNSF 

I maintain the grade crossings, switches and signal systems. I am fortunate in that I have set hours. M-F 7am-4pm. However, we are on call every night of the week. It is not unusual to get home at 5 and get called back for a trouble call. I am tied to my phone 24 hours for six days of the week. By contract we are on call one day every weekend as well. 

What is worse is if we do get off at 4pm, we are considered fully rested at 2am (10 hours off). So I could get home at five and have a normal evening, watch the news at 10, go to bed at 10:30pm then get called after three hours and be expected to work for 12. Train crews have it far worse with their scheduling.

I feel like we are fighting for all of the working class, not just rail employees. It is time to stand up and say no more to corporate greed. 

The media keeps saying that we get up to five weeks of vacation and 10 personal days. Five weeks is for those close to retirement. I have 17 years and get three weeks and one personal day. I am unaware of any craft that gets sick days. I got COVID in August and had to take five days off minimum. Not by choice. Company mandated. I was fortunate that I had a few vacation days to use but still had to take a couple off without pay. If I get sick again this year, I will have to take off without pay and possibly be written up for it.

The big message is this strike is not about money. It is about being treated humanely. I feel like we are fighting for all of the working class, not just rail employees. It is time to stand up and say no more to corporate greed. 

Locomotive Engineer and Conductor

I hired out in the late 1990’s. I’m a “railfan,” or person who loves and is a fan of all things rail related. I grew up next to the tracks. I have model railroaded my entire life. I’ve owned my own railroad equipment. This is a passion that has run deep for nearly my entire 43 years on this planet. 

I’m broken when it comes to the dream I once chased. If you’re asking why, it’s really quite simple.

The Railroads that were once hospitable and understanding about it being humans that they employ no longer care about anything other than their own greed and bottom line. How does that create a broken culture? It creates this broken culture on the railroads by systematically removing every motivating factor employees and the men and women used daily. 

These railroads fight tooth and nail to not honor their agreements. When the people and the railroads sit down to hash out an agreement, the very next day, their entire motivation is to try and find ways to subvert that agreement. This is being played out right now in national news on every major channel. We’ve known the problem for a long time and the public is just now having it shown to them because now it may affect them, too. 

These railroads have pushed the entire workforce to a breaking point.

Conductor, BNSF

If I could tell the public anything about us, it is that we are very proud of the work we do, we love our jobs (even though the demands are great), and take our safety and the safety of the public very seriously. Things changed awhile back when venture capitalists took over and started to bleed the railways for profits. Also, there has been just a stunning lack of leadership, the ineptitude of management is almost criminal, many of the experienced managers who knew operations and came from crafts have retired and the carriers have hired college graduates with zero logistics or craft experience.

Engineer, Norfolk Southern

As a railroad Engineer, I'm a highly trained and professional operator of the largest land vehicle known to man. My average train in the current operating climate may be 20,000 tons and three miles long laden with hazmat [hazardous materials] and other dangerous chemicals and lading. I had ten hours rest after being on duty 12-plus hours the previous trip. I'm on call 24/7 and never know when I will get called. I don't get sick days. I spend more time in the away-from-home terminal (hotel) than I do at home. I'm constantly fatigued and sleep deprived and usually get called at all times of the night. I love my craft and I'm very good at it however, the draconian system that we work under currently is sub-human and not sustainable.

I know everyone is worried about a strike and supply chain interruptions but they are missing the bigger story.

The Carrier's arrogance is baffling. The current operating environment is untenable and a mass exodus of employees is underway. Very soon, the Carrier's will not have enough employees to operate the number of trains scheduled. I know everyone is worried about a strike and supply chain interruptions but they are missing the bigger story. The railroads have not changed with the times and cannot hire qualified employees. Their reputations precede them. Railroads handle 30% of the nation's freight. The inability of the railroads to hire and retain qualified employees will have a greater long term impact on the supply chain. It's a crisis that the railroads and the politicians refuse to recognize. 

The real crisis is looming. The strike is temporary…

Engineer, BNSF

I’d like people to know that I genuinely enjoy my job and the people I work with. Many of them I have a bond with as strong as family. It’s no wonder my brothers and sisters have started finding new jobs and giving up hope. This strike isn’t what the railroads should be worried about, it’s the loss of their best and hardworking employees. We work all night, on camera, with no radio, no phone, and can work up to 12 hours straight. We work hard for this company. All we are asking for is a little respect.

Engineer, BNSF

I've noticed one thing that the media is getting wrong is that we're not asking for paid sick days. We're asking not to be punished for taking time off for being sick or taking time off to tend to sick family members or actually be able to make doctor appointments. I've had issues not too long ago with my heart that I was docked points for not going to work to deal with my afib [“An irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow.”]. And docked points when we had to call 911 for my son because of breathing issues and spent all day in the hospital with him and not able to go to work. 

I've been here for 28 years and the way they treat us has really made me depressed to the point I can't wait to retire because this job is taking its toll on my health and on my family. 

Conductor, CSX

A typical answer you will receive from a fellow railroad worker at work when you ask "how are you doing?" is "I'm living the dream."

An answer dripping with irony. Workers deal with the stress of the job with cynicism, but with an acceptance that their families depend on their labor to have a better standard of living. Waiting for Godot—I can't go on, I must go on because people depend on me. So you smile and say you are living the dream. 

This was caused by the railroad companies, but workers will likely take the brunt of the blame for wanting to be treated like human beings and not robots. 

The American people need to know that rail laborers are tough and hardened and want to do their jobs for the country, but the Class I's [the seven largest railroad companies in North America] will not allow sick time without possible punishment. This is what Americans need to know. This was caused by the railroad companies, but workers will likely take the brunt of the blame for wanting to be treated like human beings and not robots. 

Workers now are expected by the Class I Railroads to work longer, harder and with less ability to manage their schedules. Despite the challenges of the job, rail workers across the country work dutifully to move the freight that keeps America running. The Class I's and their major stock holders have made billions while expecting the workers who get their hands dirty to magically fill the production void they created by their job reductions. Workers feel that they have no choice to be heard but to strike and this is all over a few unpaid sick days a year for workers. It is an absurdity of capitalism that this is even happening in 2022. 

Wife of Engineer, BNSF

Watching my beloved husband carry the burden of this job is heartbreaking. My husband at this time has already used all his vacation days for things like making sure I have a ride home from the hospital after surgery from ACL repair, or making sure my daughter gets his presence at one of her volleyball games. He must use his vacation days to go to any appointments from dental, to doctors, to an eye exam. The carriers have given no room for a family and the responsibilities that come with it or for anyone who is looking to build a life outside of work or develop any semblance of a happy, healthy life.

I want people to know that this job is a skilled craft, it takes years for these men and women to become capable and confident at what they do, we trust them to drive through the heart of all of our towns across America, to bring our goods to the table, to make sure that we have gas at a gas stations, that the chlorine gets to the water treatment plants so we have clean water--and all they’re asking for is some sick leave and a schedule that doesn’t leave them feeling like they’ve abandoned all their other responsibilities in life.

Conductor, BNSF

The thing I would like the public to know is: we, the railroad Union employees, are your neighbors. We are currently having an issue with our hedge fund billionaire bosses and we need a little help right now, or at least a little understanding and compassion. 

I'm a conductor, a veteran, a father of two kids; Die Hard is a Christmas movie, Micheal Jordan is the greatest to ever play basketball, Michael Keaton was the best Batman, and if you have a flat tire, I'll stop and give you a hand…or you can side with the billionaires. 

Brakeman, Union Pacific

I’m a divorced father of two, so when I need to miss work because of a child’s appointment or sickness it’s a very big deal for me. The points based attendance policies work to where an employee with near impeccable attendance could find themselves in an investigation quite quickly if they were to encounter some bad luck or sickness.

At one point this year I worked 11 weeks without a day off.

Myself and fellow employees are simply burned out. I have been with the railroad for nearly 10 years and have witnessed more injuries and incidents in the past two years than I have my entire time here. 

Locomotive Engineer, BNSF

I average 110 hours a week away from home. I have no scheduled days off at all. I'm on call 24/7 and work all hours of the day and night while BNSF makes me watch training every two years on sleeping well and eating healthy while they do everything they can to prevent that. It plays hell on our health and we constantly have to miss and reschedule doctors appointments. We miss out on our kids programs and sporting events. We can't volunteer to coach Little League or be a part of PTA. At one point this year I worked 11 weeks without a day off.

Wife of Engineer, BNSF

The week before BNSF adopted Hi-Viz, I tested positive for Covid. On January 31st, our youngest tested positive, at school. The 31st was the first day that I was able to return to work. My husband happened to be home that morning so he took our daughter home and I tried to get some work done before he ended up being called for work. We discussed what we should do and ultimately decided that I needed to be the one to take time off because if he had stayed with our child Monday through Friday, so that I could return to work, he would have used all 30 of his points plus 5 of the 15 points that are given to employees after the first time they reach 0. At an employee town hall, prior to the implementation of Hi-Viz, a BNSF exec told those watching that they needed to save points for emergencies. How do people plan for emergencies? He had to choose between sharing in the care of our daughter or having points in the event of an emergency.  

Pay is important, health care is important, but Class I railroads are refusing to negotiate quality of life and work conditions that would help to hire and retain employees.  The things that used to make up for this on-call lifestyle haven't kept up and policies that were acceptable have changed. My husband enjoys his job, but at what point is it not worth it? That's something we have been discussing on a regular basis since the implementation of Hi-Viz and the lack of the willingness that the carriers have to negotiate issues that union members have deemed important.  

Conductor, BNSF

I can be crushed or killed any given night with a wrong step. Sounds dramatic but that’s the business. Walk into a hazardous leak unknowingly. Lost a few coworkers over the years unfortunately. On the PEB record we as a work group have been told we contribute nothing to profits. Kind of interesting considering they are trying to move Congress expeditiously because of how important we are to apparently everyone and everything. 

Conductor, Union Pacific

I would like the general public to know that after working for 15 years I only get 30 days off each year. Every other day of the year if I'm not physically working I am subject to call and feel like a prisoner at times. As it is now this job consumes your life, what we want is fair treatment and an improved quality of life.



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pawnstorm
144 days ago
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Nationalize the railroads.
Olympia, WA

What Should Happen to Drivers Who Kill Cyclists? - Outside Online

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On April 16, 2016, Danielle Davis stepped off an overnight flight from San Diego to New York City with her mother, Lana. The morning before, Danielle’s older sister, Lauren, had been killed by a driver while riding her bike to her job at the Pratt Institute, an art and design school in Brooklyn. She had just turned 34. Lana had the address of a police station, the location of the crash site, and nothing else.

Danielle and Lana went to the site of the crash, on the corner of Classon Avenue and Lexington Avenue in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood. A streak of Lauren’s blood was on the cement, next to a broken pair of sunglasses. “When you’re grieving, you’re just looking for signs that she’s still around, that this person has not completely disappeared,” Danielle says.

Later that morning, one of Lauren’s friends drove them to the New York City Police Department (NYPD)’s Collision Investigation Squad (CIS) headquarters in Brooklyn, where they met an officer named Christophe Paul, who was in charge of the case. “He told us that she was ‘salmoning’—biking against traffic—south, instead of north, to her place of work,” says Danielle. The NYPD gave this information to local news outlets, too.

In the notebook that Danielle kept at the time, she wrote, “The car bumps Lauren, she falls off the bike, they’re unsure how.” Paul handed them a copy of a crash report that said the same, but he told them the final copy he was writing could change if more information came to light during the investigation.

From the police station, Danielle and Lana went to the medical examiner’s office in Brooklyn to identify Lauren. In life, Danielle says, her sister had been the brave one. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Danielle told me. She was “a self-described goth” and had spent the previous few months studying the way the Dutch masters symbolized death in their paintings. “Lauren really encouraged me to go outside and explore—to not feel afraid,” Danielle says. But now all of that was gone. Her face was smashed beyond recognition, her skin swollen and bruised. “She was an amazingly beautiful person,” Danielle says, “and the crash just tore all of that away from her. Not only her life, but whatever semblance of who she was. She wasn’t there.” They ultimately identified Lauren by a tattoo of an Egyptian ankh on her back instead.

Danielle, now 36, describes this day as a series of fragmented scenes, full of surreal decisions. “You want to know: What happened, where’s Lauren, why isn’t she alive? And suddenly you’re asked, ‘Which organs do you want to donate?’” She tried to make sense of the passing time by keeping fastidious notes. “I documented everything, every single day—what we did, where we went, what happened. I think it was just because I didn’t believe it myself.”

Back at Lauren’s apartment, Danielle and her mother agreed that there was a disconnect between what they’d seen at the medical examiner’s office and the detective’s account of the crash. “There was this one quote that made me really start to doubt him,” Danielle told me. “He said he doesn’t believe that she made contact with the car.” The medical examiner told them that Lauren had likely been run over—the car had left a smear of red paint across her helmet. (When asked about these initial discrepancies in Paul’s account of what happened, the NYPD responded, “When the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad responds to a collision, a preliminary investigation is conducted based on available evidence. However, the investigation is ongoing and is subject to change as additional evidence is gathered and documented over the coming weeks and months.”)

The next morning, Danielle and Lana decided to go back to the scene of the crash to set up a memorial and to see if they could figure out more about Lauren’s death on their own. “We were told that videos would disappear from local businesses within a week,” says Danielle. “So we had seven days to hunt down witnesses, videos, whatever evidence we could to help Officer Paul do his job.”

They staked out the corner where Lauren was hit, figuring they might meet someone who had seen the crash on their regular commute. Lana says she flagged down sanitation workers and anyone passing by who might have been nearby that morning. Danielle stood by the spray of blue and yellow flowers they placed on the sidewalk and solicited people as they walked past: “My sister was killed here on Friday, do you know anything?” Danielle describes herself as the more reserved of the two sisters, but stopping strangers on the street felt natural, she says. “It just felt like what Lauren would have done for me.”

A woman in scrubs told Lana that she’d been walking past on her way to work at a hospital and had held Lauren in the road after the crash. Others told them about being hit by drivers on nearby streets. “My mom and I were so desperate to find answers that, even though it was traumatic to hear, it felt like piecing together the puzzle,” Danielle says.

Three days later, they found what they were after. A woman in a red bike helmet rode past the memorial. “She looked at us from the other side of the street,” Danielle recalls. “And then she rolled up and asked us, ‘Is she OK?’”

They’d soon learn that the police did have it wrong. “Watching a person who’d been made a victim be erased, almost consumed by an institution that was supposed to serve and protect her, it felt like a betrayal,” Danielle says. “It just felt like humanity let us down that day.”

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acdha
150 days ago
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“Drivers are offered a kind of impunity that doesn’t exist in just about any other situation where a human kills another human.”
Washington, DC
lamontcg
150 days ago
At a bare minimum distracted driving that results in the death of a cyclist should be treated like DUI vehicular homicide, not just an "accident".
LeMadChef
149 days ago
If you kill a human with a car, you should be tried identically to killing a human with a gun. It's that simple.
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