Opinion: A rail strike averted reminds us that there is power in a union

Photo by Alex Welsh / The New York Times /The Union Pacific Dolores Yard near the Port Of Los Angeles in Carson, Calif., is shown on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. Freight rail companies and unions representing tens of thousands of workers reached a tentative agreement to avoid what would have been an economically damaging strike.

The short story behind the now-averted railroad strike is this: The largest freight railroad carriers in the country were willing to cripple the transportation infrastructure of the United States rather than allow their workers to take the occasional day off to see a doctor or attend to their families.

Here's the longer story. This week, unions representing tens of thousands of railway workers were poised to strike in protest of poor working conditions and low wages. Their complaints were straightforward. The two largest freight railroad carriers -- Union Pacific and BNSF Railway -- were using attendance policies that punished workers for taking time off from the job. "Engineers and conductors face penalties for taking any time off," The Washington Post explained in its report on the labor dispute, "including weekends, outside of holidays and preplanned vacation, even in the case of emergencies."