What trains are crossing the country this week? In fact, it is the business of the Berlin Bahnspitze and its network control center. But here, we feel that the internal schedule managers will soon no longer be in charge. This week, a man will intervene in rail traffic, which they all fear here even more than snow, thunderstorms and technical breakdowns. On Monday, the leader of the GDL train drivers’ union, Claus Weselsky, had the votes counted in a strike vote. Tuesday morning, he wants to announce the result at GDL headquarters in Frankfurt.
Even before, it’s pretty clear: there is a threat of a hard strike. From this week, millions of travelers and commuters in Germany will have to prepare for huge problems with rail traffic, train cancellations and stops. During the holiday season, of all time, and as Germans’ urge to travel grows, one of the toughest wage disputes of recent years takes its course. Weselsky himself expects over 90% approval for a strike. It’s not just about pin pricks, he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The railroad is also preparing its customers for the worst. “You have to assume that there will be a strike,” said Martin Seiler, director of human resources at Deutsche Bahn. Insiders have long feared a scenario that will be as bad as between September 2014 and May 2015, when the GDL crippled Germany’s largest state-owned company with hundreds of hours on strike and in several increasing waves and finally put it down. kneeling. We were talking about a loss of ten million euros per day of strike action.
For Deutsche Bahn, the portents of such a labor dispute could hardly be worse. Considering the loosening of the crown, something like the urge to travel is spreading again. Trains are currently filling up a bit, which is expected to ultimately decimate billions in pandemic losses and needed bailout funds from tax pools. “At the end of the day, this is an attack on the whole country,” said Seiler, a member of the railways board.
The collective bargaining cycle is also rarely deadlocked
There are two main arguments between the railways and the union. On the one hand, there are details about money and working conditions. Given the scale of the strike threats, the gap between positions appears small. The GDL is calling for a salary increase of 3.2 percent in several stages. The railroad would provide that as well. However, not as quickly as needed. And for 40, instead of 28 months as requested by the GDL. An agreement would also be close at hand on working conditions – especially since serious negotiations have yet to take place.
In reality. Because the cycle of collective bargaining between the railways and the union is more than rarely deadlocked. The two sides accuse each other of spreading untruths and of not being interested in negotiations. Finally, there is a whole other subject. The collective bargaining cycle is complicated by what is probably the most important point of contention: the existential fear of the GDL and its power struggle with the railway union EVG, which is much larger in terms of membership.
The two unions would like to negotiate for almost all of the 185,000 railway workers in Germany. However, the railway feels obliged to apply the law on the unit tariff. According to this, a contract is only valid if the respective union has a majority. According to the railway, the GDL only has them in 16 of the group’s 300 individual companies.
More recently, GDL has attempted to take legal action in court to ensure that its collective agreement also applies to a railway company when GDL does not have the most members there. But the union failed in all 29 cases. It is true that the railway offered itself as a compromise to allow the GDL to come into play where the two unions are active. But this is not enough for the union. She would like to extend her influence even further and is now going on the offensive in the wage dispute.
No deal is currently in sight. More like another escalation. Because the railway is also thinking aloud about the legal steps to put Weselsky back in his place. “There are clear rules for a strike in Germany. If they are injured, we will defend ourselves,” said CEO of Bahn Seiler. Train drivers are allowed to strike for higher wages and better working conditions. However, they are not allowed to take action against the collective bargaining law.
The EVG has just under 190,000 members, the GDL around 37,000 members, most of whom work for Deutsche Bahn. Rival union EVG had already signed a collective agreement with the group last fall. This year there was a zero round, at the start of 2022, employees will receive 1.5% more money. Terminations for operational reasons are excluded. The railway is asking workers for concessions, especially this year, in order to be able to cope with the billions of losses.
“I am not aware of any limitation.”
Even though the GDL is much smaller, its strikes are considered particularly effective because, according to its own statements, it represents around 80 percent of train drivers and 40 percent of flight attendants. Without its members, the operation of trains of more than 1,300 long-distance trains and more than 22,000 local trains per day in Germany can hardly be sustained. In the event of a strike, Deutsche Bahn is therefore already working on an emergency schedule in order to maintain at least a basic supply.
How long that would be needed is currently in the stars. Asked about the possible duration of a train conductor strike, Weselsky responded as briefly as it was combative: “I know no limit to the length of a strike.