Rail Strike in Germany

Jul 19th, 2007, 07:39 AM
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Rail Strike in Germany

The wage negotiations between the Deutsche Bahn and the locomotive drivers' union have broken down. The union has threatened unlimited strikes. No immediate strike targets and dates were announced, but the two sides have broken off negotiations. Here is a key paragraph from Tagesschau.

Die Tarifverhandlungen der Deutschen Bahn mit der Lokführergewerkschaft GDL sind ohne Ergebnis abgebrochen worden. Die GDL habe die Kompromissvorschläge der Bahn abgelehnt, sagte Personalvorstand Margret Suckale.

It dsays that the wage negotiations broke off without results. The GDL union (the locomotive drivers) rejected the compromise suggestions of the DB according to chief of personnel Margret Suckale.

The union has even upped its demands to wanting at least a 31% pay increase and shorter hours.

Basically Die Bahn, according to labor experts, is helpless against the union.
The situation is serious because a small union has grasped power and the courts seem reluctant to intervene.

I am not expert enough on German labor law and labor practices to predict how this may play out. Given the conditions and the developments so far, the foundations of a first class labor war are being put in place.
I will keep watching it, but like most of you there is a lot about this I don't understand.
bob_brown is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 10:53 AM
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The latest I have read indicates that the talks have indeed broken down. Neither side will budge; in fact, the locomotive drivers' union even escalated its demands a little to wanting at least a 31% increase and a shorter work seek. The union is taking a strike poll of its membership. An announcement of the results will not be made until early August. Until then there will be no strikes.

When the strikes resume chances are they will be like the warning strikes. The target will be trains that normally travel at peak travel times in major cities.
bob_brown is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 07:36 PM
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In the German rail strike involving the locomotive drivers, more issues than just pay and working hours are involved according to what I have been reading.

Like the doctors and the airline pilots, the locomotive drivers want recognition as a separate union. To date, Die Bahn management has refused to deal with the engine drivers as separate from the other employees of the German rail system.

Mehdorf, Die Bahnchef has said as much. The locomotive drivers can accept the offer of a pay increase that Die Bahn made to the workers in Transunion, but he is not going to negotiate with the GDL as a separate union.

The locomotive drivers want more recognition as a separate, powerful, small union as well as 31% more pay (at least) and a slightly shorter work week.

They recognize that they may be small in numbers, but they collectively have the power to bring the entire German rail system, both passenger service and freight service, to a complete standstill. As one writer put it, at the height of the vacation season, they can paralyze the system -- lahm legen in German.

The summary of an interview I read with a German labor expert does not hold out much hope that the courts will again intervene. I think this quote is telling: Das Arbeitsgericht Mainz hatte den Weg für Warnstreiks allerdings schließlich frei gemacht.

It says that the labor court in Mainz has made free the road to strikes.

Given that this confrontation is as much about labor union power and recognition as it is increased pay and shorter work periods, it could be a protracted struggle.

I am not sure what to make of the move to poll the union membership at large other than that the union leadership wants to gain total assurance that a prolonged strike has the backing of the rank and file members of the union before ordering wide-spread, paralyzing strikes.

I doubt very much if polling the membership is a signal that the leadership thinks the members may be waffling on the issue. I think it is a ploy to once again rally the troops to battle.

On the other hand it also buys time for more negotiations. But what is there to be negotiated? The talks on Thursday broke down and the positions of both sides have been made more firm.

Those of you who live in Germany can probably add quite a bit more to my interpretation from afar.

bob_brown is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 09:21 PM
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Bob: I'm also getting concerned now it's going into August when I'm going to be there. This probably means more road congestion besides the increasing gas prices.

It looks like the GDL is fighting for a minimum of 2500 euro monthly salary for its members(31% increase)because their job is stressful enough to deserve a higher salaries. I wonder how much their counterparts are earning monthly in France/Austria.
DAX is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 10:44 AM
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I can add this much. The GDL is taking a poll of the union members. The German term is Urabstimmung which translates as Strike Vote.

The results are timed to be announced in early August; a date of August 6 was cited.

An article in Tagesschau today said that the strike would/could be geared to prime vacation time.

I have enclosed a clip from the latest article that I have read. Basically it says that the GDL has a well stocked war chest.

However the amount of money in the strike account does not sound like all that much to me. $15 million will go fairly quickly if the whole union is on strike.

Based on what I read, 75% of the eligible members must vote for the strike. August 6 was given as the date the results would be made known.

I see three possible outcomes here:
1. The vote fails to carry the necessary majority of 75% and the strike is averted.
2. Political pressure from the German government forces the strikers to back off.
3. The union and the railroad decide to resume negotiations and reach a settlement.

I do NOT know if the German transportation ministry can force arbitration. Nor do I know if Die Bahn itself could implement a lockout and in effect suspend without pay ALL the GDL members. That tactic, if possible, would wear down the cash reserves of the strike fund very quickly.

At any rate, there will be NO strikes before August 6.

Here is a key paragraph from the article I read for those of you who read German. The last sentence is one I am not sure what it means.

I interpreted it to say that the GDL spokesman is saying that the union can strike longer than the railroad management can tolerate it.

Die Lokomotivführer sehen sich für einen längeren Arbeitskampf finanziell gut gerüstet. Einem Bericht des "Handelsblatts" zufolge hat die Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer (GDL) 15 Millionen Euro zurückgelegt. GDL-Sprecherin Gerda Seibert wollte dies nicht bestätigen, versicherte aber, dass die Streikkasse über "gute Rücklagen" verfüge. "Wir können länger streiken als dem Bahn-Vorstand lieb ist", sagte sie.
bob_brown is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 11:15 AM
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For what it's worth, DB has a page where updates are posted: http://www.db.de/site/bahn/en/travel...ts/strike.html
Robespierre is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 11:47 AM
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For people like myself who will be arriving after August 6, things are looking bleak. DB is standing tough on 4.5 % wage increase plus a one time payment of 800 euro which is a far cry from the 31% wage increase demand. I'm not sure who's being greedy but 31% wage increase seems outrageous to me.
DAX is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 05:15 PM
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do you think they will be refunding tickets if they go on strike? the website didn't mention this. Before this news, we were advised to get our tickets in advance as we are traveling during the peak vacation time.
skatedancer is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 09:03 PM
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Yes, tickets are refunded.

DAX and Bob, to understand this you must know that Die Bahn AG, so far owned by the Federal government, is going to be sold to the public - an IPO - soon. It's bigger politics. 31% might sound outrageous, but I can understand them.

Ingo is offline  
Jul 20th, 2007, 11:09 PM
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I've read about the unavoidable IPO last year, but I don't understand why the GDL has been OK with the low salary when it's 100% state controlled but now demands a sudden big salary jump & lesser work hours due to the upcoming partial privatization. Can you enlighten me?

I know that almost 25% of die Bahn (not clear if that translates to 49% of the train operation part) is going to be privatised through IPO in 2009, but the rail network is supposed to remain state owned to prevent a private monopoly of the railroad and to maintain government control.

I also don't have enough background info to understand the logic behind the Union's(CDU) support for the adoption of die Bahn's debt by the government (after/before IPO?). Doesn't make sense when the privatization goal is to reduce the burden on the government.

DAX is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2007, 02:14 AM
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DAX, sorry, been away yesterday.

The original privatization of Die Bahn was not to reduce the current debt of the government. The problem in the past has always been that Die Bahn used to never make a profit. Every year they produced a loss. The hope of the government is that a privately owned Bahn would make profit in the future and the gov. would not have to pump money into Die Bahn.

Of course they also want to get as much money as possible by privatization. Thus adopting the current debt before IPO as far as I know (with a plan to pay off this debt).

It's not totally clear to me either whether they plan to privatize 25% or 49% of the train operation part. I guess at some time in the future it's definitely going to be 49%.

I was so glad to hear that the railroad network will remain state owned. BUT - then I heard it will be operated by the privatized Bahn. That will unfortunately prevent real competition, I am certain. A huge mistake IMO.

Now on to the GDL and the salary demands. It's very complicated. As I mentioned above Die Bahn produced huge losses in the past and so it was not appropriate to demand much higher salaries. When CEO Mehldorn announced the big profit this year (IMO faked, just to earn more from the IPO) the GDL thought it was about time to demand the much higher salaries. The other unions sort of have a secret pact with the management of Die Bahn. They supported Mehldorn in his fight against the government for operating the railroad network after the IPO (to prevent competition and possible layoffs of their employees). They know that Die Bahn is more attractive for investors if the salary of employees is lower - and the government gave in to Die Bahn operating the railroad network IF the salary demands of the unions are low.

That's at least what I have heard. There might be other factors, too.
Ingo is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2007, 07:51 AM
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Thanks for your helpful elaboration. I read somewhere that in 2009 they will release almost 25% in IPO but eventually the goal is to sell 49%.

If I'm not mistaken the GDL was the one union who also threatened to strike during WM last year. It's ironic that DB didn't/couldn't make a pact with them prior to their IPO marketing strategy. It seems like they blew it on this one.
DAX is offline  

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