Rail car drivers earn a living wage, health care coverage, pension plans and benefits.
They also are eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
But while rail car drivers are the backbone of the economy, many workers aren’t making as much as they should be.
According to a report released last month by the National Employment Law Project, almost one in five workers who earn $75,000 or more in wages are in the lowest-wage jobs, and one in four workers making $60,000 a year are in these jobs.
“These low-wage workers are making up a very small percentage of the workforce, and the problem is that the average wage for these workers is much higher than the typical wage for other workers,” says the report, “Rise or Fall of the American Railcar Worker.”
Rail car workers have long been at the center of labor disputes and disputes over pay and working conditions.
In 2013, the Department of Labor concluded that the rail car industry, which employs roughly 1.3 million people, is in the worst economic shape since the Great Depression.
But as the economy has improved, the issue of unionization and wages has gotten more and more contentious.
The National Labor Relations Board is currently considering a proposal to impose a minimum wage of $15 an hour, a move that could affect rail car owners, who have historically paid low wages.
In the meantime, more than 30% of all rail car operators are union members, according to a 2015 report by the union that represents the workers.
“What I’m seeing is people that are in this job, in this economy, for a reason, that they need a job, and they’re struggling, they’re getting squeezed, and it’s not because of union or other workers’ rights issues,” says Elizabeth Tuchscherer, the executive director of the National Association of Rail Car Owners.
“It’s because of other factors that are affecting people’s lives, their families, and their livelihoods.”
Many workers, especially those in the transportation industry, have not been able to negotiate higher wages and benefits for more than a decade.
The minimum wage for the trucking industry is $7.25 an hour.
For the cab and van driving industry, it’s $7 per hour.
The trucking companies that employ thousands of rail car employees say that the new $15 minimum wage is going to have a huge impact on their pay and benefits, and will also be hurting their bottom lines.
“If the minimum wage goes up, and there’s a huge amount of people who are hurting because of the increase in wages, that would mean that they have to cut back on services,” says Mark Hurd, president and CEO of the Federal Railroad Administration.
“That would mean fewer people going to work.”
For rail car truck drivers, it is a question of who pays.
The industry employs about 2.7 million workers, according a 2014 survey by the American Trucking Associations, and more than half of those workers earn wages of at least $15 per hour, according the union.
In 2015, the average hourly wage for rail car work was $9.49.
In a report in February, the National Labor Federation said that rail car companies could lose as much $10 billion to $12 billion in the coming years because of their higher minimum wage, and that it would be harder to attract new employees.
“There’s going to be a lot of job losses, a lot more people who won’t be able to afford to get their foot in the door and start a new job,” says Sarah Stemper, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University.
“In the long run, it doesn’t make a lot sense to just let a bunch of workers in, and then they’ll all leave,” says Stempen.
“If you have a union, and you have an incentive for people to be involved in the workforce and to be part of the decision-making process, that’s going in favor of people that have the skills to do that job.
But it just doesn’t work that way.”
The unions have also called for a $15 federal minimum wage.
And a coalition of union leaders and labor groups have called for the elimination of the minimum wages in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
But in February 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he was rescinding the federal minimum hourly wage increase, and has vowed to bring back the minimum in a second round.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says that the $15 increase will take effect for most workers next year.
“The fact that we’re not talking about $15 now doesn’t mean we’re going to not talk about $14, $15, $16, $17, and so on,” says Linda Smith, president of the NAACP.
“The question is how are you going to make that change happen?
How are you really going