Rail Row Union Votes for German Railway Strike
Germany's GDL train drivers' union voted overwhelmingly on Monday to go on strike against national railway Deutsche Bahn, threatening to leave thousands of tourists stranded at the peak of the country's travel season.
GDL Chairman Manfred Schell said that 95.8 percent of the union's members had voted in favor of going on strike this Wednesday in what is expected to be the biggest work stoppage at Deutsche Bahn since 1992. The strike could stall thousands of trains and strand many thousands more passengers.
Schell said the strike could begin on Wednesday if Deutsche Bahn doesn't present a better offer by Tuesday evening. The union is considering stopping work on freight trains for two to three hours, and afterwards the strikes could spread to passenger service. However, the union said that no firm plans had been made for the start of the strike, though it did promise to provide passengers with a 24-hour notice period. The strikes are expected to start small but gradually grow in intensity if GDL's demands aren't met.
The 34,000 GDL-aligned train drivers and conductors have refused to accept the terms of a wage contract between Deutsche Bahn and two other railway employee unions -- Transnet and GDBA. Instead, the locomotive drivers are demanding their own contract, along with a 31 percent wage hike. Locomotive drivers in Germany currently earn about €2,000 ($2,765) a month, and many argue that is insufficient for the responsibility that comes with driving trains that can be carrying as many as 400 passengers and traveling at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour). GDL has rejected an offer by Deutsche Bahn for a 4.5 percent salary increase.
Economics institutes and consumer advocacy groups alike have criticized the strike plans, saying they could have a negative impact on the economy and strand millions of passengers. Deutsche Bahn's CEO, Hartmut Mehdorn, has taken a hard line against the strike plans.
German courts will have a say in the strike developments, at least at the regional level. On Monday, a labor court in Düsseldorf ruled against the strike, arguing it would endanger the future of unified wage contracts at the company. The court threatened €250,000 in fines if the union shut down regional trains in the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Other courts are also considering cases brought by Deutsche Bahn seeking an injunction against the strikes. A Frankfurt court on Monday came to an agreement with the parties that will keep Deutsche Bahn auto and night trains from striking.
"We will demand damages for all strikes that violate the law," Mehdorn said in an interview with SPIEGEL published Monday. "If Deutsche Bahn suffers losses in the millions due to illegal actions, then we want those losses compensated for."
Responding to the upcoming court rulings, GDL Deputy Chairman Claus Weselsky said his union would obey the rule of law. "If the courts prohibit measures in our labor battle as has happened in North Rhine-Westphalia with regional trains, then we won't go on strike there. Up until now, we have never carried out an illegal strike and we won't do so in the future," he said.
The German government is preparing to sell about half its shares in Deutsche Bahn through a number of channels, including an initial public offering. But there are concerns that increased wage costs could make the company less attractive to investors.