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Train Driver Strike in Germany May Head to Arbitration

Wednesday, May, 13, 2015


Passenger train drivers in Berlin walked off the job and began a five-day strike on May 5th over ongoing disputes with the city and Deutsche Bahn over wages and shift length. The five-day strike is the longest work action engaged in by the union. The strike is being staged in conjunction with freight train drivers, who walked off the job a few hours beforehand. The strikes have left the city in turmoil and commuters dealing with chaos.

 

The drivers demand a 5% increase in wages and shorter hours. However, the complicating factor is that the drivers’ union, GDL, is also demanding that it negotiate on behalf of other train staff who are normally represented by another union. The counteroffer on the table is a 4.7% raise split into two phases with a one-time balloon-type payment. When these terms did not get a positive response from the drivers, Deutsche Bahn suggested that the next step might be formal arbitration.

 

GDL criticized the suggestion, however, claiming that management at Deutsche Bahn had been confused and inconsistent, damaging negotiations by making and then retracting concessions, suggesting compromises and then refusing to pursue them. The union claimed it has wasted four months on talks that have gone nowhere, and implied that management may have been employing confusion purposefully to avoid true concessions.

 

The strike, however, is very unpopular and has shifted public opinion squarely against GDL in the ongoing dispute, with criticism centering on GDL leadership, specifically leader Claus Weselsky.