The December 2021 explosion at the CSX coal pier in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, along with ongoing toxic pollution, has prompted immense public outcry against the company’s executives, including numerous protests, city hearings, and a community-led lawsuit. However, the company’s illegal neglect and unfair abuse—across the country, in Maryland, and in Curtis Bay—falls just as heavily on its own workers as on its neighboring communities.
Making headlines for months last year was the ongoing dispute between railroad companies across the United States, including CSX, and their workers, who were demanding a contract that included the most basic of workplace protections such as paid sick leave. In December, President Biden, who claimed to be a “union backer,” overrode the democratic decision of workers and forced them into a bad contract and, with the support of Congress, legally banned a strike.
Clearly, employees of CSX in Maryland suffer the consequences of these bad contracts. In 2018, the company was sued in Maryland by over 100 workers, who had been illegally fired for taking unpaid medical leave guaranteed by the federal government under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But the legal system operates to serve the needs of major corporations, not the health and safety of workers, and the case was found in favor of CSX without any hearing.
The nine “serious” violations found by OSHA against the Curtis Bay coal pier in 2022 indicate that CSX workers at this facility are likely in particular danger of needing the sick leave and time off that the company refuses to provide. The report indicated that supervisors were untrained to be working with hazardous materials, safety equipment was not used when workers were breathing coal dust and other toxic substances, and the workplace was littered with equipment prone to cause an explosion. In some areas of the Curtis Bay facility, workers were not even informed of the hazards that management knew about. Fortunately, the 2021 explosion did not result in any immediate deaths, but daily exposure to toxins and the company’s severe negligence creates an extremely dangerous working environment that could easily lead to chronic health conditions or another major accident.
Meanwhile, Baltimore CSX workers are overworked to the point of exhaustion. Anonymous reviews from employees at the Curtis Bay facility detail being “forced into 16-hour shifts” and having no chance of a life outside work. And despite the dedication demanded by the bosses at the coal pier, “as soon as the coal business slows down, you’ll get your day off in the form of a pink slip.” Other employees of CSX elsewhere in Baltimore report similar horrendous work-life balance, along with surveillance by drones, an “unsafe,” “hateful,” and “toxic” work environment, and salaries tens of thousands of dollars lower than at other railroad companies.
CSX is one of the wealthiest companies in the country. Its workers involved in shipping our essential goods and powering our world deserve a safe workplace, the right to rest and recover from illness, and ample leisure time with their families.