Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Dr. Patrick Barkey, Director of the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research appeared on the KGVO Talk Back show on Wednesday and addressed the issue of a possible rail worker strike.

Barkey said aside from the possible national repercussions of a strike, the railroads, and the unions have the right to make a deal that benefits both parties.

UM's Patrick Barkey on Talk Back

“What it really comes down to is what I have is called ‘willing buyer - willing seller’,” began Barkey. “If the owner is willing to pay it, then who’s to disparage the workers for trying to get it? So, it's kind of a private deal, right? With one big exception, right? And that is that strikes are very disruptive. But the strikes are an element of that same 100-plus year history over those kinds of negotiations. So when that happens, of course, then it gets into the public, and all of a sudden we're sitting here talking in a radio studio about what a bunch of railroad workers want.”

Barkey said he has seen many such labor problems over the years as an economist and understands the public’s anxiety over the repercussions of a rail strike.

Barkey said he has Seen Many Strikes as an Economist

“We get involved because the strikes are and always have been a public event where public opinion does matter,” he said. “In the old days, it was the police beating strikers down or whatever. I'm by no means an expert in union negotiations, however, I was born and raised in a UAW state so I know a little bit about strikes and so forth.”

Barkey said railroad workers, by the very nature of the job, very seldom work an eight-hour day and return home for dinner.

“I think anyone who works for a railroad, particularly the crews on the trains, that expects to go home at five o'clock every night and kiss their wife and, you know, I think that's never been the case,” he said. “I mean, that's not the nature of that job. That's like being a trucker. You know, I mean you're out there and it's a transportation business. But, there's certainly an element of truth in what you're saying. I wouldn't say that that applies only to rail workers, but I think it certainly applies to them.”

Barkey said Employers have Different Ways of Dealing with Worker Shortages

Addressing another caller’s question about how businesses are handling the current worker shortage, Barkey said not all employers are handling the issue the same way.

“Not all companies are reacting to labor shortages by raising wages,” he said. “They're reacting by closing businesses. They're reacting by not expanding. They're reacting by automating, and they're also reacting by working more hours themselves, etc. So, the first thing is that wages are not all going up everywhere. There are other things that employers are doing in reaction to different availability of workers at the wages, they're comfortable with paying.”

Click here to hear the entire program with Dr. Patrick Barkey.

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