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Rail unions urge Senate not to extend strike deadline

By Admin

Reported by Karl Evers-Hillstrom for The Hill.

One of the largest railroad unions on Thursday urged senators not to extend the Dec. 9 deadline for rail workers to strike and instead force through a contract that would guarantee paid sick leave for workers.

The plea from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) — whose members rejected a tentative contract with railroads — indicates that senators are considering kicking the can down the road to prevent rail disruptions that would begin this weekend in advance of the deadline.

“Railroad workers are at their breaking point. An extension of the status quo will also deny railroad workers a much needed and well-deserved increase to their pay during a period where they have felt the woes of inflation. It has been three years since Railroad Workers have received a raise. They should not have to wait two more months,” Tony Caldwell, BMWED’s national division president, wrote in a letter to senators.

The House on Wednesday voted to force through a tentative contract agreement negotiated with the help of the Biden administration in September that provides 24 percent raises over five years and back pay.

Lawmakers passed a separate measure to provide rail workers with seven days of paid sick leave, a key demand that wasn’t included in the contract. However, only three Republicans voted for that proposal, raising doubts about whether paid sick leave will earn enough GOP support to get 60 votes in the Senate.

Rail unions are lobbying Senate Republicans to approve the paid sick leave measure. Railroads are pushing back, arguing that Congress should not modify contract proposals.

“The prime opportunity, and the best vehicles to end this potential national crisis are before the Senate right now,” Caldwell wrote, referring to the two House-passed measures. “All you have to do now is vote.”

The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department also released a statement on Thursday opposing a delay, arguing that railroads are not interested in further negotiations.

“No more excuses. No more delays. Rail workers deserve a fair contract now that guarantees good wages, health care, and benefits,” TTD president Greg Regan and secretary-treasurer Shari Semelsberger said.

President Biden has argued that the Senate cannot afford to drag deliberations into the weekend without risking damage to the U.S. economy.

“Let me say that again: without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

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