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Railroad Workers’ Quest for Paid Sick Days Still on Track

By Admin

Reported my Mary Kennedy for Progressive Farmer.

Shortly after the announcement by CSX Transportation that approximately 5,000 CSX engineering and maintenance workers from two unions would receive paid sick leave, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., held a press conference demanding all the railroads provide workers with at least seven paid sick days.

At the Feb. 9 press conference, Sanders and Braun were joined by representatives from SMART-TD, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED), the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, and the National Association of Chemical Distributors.

During the press conference, Sanders said, “The executives in the rail industry and their investors on Wall Street are doing phenomenally well and have never had it so good.” Sanders was referring to the more than $22 billion in profits made last year by the Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern.

“Guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would cost the entire industry just $321 million, less than 1.2% of their profits in a single year. So, you know what I believe? If the rail industry can afford to spend over $20 billion on stock buybacks and hand out huge dividends to their wealthy shareholders, they can afford to provide rail workers with at least seven paid sick days,” said Sanders.

Sanders sent a letter () to the CEOs of six Class 1 railroads, reminding them that the nearly 120,000 railroad workers employed by them are vital to the well-being of the country. “Your workers made it possible for the railroad industry to make record-breaking profits and enabled you to receive exorbitant compensation packages. And rail workers have done all of this without a single day of guaranteed paid sick leave.”

“This was an easy issue for me,” said Sen. Braun. “If you treat your employees like family, if you do what I’m proud of, in the lowest unemployment county, generally, in the state of Indiana, where you pay the highest wage and you get good benefits, people come to your place to work, and they stay there over time. So, it’s not a complicated formula.”

Vice President and National Legislative Representative Vince Verna represented BLET at the press conference. “Railroad workers deserve better treatment than they are getting from the railroads right now when they get sick, and they need time off when they’re sick,” Verna said. “Right now, employees know they better not get sick. If you do, you’ll be subject to harsh attendance policies that do not allow you to take off sick without fear of reprisal. … The railroad CEOs would never work under the conditions they require of their employees when making them choose between their jobs and their health. … Let’s make sure America’s freight gets moved by workers who are not sick on the job. Let’s get this fixed.”

“Everybody’s seen how difficult it was for our operating employees to have scheduled days off, period,” said SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson. “That is what we’re up against, so to continue now that the national contract dispute behind us, to see that energy still coming from our senators, still behind rail labor, not forgetting how bad it was last year and we are very, very thankful for that.”

“It’s important to recognize that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private entities have seven to eight days of paid sick leave for their employees,” National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) President and CEO Eric R. Byer said during the press conference. “There’s no reason why the rail workers shouldn’t have those same benefits. So, we’re going to keep pushing with you all and you certainly have NACD’s support.”

On Feb. 6, 2023, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department on their website noted that as the nation commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), all U.S. rail labor unions unanimously adopted a resolution calling for paid sick leave. “Thirty years after the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act, the lack of paid sick leave for all railroad workers is unacceptable,” said Leo McCann, chair of the Rail Labor Division of TTD. “All of rail labor is united and resolved to fight for paid sick leave for all rail workers through collective bargaining or voluntary agreement with the railroads.”

Read more here.