Reported by Jake Johnson for Common Dreams.
Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Tuesday that he will join rail workers later this week to launch a fresh push for at least seven days of paid sick leave, an effort that comes months after Congress and the Biden White House forced workers to accept a contract without a single paid sick day to avert a potential strike.
Joining Sanders (I-Vt.) and rail union representatives at the Thursday press conference in Washington, D.C. will be Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), one of the handful of Republican senators who voted for Sanders’ amendment to add a week of paid sick leave to the White House-brokered contract deal.
The Vermont senator’s amendment ultimately fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to overcome the Senate filibuster.
Since lawmakers’ December vote to impose the contract despite opposition from unions representing a majority of U.S. rail workers, progressive members of Congress and rail employees have continued pressuring the Biden administration and ultra-profitable railroads to provide paid sick leave, overhaul their exploitative and untenable scheduling systems, and implement stronger safety standards.
On December 9, Sanders and more than 70 of his Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate sent a letter urging President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to “take quick and decisive action to guarantee these workers paid sick leave”—something he has yet to do.
Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is expected in the coming months to introduce legislation that would require rail corporations to guarantee their workers a minimum number of paid sick days.
At Thursday’s press conference, according to Sanders’ office, union leaders will demand that “companies provide them with at least seven paid sick days.”
“Rail labor is committed to pursuing and securing paid leave for workers this year to create a safer, healthier national rail system for all.”
The event will come just two weeks after Union Pacific, one of the largest rail corporations in North America, reported a record $7 billion in profits for 2022. The company spent significantly more on stock buybacks last year than it did on worker pay and benefits.
Sanders’ office noted Tuesday that “guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would cost the industry just $321 million dollars—less than 1.2% of profits in a single year.”
Marking the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, U.S. rail unions unanimously adopted a resolution last week declaring that “all of rail labor is united and resolved to fight for paid sick leave for all railroad workers through collective bargaining or voluntary agreement, and that rail labor will further call upon all elected and appointed government officials and government agencies to pass a national paid sick leave law that covers all railroad workers with paid sick leave without penalty or punishment.”
“A worker should not be fired for going to the doctor. Yet it is 2023 and railroaders are fighting for sick leave in the richest country on Earth,” Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement Monday. “Absent a national paid sick leave policy, the burden of securing this humane policy falls onto the shoulders of workers and the unions that represent them.”
“Rail labor is committed to pursuing and securing paid leave for workers this year to create a safer, healthier national rail system for all,” Regan added.
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