OLYMPIA (Feb. 8, 2022) — The Safe Leave Act (2ESSB 5065) would ensure that rail workers in Washington state can take unpaid sick leave without fear of retaliation from their employer, and it could be up for a vote on the Senate floor this week.
Currently, railroad employees are among the only workers in Washington who are not covered by the state’s paid sick leave laws, while working 24/7/365 on-call schedules without regular time off. This subjects them to discipline or termination for taking unpaid time off due to illness or injury, including if they test positive for COVID-19, or take time off for bereavement purposes.
Rail workers’ ability to execute their duties is a matter of public safety. Trains traveling high speeds, sometimes carrying hazardous materials, must be operated by workers who are rested, alert, and healthy. The Safe Leave Act is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including environmental advocates like the Sierra Club, Washington Conversation Voters and the BlueGreen Alliance, as well as a wide range of labor unions and worker alliances, including the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
TAKE A STAND — Please call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and leave a message for your Washington State Senators and Representatives to support 2ESSB 5065.
“Railroad workers live a unique working life, facing extended on-call periods, intense working conditions, and extended time away from home,” said Dylan Ekins, Washington State Legislative Chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). “Making sure they have the ability to take unpaid sick leave is the right thing to do, for workers and the communities they serve.”
Airline workers, who work under similar travel and on-call provisions, won worker-friendly changes to sick leave laws in court in 2013; railroad workers deserve the same fair treatment. Many rail workers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges, sometimes stemming from previous military service or traumatic suicide-by-train experiences. 2ESSB 5065 would prioritize their mental health, on and off the job. It would also prevent railroad companies from rapidly and inappropriately depleting rail workers’ Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) banks of accrued leave time far exceeding the employee’s actual use.
“The pandemic really shined a light on working conditions on the railroad,” said Herb Krohn, Washington State Legislative Director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD). “Legislative action is needed to correct railroad corporate policies that can force COVID-positive workers to report to work, against the advice of public health experts.”
Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) and Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), among others, have been champions of this bill, which passed the Senate last year before failing to advance in the House.