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Congress, Biden approve railroad settlement

Republicans block paid sick leave measure, but AFL-CIO vows the fight isn’t over


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 2, 2022) — The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a House-approved bill to bind railroad workers and companies to a proposed contract settlement reached in September with assistance from President Biden’s administration. However, the Senate failed to pass an accompanying House measure that would have granted seven paid sick days to railroad workers, a component left out of the settlement that led to the deal’s rejection by four of the 12 unions involved.

The Senate vote to impose the contract settlement was 80-15, amid a threat by railroad companies that they would begin harming the national economy by shutting down operations this weekend, well before a potential Dec. 9 strike or lockout would begin. The vote on the sick leave measure was 52-43, with all 43 “nay” votes coming from Republicans. It failed because it required 60 votes to pass.

Biden signed the settlement resolution into law on Friday.

While congratulating railroad workers on the wage and benefit gains in the settlement, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler vowed in a statement released Thursday that the fight to gain paid sick days for railroad workers is not over and America’s labor movement will continue to push for those benefits:

“I commend and thank rail workers and their unions for tenaciously taking on some of the biggest corporations in America over the last three years to reach a contract. While rail workers won significant wage increases and other important gains today, it’s deeply disappointing that 43 senators sided with multibillion-dollar rail corporations to block desperately needed paid sick days.

“Rail workers keep America’s economy moving, yet rail companies treat workers as essential one minute and disposable the next. The unwillingness of wealthy corporations to provide workers with basic dignity on the job got us to this point. Despite today’s action, the fight is far from over.

“The labor movement will continue to mobilize and push forcefully until every rail worker—and all America’s workers—has the paid sick leave they need and deserve.”

Washington’s Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell voted “yes” on both measures and expressed disappointment that Republicans and railroad companies blocked the workers from getting paid sick leave. (The contract settlement includes only a single day of “paid personal leave.”)

“While I am always reluctant to bypass the traditional negotiation and ratification process for any collective bargaining agreement,” Murray said in a statement after the votes, “the harm a national rail shutdown would cause to working families and communities in Washington state and across the country is undeniable—and I voted to protect the livelihoods of countless Americans and local communities.”

But she added, “Every single worker in this country deserves paid sick days—and that absolutely includes rail workers. It’s really that simple. So I am disappointed that the majority of Senate Republicans would not vote with us to provide seven paid sick days for rail workers. I have been fighting for decades now to finally establish a nationwide sick day policy—and despite Republicans’ consistent opposition, I certainly won’t be stopping now. It’s time we finally pass my Healthy Families Act and guarantee paid sick days for all workers.”

Railroad corporations refused to agree to any paid sick leave for employees in three years of contract talks, and instead, have imposed punitive attendance policies on them that make it impossible to have any work-life balance. The companies have done so despite record profits. In the past two decades, operating profit margins have nearly tripled for the major carriers, while the percentage of revenue they spent on labor sunk by double-digits.

Of course, railroad corporate employees — and every Republican member of Congress who voted against the paid sick leave measure — have that benefit for themselves. In fact, the U.S. senators and representatives who voted against the benefit for railroad workers have unlimited paid sick days funded by taxpayers.

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, a coalition of 37 member unions representing railroad and other transportation workers, released a statement Friday hailing gains in the settlement, but vowing to win paid sick leave for railroad workers:

“While we are disappointed, we are not defeated. We are going to keep this fight moving forward, whether it be through legislation, executive action, or dragging the railroads back to the bargaining table. Rest assured, the transportation labor movement will harness this moment and channel it into an aggressive and effective campaign for better, safer working conditions for all railroad workers.”

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