Rail workers warn of exodus after Congress forces deal with no sick leave

by Jacob Fuller

Katie Kerekes, FISM News


Concerns of a rail worker exodus continue to rise as the industry grapples with the consequences of the deal approved by Congress Thursday to avoid an impending strike that could pose a detrimental effect on the economy.

Both the House and the Senate voted to approve the measure drafted in September, which was previously struck down by several rail unions due to concerns with the demanding on-call schedules, strict attendance policy, and lack of paid sick leave.

As previously reported by FISM, a separate measure was drawn up to address the latter concern by giving rail workers seven days of paid sick leave, but it failed to make it through the Senate floor.

Tensions have mounted since the controversial ruling, as rail workers’ unions argue that the already fragile supply chain could take a serious hit should an industry-wide exodus take place. Staffing shortages, which have contributed to inflation, could be exacerbated as fed-up rail workers search for opportunities elsewhere.

According to The Hill, the rail industry has laid off a third of its staff in the last six years, a move that has caused quality-of-life concerns for its employees.

Younger workers who place more of an emphasis on “work-life balance” are inclined to be the first to leave, with speculations that this demographic will sacrifice a portion of their salary for a less strenuous career with a reasonable schedule and benefits.

“They talk about the money in this contract,” said Jeff Kurtz, a Railroad Workers United member who retired from a 40-year career as a locomotive engineer. “It’s just not worth it to have to give up what these people have to give up.”

Rail workers’ unions contend that pushing employees to exhaustion poses a threat to their health and safety, which produces a ripple effect that ultimately threatens the well-being of the American people.

“Focusing on the short term at the expense of workers poses potential risks to the company and the economy,” said Kate Monahan, who leads shareholder advocacy at Trillium Asset Management. “As shareholders, we are asking management to reprioritize and take the longer-term view that safeguarding the health and safety of their workers will better position them for the future.”

The ever increasing demand for labor conditions within the rail industry has often forced workers to sacrifice time with their families, and delay or even forgo healthcare crucial to their well-being.

“The federal government inserted itself into the dispute between the railroads and the railroad workers under the premise that it must protect the American economy. Yet, when the federal government makes that decision, its representatives have a moral responsibility to also protect the interests of the citizens that make this nation’s economy work — American railroaders,” said Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division.

While unions maintain that the current bill lacks three key components, President Joe Biden stated after signing the contract into law, “It’s a really good bill lacking only one thing, and we’re going to get that one thing done before it’s all over.”