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Rail workers angry at Biden for not pushing for paid sick leave in contract. : NPR

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Freight cars sit in a railroad yard in Wilmington, California on Nov. 22, 2022. This week, President Biden urged Congress to pass legislation to prevent a railroad strike that could have stopped trains in all the countries.

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Rail workers angry at Biden for not pushing for paid sick leave in contract. : NPR

Freight cars sit in a railroad yard in Wilmington, California on Nov. 22, 2022. This week, President Biden urged Congress to pass legislation to prevent a railroad strike that could have stopped trains in all the countries.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Matthew Weaver was excited earlier this week — optimistic even — as he and a colleague hung up drywall in a rail yard in Lordstown, Ohio.

The House of Representatives had just passed a resolution giving freight railroad workers seven days of paid sick leave – something the Weaver union had fought for in recent months.

But as the hours passed and legislation passed through the Senate, Weaver’s doubts grew. Indeed, the measure failed in the Senate.

So Friday morning, after three years of fruitless negotiations, President Biden instead signed into law a measure that imposes the contractual agreement negotiated by his administration in September, an agreement that gives workers a 24% raise over five years, caps on health care premiums and an additional personal day. , but no paid sick days.

“It’s very frustrating,” says Weaver, a railroad carpenter since 1994. “Here are America’s essential workers — the railroad workers. We don’t have paid sick leave. It’s disgusting.”

Biden urged Congress to pass legislation without any changes or delays

Four of the 12 rail freight unions, collectively representing more than half of the 115,000 freight railway workers covered by the deal, had rejected the deal, citing the lack of paid sick leave as the main reason.

Workers who voted no say they are frustrated and disappointed – especially with President Biden, who on Monday called on Congress to pass legislation to pass the tentative agreement without changes to avoid a railroad strike. paralyzing iron.

“It looks like President Biden introduced this a little too soon,” Weaver says. “He kind of cut our knees on our ability to have real negotiations or real change after voting no.”

In Richmond, Va., truck mechanic Reece Murtagh says it sets a bad precedent when even the most pro-worker presidents will force a deal rather than allow workers to strike.

“In future negotiations, carriers will remember this and use it against us,” Murtagh says. “It will be even more difficult for us to negotiate a fair contract because they realize that at the end of the day there will be no strike.”

Murtagh says the guys at his store felt especially disillusioned thinking back to Biden’s decades in the Senate, when he drove Amtrak home to Delaware every night.

“Joe was counting on us to bring him home to his family,” Murtagh says. “But when it was his turn to help us…to improve our lives, he turned his back on us.”

On Monday, Biden acknowledged it was a difficult decision to make.

“As a proud pro-Labour president, I hesitate to override the ratification procedures and the opinions of those who voted against the deal,” he said in a statement. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would harm millions of other workers and families — I think Congress needs to use its powers to pass this deal.”

By signing the rail legislation on Friday, Biden did not dodge the issue.

“Look, I know this bill doesn’t have the paid sick leave that these railroad workers and frankly all working Americans deserve. But this fight isn’t over,” he said. “I have supported paid sick leave for a long time. I will continue this fight until we succeed.”

Workers will claw back raises and bonuses

Because the new contract covers a five-year period dating back to 2020, workers will see an average payout of $16,000 in raises and bonuses within about 60 days, according to the Association of American Railroads. The trade group also says that at the end of the contract, the total average annual salary and benefits will reach $160,000 per year.

“Let’s be clear, the railroad is hard and essential work that keeps our nation moving, and our employees deserve our gratitude for moving America’s freight and doing it safely every day,” said the President and Chief. of AAR executive Ian Jefferies. “Undoubtedly, much more needs to be done to address our employees’ work-life balance concerns, but it is clear that this agreement maintains rail’s place among the best jobs in our country.”

Weaver, the railroad carpenter, disagrees. He expects to see a wave of departures once back wages and bonuses are paid.

“In Toledo, where I live, there are refinery jobs, there are trucking jobs, there are many other jobs that pay better and [where] they get respect from their employer,” he says. ” This is the problem. Working conditions, attendance policies, disrespect, militant discipline, we really suffer.”

Still, when asked if he would consider quitting his 28-year career, Weaver probably said no.

“I’m pretty much an old fart,” he says.

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