Norfolk Southern gave in to the sick days of one of its unions after a toxic train wreck
The AAR Campaign Against Paid Sick Leave in the Railways: An Insupportive Response to the AAR and the Transportation Industry
In the past, members of the unions could use their bank of paid time off if they were sick more easily but in the last few years deep staff cuts have left the railroads understaffed meaning workers are less likely to be granted permission to be taken off if they wake up not feeling well If they do so, not only do they risk losing pay, they also risk being disciplined. The AAR said that workers can call off sick without penalty as long as they maintain reasonable availability.
Workers have been unsuccessful getting their demands for paid sick leave met through months of negotiations with the freight rail companies, or through congressional action.
The letter said that the House and Senate both supported the legislation with the exception of the Republican-controlled Senate. But the legislation failed because it didn’t get the 60 votes it needed in the Senate.
“I mean, the Biden administration has been helpful,” said Greg Hynes, national legislative director for the transportation department of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union, (SMART-TD), the largest rail union representing about 28,000 conductors. “Of course, they want to do this. Whether they can do it, we’re going to find out.”
Why did President Barack Obama fail to block a strike by the unions? An interview with the AAR Railroad Association about the impact of unpopular labor contracts
The AAR said that the industry looked forward to using new agreements as a launching point for discussions about the structure of paid leave benefits, enhancing schedule predictability and addressing overall work-life balance interests.
Railroads are committed to working with their employees to address these priorities and strike the right balance, whether it is as an industry or on railroad-by-railroad basis with each union.
“If you wake up sick, no one wants you out on the railroad, and management does not want workers coming to work if they are sick,” said Ian Jefferies, CEO of the AAR, in an interview with CNN last month.
The Biden administration asked Congress to vote to block a strike by the unions that could have started this past Friday, saying a work stoppage would be too great a blow to the nation’s economy.
Despite being disappointed, most of the unions leadership have not criticized Biden for imposing unpopular contracts on their members that did not include sick days.
Asked if the reason that most union leaders did not criticize Biden’s decision was because they are hopeful that he will be willing to issue an executive order to get them the disputed sick days, Hynes replied, “I think you’re answering your own question.”
The main author of the congressional letter will be at the Washington DC rally. That letter points out that President Barack Obama issued such a rule on federal contractors in 2015, but that it did not cover the unionized rail workers.
The Deal Between the Freight Railroads and the Freaking Railroads: Perspectives from the White House and the ‘Biden Administration’
It’s very exciting. It’s a good faith effort to show that we’re essential employees rather than expendable,” Weaver said this week. It gives me hope.
The White House took some of the credit for the deals, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying the deals followed “continued advocacy and involvement from the Biden administration.”
In December, after the new contract went into effect,leadership from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way employees met with senior executives from the company to discuss the issue of paid sick leave.
Just before the Senate voted to impose the rail contract without sick leave, there had been a vote on a separate bill that gave rail workers seven days of paid sick time. Six Republicans including Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Braun had gotten on board, but the measure fell short of the 60 votes it needed to clear the Senate.
The freight railroads furloughed a lot of their workers during the swine flu outbreak, and workers didn’t come back, leading to a shortage of workers.
“There’s no doubt that the railroad industry overall didn’t get improvements to its image by what transpired over those several months,” says Hinrichs.
There were two senators who challenged the CEOs of other freight rail companies to do the same.
Norfolk Southern has agreed to give one of its unions the paid sick days it demanded for members in negotiations last year, and is in talks to grant sick days to its other unions as well.
The announcement comes hours after the company’s chief financial officer, Mark George, told investors that it is still struggling to fill the open positions it has at almost all 95 locations where staff is based, George also said the company may have cut staff too deep during the early days of the pandemic, and that it has had trouble bringing back laid-off staff members.
An Interaction Between the Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Environmental Protection Agency: A Breakdown of Public Relations During a Freight Train Derailment
The CEO of Norfolk Southern said that the company is focused on improving the quality of life for the railroaders who work there.
The agreement, announced by the railroad late Wednesday, also comes as the company struggles with the bad public relations caused by a derailment of one of its freight trains in East Palestine, Ohio, which led to the release of toxic chemicals into the air and water.
The company has pledged to give affected residents about $6.5 million in compensation and assistance, and says it will comply with a demand by the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for the cleanup.
But it’s still facing criticism for spending nearly $18 billion on share repurchases and dividends over the last five years, more than 2,500 times what it has pledged to residents and the community.
It was criticized last year that Norfolk Southern and the nation’s other major freight railroads refused to give their members paid sick days.