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Apparently... Railroad Workers Don't Get Sick

For a “pro-labor President”, Joe Biden sure seems more comfortable siding with capital, than with workers. Last week, after months of delays and unfruitful negotiations between railroad union workers and the railway companies, the situation had finally reached an impasse. At issue is despite record profits over the past year, railway companies have refused to give even a single day of sick leave for their workers. That means no days off if you’re ill and perhaps contagious, or a family member needs surgery, or a spouse is even having a baby. Missing work for any of these can mean docked pay or even being fired! It’s an untenable situation, in which these essential workers find themselves, and thus many of the workers were ready to strike.

With the holiday season so close, and billions in daily economic losses projected from such an action, Biden requested Congress intervene, using their authority under the 1926 Railway Labor Act, to force a contract on labor, preventing a strike. Ostensibly the reason for ramming this inhumane deal through Congress was the imminent nature of the strike and economic turmoil that would result. The problem with such an argument, is that Biden began interfering with the negotiation process months ago during the Summer, when the same impasse was reached on paid sick leave.

Instead of platitudes reaffirming his support of labor, after publicly stabbing unions in the back, Biden could and should have fought vociferously and intervened on behalf of the workers. The 1926 Railway Act gives Congress the authority to impose a contract on both workers and owners, a fact seemingly overlooked by the Biden administration. A contract that respected the workers and included paid sick leave could have been forced on the railway companies and yet somehow, the essential workers are the only ones being forced to take a raw deal. Biden’s “neutrality” in the face of this injustice is even more galling when juxtaposed with his campaign promises of bringing paid sick leave to every American.

With Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives in January, it’s likely that little, if any positive legislation will be passed during the next two years, meaning this intervention was likely one of the last moments for Democrats to affirm their commitment to wildly popularpolicies like paid sick leave. Such a stand would have been not just good policy, but good politics, putting Republicans in the position of voting against the deal. Unfortunately, as we’ve explored time-and-again at DSOT, our government serves the donor class (i.e. the railway companies), and not the workers. Votes like this prove that profits over people is still the name of the game in Washington DC. If we are to win humane labor conditions for workers from the railway sector to the service industry it will take not just political, but economic power to force these endlessly greedy entities to the negotiating table. So join us each Tuesday, in growing solidarity, as we fight for workers everywhere to get the dignity of paid sick leave.

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