By LaKeshia N. Myers
Over the road transportation is how most goods are transported in the United States—either through trucking or railroad. That is why the U.S. Senate adopted a measure that forces a deal between warring national freight railroads and their unions, averting a potential December 9th strike that could have crippled U.S. travel and commerce ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
Under the agreement, rail workers will receive a twenty-four percent pay increase by 2024, while gaining more flexibility to take time off for doctor’s appointments. The measure also grants them one paid personal day, though that does not include any new, dedicated time off for illnesses. While I am happy a bipartisan deal was struck for these workers, I do wish the deal would have included a paid sick leave provision. One would think in a post-COVID world all employers would understand the benefit of paid sick leave for employees, especially those that work in physically demanding vocations.
According to the Washington Post, “For rail workers, the stakes of the fight were great. Laborers in twelve unions, representing more than 115,000 employees, had haggled for roughly three years with major rail operators particularly over their attendance policies” (Washington Post, 2022). Among the concerns workers raised was opposition with the points-based systems that penalize them for taking time off when they are sick. In one highly publicized case, a 51-year-old union engineer put off a doctor’s visit for so long that he later died from a heart attack while on a train.
Our livelihood depends on the ability to ship and receive goods and services. Therefore, we rely heavily on the men and women who brave climate extremes and keep American rail moving every day of the year. While paid sick leave was missed in this contract, I do hope Congress reviews. I find it amazing how quickly Congress responds when we are on the brink of economic crisis. Imagine what could be done if they acted in a proactive way instead of being consistently reactive. Perhaps they will reflect on this during the next recess, ahem, paid day off.