Rail workers vow to keep fighting for sick days

PAI Staff Writer

RAIL WORKERS RALLY on Capitol Hill to vow to continue campaign for paid sick days against corporate greed. Photo by Chris Garlock of the Metro D.C. Central Labor Council. – PAI Photo Service.

Washington (PAI) — Approximately 100 rail workers and union and congressional allies vowed at a Capitol Hill rally Dec. 13 to continue fighting for paid sick leave, and more broadly against the corporate greed that denied it to them in the contract Congress imposed on workers just days ago.

The D.C. event was one of dozens nationwide, including in Galesburg, Ill., northern Nevada, Minneapolis and Denver, to protest the corporate greed that imposes bad working conditions on the 115,000 remaining rail workers—down 30,000 in eight years as management cut people to satisfy Wall Street’s demands for profits and dividends.

That same corporate greed, enacted in rail legislation starting in 1877 and continuing in 1926 and 1946, one speaker said, also deprives workers of their ultimate weapon against such corporate capitalists: The right to strike.

“That’s our single most powerful tool to achieve justice” for all workers, not just rail workers, said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) “We cannot allow corporate greed to continue to kill workers and families. No industry should have this amount of power.”

Tlaib also advocated extending the right to strike, unencumbered, to all workers. Besides the rail workers, whose right to strike Congress can override, federal workers lack the right to strike, as do many if not all state and local government workers.

By law, nurses and other healthcare workers must give institutions a 10-day advance notice of a strike’s start, letting bosses hire “traveling nurses” to substitute. Bosses often pay those “travelers” more than they pay regular unionized nurses. And in contract talks, bosses often strong-arm individual private-sector union locals into giving up the right to strike.

All speakers in D.C., including Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.), Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein, Painters President Jimmy Williams and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) — who led the pro-sick-days drive in the House — emphasized it was the railroad honchos who refused to bargain on sick days.

Sanders particularly denounced their greed in that case:

“Does it make any sense to have an industry making $20 billion in profits” yearly “that spent $6 billion in stock buybacks, and that says you get penalized if you get Covid-19 and can’t come to work, or if your wife has a baby? We have to put an end to this!

“We’re going to create an economy that works for all, not just for Warren Buffett,” Sanders said.

“Dignity and respect is what we demand. We are not going anywhere,” declared SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity. His union, one of the two largest among the nation’s 13 rail unions, was split almost right down the middle over the proposed contract before Congress passed it.

A majority of workers who voted — some small unions did not have rank-and-file balloting —had rejected the proposed pact.

But it was 43 Republican senators who blocked the House-passed paid sick days bill, which Sanders pushed. “Congress was wrong to put their finger on the scale for these billion-dollar corporations and their CEOs,” said Dimondstein, referring to the contract, minus sick days, which lawmakers and Democratic President Joe Biden imposed, legally, on the workers.

Working conditions on the nation’s freight railroads are so bad that workers who are “veterans can’t even take Veteran’s Day off!” said Bill Attig, president of the AFL-CIO’s Veterans Caucus. Indeed, the only paid holiday in the imposed contract is Independence Day.

Speakers said the rail workers are leading the Labor Movement and proved to the rest of the country the need for paid sick leave for all workers. Signs often demanded “People Over Profits” or denounced other bosses’ brainstorms, such as one worker, the engineer, per freight train. One big red bedsheet banner declared: “Make the rich pay.”

“Paid sick leave should be a right, not a negotiation,” said Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.), whose Chicago district is crisscrossed by rail tracks and includes a big chunk of the city’s sprawling yards.

“This is our fight because they’re never going to stop doing this,” Tom Cahill, a CSX locomotive engineer and assistant Maryland legislative director for SMART-TD. said of railroad management. “Corporate greed and PSR have destroyed our industry.”


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