WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday on a letter with more than 70 total signers in the House and Senate urging President Biden to take executive action to guarantee rail workers paid sick days.
“While this agreement was much better than the disastrous proposals put forward by the rail industry, it still does not guarantee a single paid sick day to rail workers who work dangerous and difficult jobs, have risked their lives during the pandemic to keep our economy moving and have not received a pay raise in over three years,” the members wrote. “That is unacceptable and must be rectified.”
The letter comes just a week after Congress passed legislation to avert a nationwide rail strike but failed to pass an amendment to guarantee paid sick days to rail workers. The amendment, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, received the votes of every Senate Democrat, but one, as well as six Republicans. The letter was signed by 15 colleagues in the Senate and 52 in the House.
“As you know, a majority in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voted for legislation to guarantee seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America,” the members wrote. “Tragically, because of the arcane rules of the Senate, this legislation was filibustered by just 42 Republicans and one Democrat and did not make it to your desk for signature. It is literally beyond belief that rail workers are not guaranteed this basic and fundamental human right. Therefore, we urge you and your administration to do everything within your authority to guarantee rail workers the seven paid sick days that they desperately need through executive action.”
Guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would cost the rail industry a grand total of $321 million a year – less than 2% of its profits. Last year alone, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits after cutting their workforce by 30% over the last 6 years. In the first three quarters of 2022, rail companies spent $25.5 billion on stock buybacks and dividends. Rail workers across the U.S. currently are guaranteed zero sick days, paid or unpaid, and are forced to work under a points-based attendance policy that can penalize and even fire workers for taking sick time, including for family and health emergencies. The current deal that passed Congress does not include any paid sick days.
In addition to executive order power to deliver paid sick days to rail workers, the letter points to the authority held by the Secretary of Labor under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards for businesses affecting interstate commerce, as well as the responsibility of the Secretary of Transportation to promote safety in all areas of railroad operations under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. In 2015, then President Obama also issued an executive order that required companies with federal contracts to grant at minimum seven days of paid sick leave. However, rail workers were excluded from these protections.
“You can and you must expand this executive order,” the members wrote. “Over 115,000 rail workers in this country are looking to you to guarantee them the dignity at work they deserve and to ensure that our rail system is safe for its workers and for millions of Americans who cross rail tracks every day. Through Executive Order, agency rulemaking, and any other applicable authority, we ask that you take quick and decisive action to guarantee these workers paid sick leave.”
Read the full letter here.