Railroad Unions Call for Sick Leave Executive Order

A Union Pacific Railroad train crosses the Mississippi River
A Union Pacific Railroad train crosses the Mississippi River in St. Louis. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

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DULUTH, Minn. — Railroad workers are continuing their demand for paid sick days.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union, or SMART, held an informational picket near the rail yard on Rice’s Point on the afternoon of Dec. 13.

It was one of many similar events the union, which represents conductors, engineers and yard masters, held across the country urging the Biden administration to issue an executive order granting seven days of annual paid sick leave to railroad workers.

Earlier in December, President Joe Biden signed a bill that forced a labor agreement between the unions and railroad companies and made a strike illegal. While it averted a strike that would have started Dec. 9 and severely damaged the economy, railroad workers were left without any paid sick leave — one of their top demands.

Nicholas Katich, SMART’s Minnesota legislative director, said watching the sick leave proposal fail in the U.S. Senate was “heartbreaking.”

“Our members are coming to work sick. They’re leaving family at home, kids at home sick. It’s not a good situation,” Katich said. “It’s not a good business practice. Nobody should have their employees coming to work sick and infecting other employees.”



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But now he’s hopeful the Biden administration could require the sick days through executive order.

“That would go a really long way for our members, for rail workers all over the country because we don’t have sick time right now,” Katich said.

On Dec. 9, more than 70 members of Congress signed a letter urging Biden to take executive action and require paid sick days for rail workers.

The letter pointed to former President Barack Obama’s 2015 executive order that established paid sick leave for federal contractors. The letter said that even though the federal government has hundreds of contracts with freight rail carriers, the 2015 order was not extended to them.

“You can and you must expand this executive order,” the lawmakers said.

The letter also said the Department of Labor and Department of Transportation have the authority to set safety standards that would ensure workers didn’t have to work while sick and exhausted.

Greg Hynes, SMART’s national legislative director, told CNN the union was in discussions with the administration and that “they want to do this. Whether they can do it, we’re going to find out.”

“Expanding paid sick leave access is a priority for President Biden,” a White House spokesperson told Insider. “He’s pressed proposals to advance the cause of paid leave for all workers throughout his two years in office, and he’ll continue to do so.”

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