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Biden, “A Proud Pro-Labor President,” Sides With Bosses
Imagine a world where calling out sick could get someone fired from a job in a blink of an eye. Days off to take care of family or personal matters are seen as a liability to bosses. Soon enough, life begins to revolve solely around work. This unfortunately is the sad truth for the railroad workers of America.
February 1, 2022 was the day that railroad workers had enough mistreatment. Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway company (also known as BNSF) implemented the rule that essentially penalized workers for taking days off for their health, even forcing them to disregard medical appointments in favor of working. Before this, railroad workers were asked to schedule their days off months in advance and sometimes were even asked to work 2 full weeks straight. Railroad workers are on call 24/7, 365, even during the pandemic. This means that an employee could be called as late as midnight to work, not fair is it? The workers certainly did not think so, especially after this.
The strike would happen on December 9, 2022 unless the workers got paid sick days and days off to balance the excruciating 24/7 work schedule. And this strike was not only going to occur at BNSF railway, but at multiple railway unions across the nation in solidarity. This is incredibly worrisome to many private railroad companies, as railways deliver 40% of goods, and having a halt in work could mean 2 billion dollars lost every single day. In contrast, many believe that a strike is long overdue seeing as railway workers are one of the few occupations that are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, created in 1935 to “encourage collective bargaining by protecting workers' full freedom of association.” due to a law that counteracted it in 1926: The Railway Labor act. Which allowed congress to stop any strikes that were to occur created by railway unions.
One may ask, “Why don’t they just give the workers what they want to circumvent this potential economic crisis?” Well, they have and it’s easy to see why the railway employees continue planning to strike despite being proposed an offer of the lifetime from President Joe Biden: one day of personal paid leave, a well-deserved raise, and no paid sick days. This seemed like a joke to the employees, employees who suffered constantly from fatigue due to overexertion, a direct cause of the new penalization system in place. To many, it appeared that Biden was worried about profit rather than the well-being of the workers. Many pro-union senators and government officials - such as Bernie Sanders - retracted their support for Biden after this.
President Biden, at a loss as to what he could do, decided to pass off this conundrum to Congress which has the power to force the railroad workers to not strike.
“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement [One day personal paid leave]... But in this case - where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families - I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.” November 28, 2022.
Within a blink of an eye, Congress did just that, only a few days later. In a bipartisan vote - a vote in which the Republican and Democratic parties both participate - Congress has decided to upend the railway strike before it even occurred, November 30, 2022. Still afraid of a strike possibly happening, a new compromise was offered: 7 days of paid sick leave, and a $5,000 raise - the first raise in 5 years. This bill would have to go through the senate after winning the vote in Congress for it to be put into effect. Union workers were pretty content with this offer, still disappointed with the way their bosses and Biden handled the situation. Instead of just giving them 7 days of sick leave or a bonus from the get-go, they had to overturn the strike in a bitter game of tug-o-war. It was a whole lot better than nothing. As the vote dragged on, Bernie Sanders “mocked” the senators who were against giving the railroad workers 7 days paid sick leave in the Huffpost, “It would be hard for me to understand how you can be talking about a Republican working-class party if you’re not going to vote to support paid guaranteed sick leave for railroad workers who today have none,” Many laborers felt like Biden had “betrayed” them, as Biden has been pro-blue collared worker since the beginning, creating over 8.7 million jobs during his term and ensuring that working-class families were still surviving during the pandemic.
Biden’s ideals remained unvoiced, and the bill did not come to fruition. In the end, 52 senators voted in favor of the sick days, but the minimum amount needed to pass the contract was 60. With a heavy heart, Biden signed a law that denied railroad workers their right to have days of rest on December 2, 2022.
“I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties. It was a tough vote for me…But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs, to protect millions of working families from harm and disruption, and to keep the supply chain stable around the holidays.”
So, at the end, who’s in the right? Should the railroad workers remain content with the hand they've been dealt or should the Unions - despite this setback - continue to fight for their right not only to sick days, but to protest?
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