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Some Rail Workers, Seeking Sick Days, Say Biden Betrayed Them


As the legislative representative for her local federation, Gabe Christenson, a longtime freighter, worked hard to get Joe Biden elected president in 2020. I have my campaign shirts — blue-collar Biden shirts,” he said. “I knocked on his door every week and every week.”

But since Monday, when President Biden urged Congress to impose a labor deal his union had voted to reject, Christenson has been beset by messages from angry colleagues he encouraged to support the president. “I’m trying to calm them down,” he said.

Mr. Biden said he was taking action to avoid a nationwide strike that could threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs and estimated the industry would cost the economy more than $2 billion a day.

But for many of the more than 100,000 freight rail workers whose unions are negotiating new employment contracts as of 2020, Mr. Biden’s involvement means thumbs up. The balance sheet benefits the industry.

They say the rail carriers have enormous market power in setting wages and working conditions, power enhanced by federal law that greatly limits their strike rights than most workers in the private sector. They complain that after patiently waiting through multiple procedural steps, including the president’s emergency panel, they have a narrow opportunity to improve their contract through a layoff and Mr. effectively closed that opportunity.

“They should let the men deal with it themselves,” said Rhonda Ewing, a signal maintainer in Chicago. “We know it’s the holiday season, which is why it’s the perfect time to speak up. If Biden gets in, he’ll take away our leverage.”

The deal Biden is asking Congress to impose will increase wages by nearly 25% from 2020, when the last contract expires and through 2024, and allow employees to take time off work for three regular medical exams each year. without the risk of disciplinary action. It will also grant them an extra day of paid personal leave.

However, it will not offer paid sick leave, a provision many workers argue is the bare minimum they can accept due to their tight work schedules that often leave them commuting or traveling. work for a long time. Railways say workers can go to the doctor or get medical care with paid vacation.

Four of the 12 unions that would be covered by the deal voted against it, and several others narrowly approved it.

Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division – International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the organization that voted to reject the deal Mr Biden has asked Congress to impose, said that simply asking Congress to put the dates Paid sick leave included in the agreement will no longer be available. goes a long way to pleasing its members.

“If he said, ‘I want this,’ it would change the whole story,” Mr Cardwell said in an interview on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members on Tuesday night that she would hold a vote on a separate bill that would include seven days of paid sick leave, but it was unclear if it would pass both houses of the House of Representatives. Parliament or not.

Feelings of betrayal are particularly acute because Mr. Biden has long presented himself as an organized labor-friendly, and many union leaders consider him the most worker-friendly president of their lives thanks to the fact that Mr. appointments and his support for the regulations and laws they support.

Daniel Kindlon, an electrician who works at a railroad yard near Albany, NY, and is the head of his local union, says that while he’s not much of a supporter of the president, he is. was impressed when Mr. Biden spoke at the electricians union meeting. conference in Chicago this spring.

Mr Kindlon said: “It was the best 45 minutes I’ve heard him speak. However, he said he struggled to understand why Mr. Biden was unable to push Congress further.

“You would think he would just try to get them sick for a few days; that’s really all people ask for,” he said.

Some union members and local officials said they had urged colleagues who had previously supported Donald Trump to support Biden, arguing they would be more worker-friendly. They say these colleagues have been reached out to complain about what they see as a change in Mr Biden since Monday, though it’s unclear how many of these union members voted for the current president. .

“Many Trump voters are calling on me to support Biden,” Matthew A. Weaver, a carpenter with the railroad maintenance workers union, said via text message Tuesday night. Mr. Weaver previously served as an official for his union in Ohio.

Many union members have long suspected that Congress would intervene to prevent them from striking. Mr Kindlon said some members of his local union abstained from the contract scheduled for this fall because they did not believe their vote was meaningful. Many are of the opinion that “this is going to get stuck in our throats anyway; Why should I care?” he said.

Many of those pinning their hopes on Mr Biden argue they won’t be allowed to go on a long strike, but argue that even a brief strike lasting a few hours, or a single threat, is enough to get many concessions. than from rail carriers.

“I mean, that would be much better,” said Christenson, a longtime conductor. “Even if he has ulterior motives, let us have our day. He could show he was with us.

Mr Cardwell, of the maintenance workers union, said that “the fact that he did it so early” was surprising, given that there is still about a week or more to likely reach concessions before a call. strike occurred.

Robert Chiarito contribution report.

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