Is sick time for railroads workers coming?
OMAHA, Nebraska — Major freight railroads are experiencing pressure from a new front to increase the number of sick days they provide for their employees. An major investment group has stated that some of its members are currently advocating for the provision that Congress did not include as part of the contracts that they imposed the previous week in an effort to avert a possibly catastrophic statewide rail strike.
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility announced on Monday that two investment managers with whom it collaborates to help promote social change within companies had filed proposals at Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern railroads to give shareholders a vote on whether or not rail workers should get paid sick leave. The proposals would give shareholders the opportunity to vote on whether or not rail workers should get paid sick leave. It is expected that similar plans will be made at CSX and at Berkshire Hathaway, which is the parent company of BNSF; however, these bids have not yet been presented. The ICCR is comprised of 300 members who collectively control more than $4 trillion in assets.
This past fall, one of the key stumbling blocks in contract negotiations between the railroad companies and their 12 different unions was the lack of paid sick time in the industry. Concerns over sick leave, demanding schedules, and other aspects of quality-of-life led four of these unions to vote against accepting five-year settlements that provided pay hikes of 24% and bonuses totaling $5,000. These unions also rejected the arrangements since they lasted for only five years.
On Friday, President Joe Biden signed a bill that forbids railroad workers from going on strike and requires them to accept the terms that were struck back in September. The bill also makes it illegal for them to go on strike. The Senate did not pass a second bill that would have mandated paid time off for sick employees.
Following the action taken by Congress, labor organizations stated that they will continue their fight for paid sick leave and improved working conditions, despite the fact that this round of negotiations, which began three years ago and has now concluded, has come to an end because their concerns still remain.
The shareholder proposal for Norfolk Southern was submitted by Marvin Owens, who is affiliated with Impact Shares, a nonprofit investment firm. Impact Shares collaborates with organizations such as the YWCA and the NAACP to develop eligibility requirements for financial support. Owens suggested that businesses had to look at sick leave not as an expense but rather as an investment in the workforce.
“In this day and age, it really boggles the mind why a firm would not supply that given the need to retain personnel and actually provide workers with the sort of support that is needed to keep them in place and to keep them healthy. This is something that really boggles the mind. Owens emphasized the need of paid sick leave in this context.
During these negotiations, the railroad companies refused to add sick time because, according to the railroad companies, the unions had previously agreed to forego paid sick leave in exchange for higher wages and robust short-term disability benefits that begin to kick in after four or seven days and replace a portion of a worker’s wages for up to a year. These benefits begin to kick in after four or seven days and replace a portion of a worker’s wages for up to a year.
The railroads also maintain that employees are allowed to take personal leave days or vacation days in the event of illness; however, workers believe that these types of leaves need to be granted in advance, making them not very useful in the event of illness. Workers are permitted to take unpaid time off for illness, but if they miss too many days of work due to illness, they run the risk of being disciplined under the attendance policy of the railroad where they work.
The Association of American Railroads, a trade group, stated that the special board of arbitrators that took part in the dispute over the contract earlier this summer decided against recommending that employees be given paid sick leave.
The investors’ decision was applauded by a spokeswoman for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union, which had previously turned down a deal with the railways.
“The railroad companies have never dealt with this matter in an honest manner. Because of their haughtiness, we are now in this predicament, and it is only fair that their public reputation has suffered as a result. Clark Ballew from the BMWED remarked that the blame for that lies with the other party. “Their unquenchable greed is the only justification that makes any sense, and it’s a feeble and pitiful excuse at that,” said the judge.
According to a statement released by Union Pacific, the company “knows quality of life concerns are real and we are working with employees to make adjustments.”
The investment proposition was met with silence by Norfolk Southern, who declined to comment.
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