President Joe Biden has rightly declared himself a pro-labor president over the last two years. But yesterday’s developments have labor unions criticizing him.
The backdrop is the freight rail strike that is set for December 9th.
“Rail workers have said their top concerns are the grueling, unpredictable schedules that take a toll on their personal lives and their health,” The New York Times reports. “Many have complained that extended time on the road and long stretches of on-call work make it difficult to see a doctor for an illness or injury, or to be present at family milestones like a child’s birthday.”
While the tentative agreement reached between railroad management and labor unions provides an $11,000 payout and a 24% wage increase over three years, it only allows for three instances a year to take for sickness.
“The agreement reached in September would have allowed workers to take time off up to three times each year for a routine medical appointment without risking disciplinary action, but many workers said that the concession was insufficient and that it did not address the deeper issue underlying their concerns: a business model that seeks to minimize labor costs and results in chronic understaffing,” The New York Times continued.
Members are understandably upset about the miserly sick leave offer.
President Biden finds himself caught between supporting rail workers and avoiding a railroad shutdown that could have drastic effects on an already sputtering economy.
“As a proud pro-labor president, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” Biden said. “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.”
It’s disappointing to see the President take this position. Yes, unions did agree to the deal. But members should have the ultimate say in their working conditions, pay, and benefits. That is the basis of a contract between union members and employers. It’s democracy at its essence. Greedy rail companies can afford more than a Dickensian three sick instances a year, especially for an industry where the mental and physical well-being of workers is critical.
Biden should have leaned on the rail companies to provide paid sick days that are in line with modern standards. One sick instance every four months is not acceptable for most workers in any industry.
The reality is that it’s not the workers who are the threat to the economy. It’s the railroad companies. Their greed is leaving workers no choice but to strike. And management knows that politicians have no appetite for major disruptions in the economy. So they make their pitiful offers and then blame overworked employees for the eventual strike that would follow.