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Rail workers hold rallies across the U.S. calling for sick time

By staff |
December 14, 2022
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Rail workers and supporters rally in Minneapolis.
Rail workers and supporters rally in Minneapolis. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Minneapolis, MN - On Tuesday, December 13, rail workers and labor supporters held rallies across the country calling for sick time and other improvement to conditions for rail workers. It was a cold, rainy afternoon when around 200 people gathered in Northeast Minneapolis near a large rail yard. Similar rallies were scheduled to be held in 11 other U.S. cities on the same day. The rallies were organized by members of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union.

On December 2 President Joe Biden signed legislation breaking a rail strike that would have meant rail workers would have been off the job as of December 9. The strike was expected to deal as much as a $2 billion per day blow to the large rail companies. 

One of the main issues that rail workers were preparing to strike over was paid sick days. The legislation that Biden signed imposed a contract on the workers that did not include sick days for the rail workers and shut down the workers’ legal avenue to strike.

Joel Mueller, a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers said, “We’re out here making the public aware of the issues railroad workers are facing. One third laid off during pandemic, employees are leaving the industry in droves.” Aiming his comments at the rail bosses, Mueller went on to say, “Give us some sick time, we need time off to take care of ourselves and our families.”

Members of the rail unions were at the rally along with around 12 other unions’ members who showed up in solidarity.

The SMART union represents 28,000 conductors, brakemen, yardmen and other job classes in the rail industry. SMART had voted to accept the contract before the strike-breaking legislation was passed, while four other rail unions representing about 60,000 workers rejected their contract offers, setting up a potential strike. While SMART had accepted the contract deal, they have contract language that would have meant that they honored the other unions picket lines, thus shutting down work by the members of their union as well.

The rail strike was expected to severely impact distribution of goods at a key moment with the holidays approaching. Biden and the U.S. Congress shut down the strike saying that this was a win for everybody because the strike was averted. However, the contract that was imposed contains no sick days for rail workers, which was one of their key demands. Additionally, the workers had voted to exercise their right to strike, which was effectively stripped from the workers by the strike-breaking legislation.

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