'More than enough money': House Democrat blasts greedy railroad executives for denying 'basic benefits'
United States Representative Donald Payne Junior (D-New Jersey) on Wednesday blasted the greed of executives in the privatized American railway industry who are refusing to grant paid sick leave and other benefits to their employees.
A 2019 report in the American Journal of Transportation found that railroads "are USA’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin." The non-profit organization More Perfect Union noted in September that those "windfall profits have come at the direct expense of their workforce. In the past two decades, operating profit margins nearly tripled for the major carriers, while the percentage of revenue they spent on labor sunk by double-digits."
Payne, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, touched upon these facts in a floor speech.
"Time has proven that railroads are unwilling to settle this dispute despite having more than enough money to pay for these basic benefits. Railroad CEO salaries continue to exceed as much as 144 times – 144 times – what the average railroad worker makes. Yet still, they're unwilling to bend for paid sick time off. I wonder what they do when they're sick," Payne said.
"All the while, they know that their profits are built off of the backs of these dedicated rail workers who deserve so much more," he continued. "Despite the challenging decisions to intervene, I will continue to press the rail industry to do what they know to be the right by their workers."
Payne's remarks come amid a growing clash between lawmakers on Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden, and rail workers who are threatening to strike. Union officials feel that the Biden Administration, which has attempted to mediate the dispute, is siding with rail's corporate bigwigs.
"Four of the 12 railroad unions representing a majority of the railroad workforce have rejected a tentative new union contract agreement which fails to address their concerns. If any of the 12 unions go on strike, each union has agreed to honor the picket line," The Guardianexplained on Wednesday. Interviews that the paper held with seasoned rail personnel revealed that the tensions are reaching a boiling point.
“Joe Biden blew it,” Railroad Workers United Treasurer Hugh Sawyer proclaimed. “He had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days." Sawyer believes that the impasse shows that "the Democrats and Republicans are both pawns of big business and the corporations."
Nevada State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Chairman Matt Parker said that "the overly simplistic approach that the administration has taken to this whole issue shows how out of touch they are with the plight of railroad workers.”
Jeff Kurtz, a retired locomotive engineer from Iowa, stressed that "it’s not just about paid time off, it’s about time off period" and that “basically what the carriers, and now it looks like what Congress is going to say too, is you are pretty well tied to your job for the rest of your life.”
Kurtz also shared profound disappointment in the president's approach.
“The Presidential Emergency Board was just no help whatsoever,” said Kurtz. “I thought it’d be somewhat more labor-friendly than it was, but it could have been written by the carriers as far as I was concerned.”
While Payne appeared to share their disillusionment, he indicated in his address that the current bill will not contain the provisions that rail workers and unions are demanding, vowing that "once we pass this legislation, we will pass legislation that guarantees paid sick leave for rail workers since the industry has decided they wouldn't."
The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 290 to 137. It goes next to the Senate, where leaders in both parties have indicated they would move quickly to avoid a disruption to the nation’s rail service.
But with liberal Democrats threatening to withhold their votes unless the legislation granted additional paid leave, a key demand of workers, the House also considered and approved a separate measure to add seven days of compensated sick time to the compact.
That measure passed largely on party lines, 221 to 207, as Democrats sent it to the Senate with the support of just three Republicans, Representatives John Katko of New York, Don Bacon of Nebraska and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
Watch below or at this link.
\u201c"I should note that management at these very railroads have paid sick days." @RepDonaldPayne\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1669829466
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