Congress intervenes to prevent nationwide railroad strike

‘Political pawns’: Livid railway workers warn Biden’s union agreement will ‘definitely’ impact next election

The nation’s third-largest rail union and rail workers are looking ahead and vowing not to forget who stood by them during their fight for paid sick leave, and some even warn that President Biden’s push for Congress to intervene will have negative consequences.

The outrage follows a vote by Congress on three measures relating to the rail worker demands, including one which the Senate passed in an 80-15 vote codifying an agreement negotiated by the White House and 12 of the nation’s rail unions.

Clark Ballew, the director of communications for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED), the third-largest rail union in America, told Fox News Digital that the union will not forget who stood alongside of them as they fought for paid sick leave days.

“You can damn well bet that railroaders took note of who stood with us and who failed to support the basic common decency of paid sick days,” Ballew said.


President Biden signed into law on Friday the legislation to avoid a railroad workers strike, concluding that the measure avoided “what could have been a real disaster.”
(Chip Somodevilla, Mario Tama via Getty Images)

David, a rail worker represented by a local chapter of SMART-TD who did not want to provide his full name out of fear of retaliation, suggested that Biden could suffer consequences in the next election.

“This will definitely have an effect on the next elections, I think, because Biden’s slowly showing the true colors,” David said. “I’ve always known he is only looking for votes, but several unions and members are just now realizing that. If he really cared, wanted to show that he cared about the work that we’re doing and some of the sacrifices we have had to make, he should have stayed out of this or fought harder. I didn’t want a strike, I know how bad it would be for the economy, but right is right and we need the sick leave days. The unions and rail companies have got to figure out how to work together on this sorta thing.”

“This isn’t for Congress to decide,” he said. “Whether you’re for unions or not, we railroad workers should not have to continue the harsh conditions we are subjected to. Paid sick leave is a simple ask. For Congress not to be able to reach an agreement for some of the hardest-working people I know is just sad. I appreciate those that stand up for us, though, and even voted in support of sick days to be included.”

Asked whether he believes President Biden’s call for Congress to involve itself in negotiations between railroad companies and the unions was a betrayal of the pro-union message that he has long touted, Ballew, who is also a member of BMWED Local Lodge 153 in Richmond, said, “The president’s decision to throw our bargaining round to Congress was not unexpected. We’ve been down this road before. It’s how the Railway Labor Act proceeds.”

Though some of workers’ demands were met, they had held out hope on the sick leave could be added. “We felt like paid sick time off was an important omission and not an especially rapacious ask,” Ballew said.

 “Because of the 60 vote threshold in the Senate, we also know who likely cast a token vote in our favor yesterday because they knew they were insolated from its passage. There was buffer room there for certain politicians who have never supported our cause before to get a ‘freebie’ there, but railroaders are not dumb. We see that kind of deception everyday from our bosses on the railroad; we don’t fall for that,” Ballew told Fox News.

Shipping containers at a Union Pacific rail terminal in City of Industry, California, US, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

Shipping containers at a Union Pacific rail terminal in City of Industry, California, US, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
(Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ballew said congressional intervention “could have easily been prevented if these miserly Class 1 railroads would have come to the table genuinely ready to negotiate paid sick leave rather than wait for Congress to bail them out.”

“All of this was preventable and only came to pass because the railroads can’t part from their antiquated labor-management practices and advance into modern societal times to afford a person the occasional day to address sickness when it strikes them or their family. A paid sick day is not a novel concept,” he added.

President Biden signed into law on Friday the legislation to avoid a railroad workers strike, concluding that the measure averted “what could have been a real disaster.”

The newly enacted law codifies a July deal negotiated by rail unions and the Biden administration that would raise workers pay by 24% over a five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification.

The agreement passed by Congress was approved by eight of 12 transportation unions involved in negotiations. The four dissenting unions, representing about 100,000 rail workers, said the deal was unfair because it included insufficient paid-sick leave time. They had asked for seven paid sick days, but Congress did not include their demand in the bill, despite an effort from progressive lawmakers and even some conservatives like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to amend the legislation.


Freight rail cars sit in a rail yard on November 22, 2022 in Wilmington, California.

Freight rail cars sit in a rail yard on November 22, 2022 in Wilmington, California.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Adam McKellips, a member of the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) local 1289 chapter in Oklahoma, told Fox News Digital that he feels like “we and our families are nothing but political pawns.”

“I work for a Class 1 railroad that implemented one of the most egregious attendance policies (Hi-Viz) that requires us to be available to work 92% of the time per month,” he said. “If we take off one day for a sickness, we are required to [work] 14 days straight to gain points back. That is why we are fighting tooth and nail for sick days.”

McKellips said Democrats could have “easily” included sick leave into the measure but would “rather make a political stunt off the backs of the hardworking ‘essential’ rail workers” instead.


“The Republican Party was never going to accept H. R. 119 in the Senate and that also infuriates our union membership,” McKellips added. “Class 1 railroads have made record profits on the backs of workers through a pandemic, then implement the most egregious attendance policy to keep the ‘essential’ workers on duty to keep the profits coming in.”

Fox News’ Chris Pandolfo contributed to this article.

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