Railroad worker contract negotiations stall over lack of paid sick days

By Lily Jamali for marketplace.org

A potential rail strike could impact our nation’s already-delicate supply chains as soon as next month.

Last week, a second major rail union rejected a tentative contract agreement with the freight railroad industry. There’s a major sticking point in talks between the railroads and unions: paid sick days.

While the proposal on the table offers railroad workers a 24% wage increase over five years as well as annual bonuses, unions have been pushing for up to 15 paid sick days for workers — who currently have none.

“This has been an issue of contention throughout the entire negotiation process,” said Jennifer Blackhurst of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. “I think it’s an issue focusing on the rights of the workers and the workers feeling good about how they’re treated as human beings.”

The railroads estimate offering 15 days of paid sick leave would cost $688 million a year. Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations doubts that would seriously harm their bottom lines.

“You have to divide that by the number of workers. Remember, this is one of the largest bargaining units in the country,” she said.

That’s a unit that’s 115,000 workers strong.

The Association of American Railroads estimates a strike by those workers could cost as much as $2 billion a day in economic output.

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