Arizona rail workers react to labor agreement, no paid sick days

Congress is forcing railroad workers to accept a new contract to avoid a nationwide strike. The Senate approved the workers the paid sick days they asked for.
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 6:10 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - President Biden signed the labor agreement between rail companies and their workers on Friday. Congress acted Thursday, passing a bill to avert the rail strike. The House passed a second bill that would have given rail workers seven paid sick days, but that measure didn’t pass the Senate.

Local rail workers said they’re disappointed. While they acknowledge a strike would have been devastating for the country, they point out they’ve been fighting for paid sick time for years. “It’s been a great job,” Krista Garner said. “I love my job, I love what I do,” Garner’s husband, Norm, said. Both have been rail workers for 25 years. They worked their way up to engineers, meaning they drive the freight trains that carry the goods we rely on.

“It’s been a phenomenal job, don’t get me wrong, just with the deep cuts and the pandemic and then the attendance policy, it’s been hard,” Krista said. “I get home from being gone for 48, 50, 55 hours and I’m back on a train in 12 hours. You know, on my way back to Yuma,” Norm explained.

The Garners said being a rail worker means you don’t have set days off. Vacation time is decided at the beginning of the year. There are personal days, but it’s hard to use those last minute. If you need a sick day, it’s unpaid. More recently, the Garners said the rail companies had instituted a point system; too many sick days can mean you lose your job. “The point system is just brutal,” Norm said.

According to the Department of Labor’s statistics, nearly 80% of workers in the US get paid sick time. “My heart really goes out to the younger people that still have many more years to work.” Krista said.

Under the deal, rail workers will get an immediate 14% raise, which will grow to 24% in 2024. They also get more healthcare benefits and an additional day of personal leave. The White House helped broker the deal with rail unions back in September. But, unfortunately, it didn’t include paid sick days, and workers rejected it.

Congress used its power Thursday to pass legislation, imposing the labor agreement and avoiding a possible strike. A separate bill that would have given rail workers paid sick days passed the House but not the Senate. “What’s it really going to cost you. What, is it that much? Is it that much?” Krista said.

In a statement, the American Association of Railroads, a trade group that represents rail companies, said: