Dec 05, 2022
U.S. President Joe Biden faces mounting pressure to take executive action to ensure that freight rail workers have paid sick leave, including from an open letter spearheaded by The Lever that's already been signed by over 10,000 people, according to the online news outlet.
Calls for Biden to issue such an order have been stacking up since the U.S. Senate passed a resolution forcing rail workers on the verge of striking to accept a White House-brokered agreement without paid sick days. On Friday, the president signed the measure for which he'd advocated, provoking widespread working-class outrage.
"You have previously stated, unequivocally, that all workers deserve paid sick leave. And yet you have just signed a bill from Congress to force unionized rail workers to go back to work without appropriate paid sick leave," begins the letter to Biden, which began circulating Friday.
\u201cBiden answering a question on sick days for rail workers today. Note that the answer was not "As soon as I can revise the 2015 executive order extending the sick day mandate for federal contractors to workers governed by the Railway Labor Act:\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1670005712
The letter addressed to Biden continues:
Right now, you have the executive authority to extend paid sick leave to rail workers, and you do not need congressional approval to do that. We implore you to use that power right now.
No one, especially in the world's richest nation, should have to choose between forgoing pay or working through severe illness and family emergencies. Rail workers keep our infrastructure moving--their work is hard and critical to the success of our nation.
It is your moral obligation to immediately take executive action that fulfills your presidential campaign pledge to support paid sick days.
The Lever on Monday evening published a related video highlighting rail workers' frustrations with Biden, who claims to be the most pro-union president in U.S. history.
\u201c"The most labor-friendly President" just signed a bill forcing railroad workers to go to work without sufficient paid sick days.\n\nHe has previously claimed that ALL workers must have proper sick leave.\n\nCall on Biden to take action now: https://t.co/ffwMrazvAe\u201d— The Lever (@The Lever) 1670280444
David Sirota, The Lever's founder and editor in chief, said Sunday that "Biden wants you to believe it's all Republicans' fault. But he has the power to do this right now."
\u201cSign and retweet this open letter demanding Biden use his existing authority to issue an executive order giving rail workers paid sick days: https://t.co/onlsXPIPqB\n\nBiden wants you to believe it\u2019s all Republicans\u2019 fault. But he has the power to do this right now.\u201d— David Sirota (@David Sirota) 1670164758
Other critics of how Biden and Democratic congressional leaders responded to the rail dispute have also spent the past few days pushing for further action.
"If you are outraged about Congress' handling of the railway strike, join me in demanding that President Biden sign an executive order guaranteeing at least seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers," said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. "If these workers are vital to the economy, why not treat them as such?"
\u201cSeems like the moment for a big nationwide cross-union + labor Left pressure campaign to force Biden to include railway worker paid sick leave in his executive order\u201d— Eric Blanc (@Eric Blanc) 1670002302
A Monday editorial from The Boston Globe also argued that "the status quo is simply untenable" and Biden should consider issuing an executive order--a call that came after the newspaper reported on about 200 protesters who picketed the president's visit to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in the Massachusetts city Friday afternoon, carrying signs that said "striking is a human right" and "please support sick days for workers."
\u201cFrom RWU to DSA, to union members and other community supporters, Boston turned out in NUMBERS today to condemn Biden and Congress for overriding railroad workers and forcing a contract down their throats.\n\n@DemSocialists stand with @railroadworkers! \ud83c\udf39\u270a\ud83c\udffd\u201d— \ud835\uddea\ud835\uddfc\ud835\uddff\ud835\uddf0\ud835\uddf2\ud835\ude00\ud835\ude01\ud835\uddf2\ud835\uddff \ud835\uddd7\ud835\udde6\ud835\uddd4 \ud83c\udf39 (@\ud835\uddea\ud835\uddfc\ud835\uddff\ud835\uddf0\ud835\uddf2\ud835\ude00\ud835\ude01\ud835\uddf2\ud835\uddff \ud835\uddd7\ud835\udde6\ud835\uddd4 \ud83c\udf39) 1670016615
As the editorial explains:
Congress could have added the sick days unions wanted to the deal, but a proposal to do so was blocked by Republican senators. But that shouldn't be the last word. As Biden himself said, "I've made it very clear: I'm going to fight for paid leave, not only for rail workers but for all Americans." So far, he hasn't explained exactly how he would do that. But one way he ought to explore is an executive order.
There is precedent. On Labor Day in 2015, former president Barack Obama signed an executive order that required all federal contractors to provide their employees with up to seven days of paid sick leave. But that order exempted rail companies. Biden could simply extend that policy to apply more broadly so that it includes rail workers as well, many of whom work for companies that are federal contractors because they ship things like U.S. mail or equipment for the Department of Defense. Doing so would not only benefit thousands of workers, but it would set a standard for the rest of the industry.
"It's unconscionable that after the last few years--in which the Covid pandemic forced the entire world to learn about the importance of sensible public health policies--American lawmakers and corporate leaders are still reluctant to grant workers any paid sick leave," the editorial concludes. "And while Biden can certainly celebrate the fact that his leadership helped avert a potentially catastrophic rail strike, he should stick to his word and push for paid sick leave to become a part of all workplaces."
This post has been updated with a new figure reflecting additional signatures endorsing the letter and a related video.
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