Dec 14, 2022
Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan delivered an impassioned speech in support of rail workers on Tuesday, denouncing the rapacity of hugely profitable railroad giants and imploring President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to provide the essential employees with the paid sick leave that they've long been denied.
"Corporate greed is a disease in this country," Tlaib said during a rail worker solidarity rally in Washington, D.C., one of a number of events that took place nationwide. "We do live in the richest country on the planet, and no worker should have to choose between their health and a paycheck."
Tlaib went on to cite the story of Aaron Hiles, a locomotive engineer who died of a heart attack earlier this year after he put off a doctor's appointment to go into work--an incident that called further attention to the rail industry's draconian attendance policies and deteriorating working conditions, products of Wall Street intervention.
"We cannot allow corporate greed... to continue to kill workers and our families," Tlaib said.
The Michigan Democrat's remarks came two weeks after Congress voted to impose on U.S. rail employees a White House-brokered contract agreement that doesn't include a single paid sick day, denying workers the right to strike as rail companies refuse to budge on the demand for basic benefits. The contract deal was rejected by unions representing more than half of the U.S. rail workforce.
While progressive lawmakers including Tlaib attempted to add a week of paid sick days to the agreement, the effort ultimately failed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, with 43 Republicans voting no.
"It is disgraceful that 43 senators with unlimited paid sick leave voted against providing decency of even seven days of paid sick leave for our rail workers," Tlaib, one of the few House Democrats to vote against imposing the White House-brokered deal on rail workers, said at Tuesday's rally.
Tlaib stressed that the struggle to ensure rail workers receive paid sick leave isn't over. Last week, as Common Dreamsreported, Tlaib, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and dozens of other lawmakers called on Biden to take executive action to address the issue.
As The American Prospect's David Dayen and Harold Meyerson explained, then-President Barack Obama "issued an executive order on Labor Day 2015 that required federal contractors to provide their employees with seven paid sick days per year."
"All the rail companies have been federal contractors going back to the 19th century, moving freight and supplies on behalf of multiple federal agencies," Dayen and Meyerson wrote. "But Obama's order was limited to workers whose wages are governed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Service Contract Act, or the Davis-Bacon Act. Rail workers fall under a different law, the Railway Labor Act... The letter from Sanders and his colleagues argues that President Biden can and should extend the executive order to give rail workers sick days."
Speaking after Tlaib at Tuesday's rally, Sanders vowed to "continue the fight to guarantee paid family and medical leave to all workers in America."
"We're gonna bring not only the rail unions together, but workers all over this country to demand the justice that is long overdue," the Vermont senator added.
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