A Union Pacific locomotive pulls railcars

A Union Pacific locomotive pulls railcars in Truckee, California on June 16, 2022.

(Photo by Gado/Getty Images)

While Blocking Paid Sick Leave, Union Pacific Spent More on Stock Buybacks Than Workers

"Instead of buying back their own stock, UP should be investing in their employees by offering paid sick leave, reasonable schedules, and a better quality of life for railroaders," said one union president.

Union Pacific, one of the largest rail corporations in the United States, said Tuesday that it brought in record revenue and profits last year as it successfully fought off workers' push for paid sick leave.

The company reported $7 billion in net income for 2022 as a whole and said it spent a whopping $6.3 billion repurchasing its own shares—significantly more than the $4.6 billion it spent on employee pay and benefits last year.

“Instead of buying back their own stock, UP should be investing in their employees by offering paid sick leave, reasonable schedules, and a better quality of life for railroaders," Ed Hall, the newly elected president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, told CNN on Tuesday. "This is the only way the railroad will be able to solve their recruitment and retention problems and keep the trains running."

Union Pacific was one of the major rail carriers involved in White House-brokered contract talks late last year that produced an agreement without any guaranteed paid sick days, rejecting a central demand of rail workers.

Labor unions representing a majority of U.S. rail workers rejected the proposed agreement and threatened to strike, but Congress intervened in the long-simmering contract dispute in December to impose the White House-backed deal on employees, sparking furious backlash from rank-and-file union members and progressive allies.

"President Biden campaigned on a week of paid sick leave for all working people, and then he had the opportunity right here but didn't take action. He favored the corporations," Matt Weaver, a rail worker and member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) in Ohio, told In These Times contributor Jeff Schuhrke, who detailed rail workers' ongoing fight for paid leave and safety measures in a piece last week.

Facing continued pressure from employees and some activist investors, Union Pacific and other rail giants are "weighing offering paid sick days—or are already doing so—along with schedule changes and other steps to improve employees' work-life balance," Bloombergreported Monday.

"Costs will still be a key consideration for the railroads—and their investors," the business outlet added. "Voluntary paid sick leave and more flexible schedules would add to the expense of the labor agreement, which over five years raises salaries by 24%, pays bonuses totaling $5,000, and adds one day a year of personal leave. That could come at the expense of dividends and share buybacks, which have soared in recent years."

"Workers remain skeptical that they'll truly benefit from the tradeoff," Bloomberg continued. "Railroads historically have been quick to furlough staff during downturns, have required long hours with little flexibility, and have imposed strict attendance policies that allow the railroads to operate with fewer workers."

As Railroad Workers United put it in a Twitter post on Tuesday, "Never take the Union Pacific at face value."

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