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The Threat of a Rail Strike Was Never Really About Sick Days, But Greed

It was about the continued practice of putting profits before people and highlighting a continuing trend across nearly all American industries.

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A rail worker in a hi-viz vest watches as a double-decker freight car rolls past.
The problems that the rail unions are struggling with aren’t dissimilar from the issues plaguing many America workers.
Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Congress’ decision to force a contract without any paid sick leave on the 12 rail unions is pretty fucked. It’s made not only a lot of rail workers incredibly angry, but it’s also been widely criticized by other unions, and, frankly, we think it’s pretty shitty. Here’s the thing, though, the threat of a strike was never about sick days, and Aaron Gordon does a stellar job of explaining why in an article published on Monday by Vice.

Spoiler alert: the rail unions’ grievances are focused more on the issue of corporate greed and its impact on the safety of workers and their ability to maintain any work/life balance, as well as on public safety, which some rail workers believe is being compromised by the rail companies’ decision to cut staff, skimp on inspections and closing inspection and repair facilities. Sick days would be nice, but they’re really not the point.


Despite the massive boom in online shopping during the lockdown, many of the rail freight companies used the pandemic as justification to make these cuts. At this point, with businesses open and the country back to work, that already thin justification no longer holds water.

To get a fuller idea of what exactly is going on and why this (totally precedented) move by congress is ultimately not going to solve many issues, you owe it to yourself to give the whole Vice article a look.