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December 9, 2022

Pressley Joins Sanders, Bowman, Over 70 Lawmakers Urging Biden to Take Executive Action on Paid Sick Days for Rail Workers

Pressley, Progressives Led Effort to Boost Paid Sick Days in House Last Month

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) and over 70 House and Senate colleagues on a letter urging President Biden to take executive action to guarantee rail workers paid sick days.

“Every worker deserves paid sick leave, and we must use every tool available to help ensure they get it,” said Rep. Pressley in a statement alongside the letter. “We fought hard in the House to provide more sick days for our rail workers because no one should have to choose between their life and their livelihood. After callous obstruction from Senate Republicans, President Biden has the opportunity to use his executive authority to give our rail workers the sick leave they need.”

The letter comes just a week after Congress passed legislation to avert a nationwide rail strike but did not pass an amendment to guarantee paid sick days to rail workers. The amendment had earlier passed the House after a push from Rep. Pressley and her progressive colleagues, in partnership with organized labor.

“While this agreement was much better than the disastrous proposals put forward by the rail industry, it still does not guarantee a single paid sick day to rail workers who work dangerous and difficult jobs, have risked their lives during the pandemic to keep our economy moving and have not received a pay raise in over three years,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “That is unacceptable and must be rectified.”

Guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would cost the rail industry a grand total of $321 million a year – less than 2% of its profits. Last year alone, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits after cutting their workforce by 30% over the last 6 years. In the first three quarters of 2022, rail companies spent $25.5 billion on stock buybacks and dividends. Rail workers across the U.S. currently are guaranteed zero sick days, paid or unpaid, and are forced to work under a points-based attendance policy that can penalize and even fire workers for taking sick time, including for family and health emergencies. The current deal that passed Congress does not include any paid sick days.

In addition to executive order power to deliver paid sick days to rail workers, the letter points to the authority held by the Secretary of Labor under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards for businesses affecting interstate commerce, as well as the responsibility of the Secretary of Transportation to promote safety in all areas of railroad operations under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. In 2015, then President Obama also issued an executive order that required companies with federal contracts to grant at minimum seven days of paid sick leave. However, rail workers were excluded from these protections.

“You can and you must expand this executive order,” the members continued. “Over 115,000 rail workers in this country are looking to you to guarantee them the dignity at work they deserve and to ensure that our rail system is safe for its workers and for millions of Americans who cross rail tracks every day. Through Executive Order, agency rulemaking, and any other applicable authority, we ask that you take quick and decisive action to guarantee these workers paid sick leave.”

The letter was signed by 15 colleagues in the Senate and 51 in the House, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); and Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Al Green (D-Texas), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Henry Johnson (D-Ga.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Eleanor Norton (D-D.C.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Mary Scanlon (D-Pa.), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Susan Wild (D-Pa.).

Read the full letter, here.