November 30, 2022

Chairs DeFazio and Payne, Jr. Statements on Legislation to Prevent a Catastrophic Railroad Shutdown

Washington, D.C. – Today Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) issued the following statements during House Floor debate on H.J. Res. 100, imposing the Railway Labor Tentative Agreements:

Chair DeFazio:

We’re here today to end three years of contract negotiations between the freight railroads and their workforce. 

For three years, more than 115,000 essential railroad employees have worked without a new contract or a pay raise, all the while enduring a global pandemic and new work rules that further erode their quality of life.

We shouldn’t be here today. But the freight railroads brought us here, and now we have to act. 

This all could have been avoided had the railroads been willing to provide their employees with a basic protection and what so many Americans already have: paid sick time. 

While 75% of private industry workers have paid sick time, more than 100,000 railroad employees who work 24/7 operations in all types of weather don’t have a single day of paid sick time. And, let’s be clear, it’s not because the Class I railroads can’t afford it. 

In the last three years, five of the Class I railroad CEOs were paid more than $200 million. One of the CEOs made 144 times what the average railroad worker makes. Since 2010, the seven Class I railroads spent $230 billion to line the pockets of their owners and shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends. That includes the $26 billion they sent to shareholders in 2021, on top of $29 billion they reported in profits.

The railroad CEOs—who I’m sure have paid sick leave—are watching their record profits soar, while worrying that their stock prices may drop slightly if they give their workers paid sick leave. Why? Thanks to the vultures on Wall Street, the seven Class I railroads have all implemented so-called precision scheduled railroading—or PSR—an operating strategy that focuses on cutting costs in order to increase profits, which are returned to shareholders. 

In implementing PSR, the seven Class I railroads have cut their workforces so deeply—by nearly one-third—that it has significantly impacted service. While the railroads were dithering on their contract negotiations, railroad shippers, including the agricultural, energy, and construction industries—have all attested to how these workforce impacts have contributed to delayed shipments, disruptions to business, and extra shipping costs that get passed on to consumers. 

And what has been the railroads’ solution to these self-imposed wounds? To force their remaining employees to work harder and longer, and unilaterally impose harsh attendance policies that penalize workers if they have the audacity to call in sick. 

This is an industry where an inch in the wrong direction can cost you your life or limb—yet the railroads are incentivizing people to come to work sick. It’s as dangerous as it is unconscionable. 

The railroads argued to the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) that their record profits were not due to “any contributions by labor.” Despite a 75% decrease in worker-hours and a 602% increase in worker-hour productivity, the railroads argued that productivity was not the result of labor and they claimed that their employees are not overworked or fatigued. However, hour-of-service violations have increased by 60% over the last decade. It’s 2022, but the robber barons are back.

We’re here today because we recognize what makes this country run. It’s frontline workers. Without them, just under one third of our country’s freight would sit idle. We know the current conditions cannot continue—because without improvements to their ability to reliably spend time with family, be sick without punishment, schedule a doctor appointment, or plan a vacation, railroad workers will continue to leave this industry. And when the best of our essential workers leave, we all suffer. 

I believe it’s well past time that these workers have paid sick leave and it’s something the railroads can easily afford. 

In 2021 the seven Class I railroads could have paid for their workers to have seven days of paid sick leave by spending just 6/10 of a penny for every dollar they reported in profit and shareholder returns. These highly compensated railroad CEOs should not be opposed to paid sick days for their front-line employees—employees who are responsible for their very success.

The reality is that the robber barons are nothing without the labor of their employees, who deserve better. But recognizing that the parties are no closer to a solution today than they were three years ago, and that railroad workers make this country run, the House will consider this joint resolution to bring an end to this fight in its current form, lock in the tentative agreements that provide historic pay increases, guarantee reimbursement for work expenses, and prevent a massive disruption to our economy that would hurt millions of working people and their families. 

I will proudly vote to lock in the tentative agreements and provide railroaders seven paid sick days. The CEO’s can take a shift in the rail yard to cover them.
Chair Payne, Jr.: 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am honored to offer this enrollment corrections bill with my friend and colleague, Peter DeFazio, who is ironically, and responsibly, taking a sick day.  

He is at the tail end of COVID and we all appreciate his ability to stay home when he is sick.  

This bill will allow the same for railroad workers.  

It will correct what the freight railroads have refused to do during three years of contract negotiations with their workers—during a worldwide pandemic, no less—despite the railroads earning tens of billions of dollars every year. 

Railroad workers showed up every day during the rise, height, and now the steadying of the COVID pandemic.  

They risked their health, and the health of their families, to keep our nation’s freight moving.  

Railroaders cannot work remotely, some are on-call regularly, and others work outdoors year-round.

Unlike 75% of private industry workers, the more than 100,000 railroad workers do not have paid sick days. 

I should note that management at these very railroads have paid sick days.

This bill will correct this wrong by ensuring freight rail workers have 7 days of paid sick leave, along with a 60-day process to enforce the measure.  

Lest anyone think the railroads cannot afford to provide more than 100,000 employees paid sick leave–consider that the railroads are able to provide their workers with this benefit for less than a penny for every dollar they reported in profit and shareholder returns last year. Less than a penny!

Many of you know that I have Type 2 diabetes. I attend regular dialysis treatments.  

I would not be able to do my job without paid sick time.
Every American worker deserves the same allowance.    

Without paid sick time, railroad workers are forced to make a choice between their health, or the health of their families, and their paychecks. 

This isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and this bill would correct that.  
I urge all Members to support this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.