Labor Sec’y Walsh: Ask Rail Companies, Not Me, How Workers Get Sick Leave, Companies Should Have Been at Table Sooner

On Friday’s broadcast of Bloomberg’s “The Open,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh responded to a question on how rail workers are ever supposed to get the paid leave the Biden administration supports when they can’t threaten to strike by stating, “I hope you have the companies on this show and ask them that same question and not ask me today after the Congress took action yesterday.” And argued that the companies should have come to the table much sooner.

Walsh stated, “The issue of sick time needs to be — the companies need to sit down with the unions now and have a serious conversation about two issues. One is sick days, paid sick days and the second issue is manpower…on the rails. They’re down about 30% over the last several years, and that’s a big issue when it comes to the safety and health of the workers on the job. So, I’m going to encourage both sides now to get right back at it and have those conversations now and move forward in a positive way.”

Co-host Jonathan Ferro later asked, “Paid sick leave is something you have. It’s something that I have. How can those railway workers ever secure the benefits that you claim to support without the credible threat to strike?”

Walsh responded, “Well, I hope you have the companies on this show and ask them that same question and not ask me today after the Congress took action yesterday. Because I think that’s a very important question. You need to ask the companies why that’s not offered to their employees across the board. But in saying that, I intend on sitting down with the companies and talking to them about a couple of things that, during the negotiations, that I heard from the unions about the concerns that they had about — their workers have, and I intend on bringing that up and talking to them about it. And the next contract — this contract expires [in] 2024. So, we’ve already — they’ve already [been] working three years without a contract. So, as they head into the next negotiation, this should be the top priority. And you don’t have to wait for a negotiation. The companies can offer up paid sick time anytime they want.”

Ferro then asked why companies would agree to that if they know the president will just impose a deal on rail workers.

Walsh answered, “No, you know how negotiations work. That’s not how it works. … The Congress has interacted over 18 times with a PEB (Presidential Emergency Board) recommendation. In 1992, they recommended a PEB, Congress enforced a PEB that was not pro-worker at all. It didn’t have wage increases. It didn’t have preservation of healthcare premiums. It didn’t have work conditions. It didn’t have unpaid days off. It didn’t have any of that and Congress came in. And again, this stuff has to happen at the bargaining table. And that’s why the companies need to come to the bargaining table a lot earlier. In this particular case, they didn’t come to the table until, I think, 18 months after the contract expired.”

Walsh added that companies are going to have to do this because “a lot of the CEOs have made comments already about the need to better relations with their workers and the unions on their jobs.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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