Investors Urge Two Railroads To Offer Paid Sick Leave

December 5, 2022

Reuters is reporting that investors are urging two railroad corporations to offer their workers paid sick leave—a point of contention that almost led to a nationwide worker strike that could have been economically disastrous.

Reuters says it has seen proposals filed by activist investors asking Norfolk Southern Corp and Union Pacific Corp to offer “a reasonable amount” of paid sick time off, determined by company directors. If the resolution is accepted by either railroad, it would appear as a ballot item at its springtime shareholder’s meeting. 

The investors are arguing the benefits of the sick leave outweigh the costs, such as reducing workforce turnover.

President Biden on Friday signed a resolution averting the rail strike after Congress voted to impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by the White House back in September.

The House voted Wednesday on the resolution, which includes 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020. The House also agreed to workers’ request for seven days of paid sick leave. The Senate followed on Thursday passing a similar measure—but leaving out the paid sick leave amendment.

Neither railroad commented to Reuters on the resolution, but a spokesperson for Union Pacific did refer to a trade group statement that industry employees already receive substantial time and leave for longer-term illnesses.

A rail strike would have been, in the President’s words, “a Christmas catastrophe” right in the middle of the holiday shopping and travel season, as U.S. rail are responsible for the transport of one-third of all U.S. freight. A rail shutdown would have aggravated inflation and supply chain issues—not least of all causing gas prices to soar again because many fuel products like sulfur and ethanol are transported by rail.

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