In recent weeks, railroad workers’ ongoing fight for paid sick time and against punitive attendance policies has garnered national attention. No worker should be forced to risk their economic security or their job in order to take the time they need to recover from sickness, or to care for a sick loved one. Yet too many railworkers have been forced to do just that—and as the state of a tentative deal between rail carriers and unions remains in flux, it is clear that prioritizing the protections these workers need and deserve is critical to successfully reaching an agreement.
Railworkers’ struggle highlights the importance of paid sick time as a basic, fundamental right. They are far from alone: As we highlighted in a recent report, Sick Without a Safety Net, 33 million workers are still without a single sick paid day. While we are proud to have successfully passed paid sick time laws in 16 states and dozens of localities, we are committed to ensuring every worker has access to this right. Unfortunately state and local laws cannot cover railroad workers due to federal preemption—and many workers live in states where it will be difficult to pass laws guaranteeing the right to sick time. Therefore we continue to urge Congress to pass the federal Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee covered workers in all states seven days of paid sick time to care for themselves and their loved ones.
We are also committed to working to combat abusive attendance policies that make it impossible for workers to exercise their existing rights to time off without being penalized. Too many workers, especially low-wage workers of color, stress over being one sick child, one pregnancy complication, one medical emergency, or one disability-related flare up away from losing their job, because many major employers in the U.S. rely on abusively strict and overly harsh attendance policies, which punish workers for medical absences, oftentimes in violation of federal and state laws.
We are in solidarity with railroad workers and all workers fighting for fair treatment, and we won’t stop fighting until every worker has access to paid sick time and needn’t fear for their economic security when they need time off to care for their own health and their families.