As railway workers are set to launch a nationwide strike over the atrocious conditions and lack of sick days, Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday called on billionaire Warren Buffett to step in and ensure that BNSF Railway, a Berkshire-owned company Buffett’s Hathaway offers its adequate compensation and quality of life policies for employees as negotiations remain at a standstill.
“In the midst of a potential railroad strike, Warren Buffett, the owner of the $100 billion parent company BNSF Railway, must step in,” Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on social networks. “During the pandemic, Mr. Buffett got $36 billion richer. He needs to make sure railroad workers get decent wages and safe working conditions.”
“The rail industry, which made $20 billion in profits last year, cannot continue to deny workers paid sick leave.”
Buffett — who said “there’s class warfare, okay, but it’s my class, the wealthy class, that’s waging war, and we’re winning” — has previously dismissed Sanders’ demands to intervene in sides of workers in contract disputes involving the billionaire investor’s businesses.
Members of several national U.S. railroad unions could go on strike Friday as rail carriers refuse to bow to worker pressure for changes to attendance policies that unions say are ‘destroying the lives of our members “. The BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad both have point-based attendance policies that penalize employees even if they are required to take a day off due to a family emergency or doctor visit. .
“We must stop penalizing engineers and drivers for falling ill or going to the doctor with termination under this contract settlement,” the heads of the SMART transportation division and the Brotherhood of Engineers said on Sunday. and locomotive drivers in a statement. “Repeat that our members are being fired for falling ill or attending routine medical visits as we struggle to emerge from a global pandemic.”
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and longtime ally of the labor movement, highlighted rail workers’ fight for better conditions on Tuesday, saying “the railroad industry, which made $20 billion in profits last year, cannot continue to deny workers paid sick leave.”
“It is unacceptable and dangerous for conductors and engineers to be on call for 14 consecutive days, 12 hours a day, and then be fired for seeing a doctor,” added the senator.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Biden administration officials have “been in regular contact with Greg Abel, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, while trying to find a solution” to avert a strike that could have widespread impacts. Unions have accused the rail giants of engaging in “trade extortion” by announcing an embargo on some shipments ahead of the strike.
US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh is should meet with rail carriers and union representatives on Wednesday in a bid to facilitate a last-minute deal.
Democratic congressional leaders, meanwhile, have suggested they could try to intervene to avert a strike, as Republicans say they “would push the Senate to vote to impose a settlement, a position backed by advocacy groups. ‘businesses such as the American Chamber of Commerce’. Politics reported Tuesday.
“It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEOs who run the national railroads in the ground that enough is enough.”
“I really feel like people don’t appreciate Warren Buffett and his friends shutting down the supply chain to force Congress to force 125,000 rail workers to go to work with no weekends or sick days,” tweeted Working Notes‘ Jonah Furman.
Last month, an emergency council created by President Joe Biden presented its recommendations for a deal between rail carriers and workers, a proposal that included major wage increases.
But Working Notes reported that the proposed wage increases were “offset by increases in health care costs – and come amid high inflation”. The council’s compromise plan also failed to address quality of life issues, including attendance policies, which have been at the heart of the years-long dispute.
“Unfortunately, the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendation was wrong on this issue,” said Jeremy Ferguson and Dennis Pierce, the respective presidents of the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “These employment policies have forced thousands of employees out of the industry and make it virtually impossible to recruit new workers. With understaffed operations, these railroads abuse their best customers by refusing to provide deliveries in accordance with their legal obligations.”
“These self-proclaimed titans of industry constantly complain about regulation and government interference, except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees,” the pair added. “It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEOs who run the national railroads in the ground that enough is enough.”