Despite his decades-long affinity for rail transportation, President Joe Biden struck critics as particularly inept when faced with the possibility of an industry strike last year amid disputes about pay and working conditions.
Although he rhetorically supported increased access to paid sick leave, which was a fundamental point of contention in the stalled negotiations, he ultimately signed a deal that would avert a strike without including any such provisions.
“I think we’re going to get it done, but not within this agreement,” he said at the time.
His willingness to capitulate on that issue attracted the ire of many fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill. More than six dozen lawmakers added their names to a letter urging the president to use his executive powers to guarantee increased sick pay for rail workers.
“Over 115,000 rail workers in this country are looking to you to guarantee them the dignity at work they deserve and to ensure that our rail system is safe for its workers and for millions of Americans who cross rail tracks every day,” they wrote.
Nearly three months later, however, the White House seems determined to rewrite history so that Biden is exalted as a working-class hero. The administration’s latest talking points come after rail company CSX confirmed that it had reached a deal to provide four paid sick days and three personal days for thousands of workers.
Freight rail giant CSX has agreed to give 5,000 railroad workers paid sick leave for the first time, after immense public pressure.
Unions negotiated a deal to get workers 4 paid and 3 unpaid sick days every year—and they say it's just the start.
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) February 8, 2023
In remarks on the matter this week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referenced the measure that the president signed in December to avoid a strike, adding: “When signing this bill, the president committed to continuing the fight to secure paid sick leave for all workers, including rail workers.”
She went on to tout the “continued advocacy and involvement from the Biden administration” for securing the latest agreement.
“Securing paid sick leave for rail workers will continue to be a priority for the president,” Jean-Pierre added. “And we are strongly urging other rail companies to follow suit.”
Unionized mechanic Reece Murtagh spoke for a number of railway employees last year who clearly saw Biden’s involvement in the process as a big part of the problem.
“We have a pro-labor president who loves to pat himself on the back for that and when the going got tough he turned his back on the people he’s supposed to be looking out for,” he said.