Fortune: Sick pay for rail workers gets investor backing: ‘In this day and age, this really boggles the mind why a company would not provide that’

Major freight railroads are facing pressure to add sick days for their workers from a new front: An influential investment group says some of its members are now pushing the measure that Congress declined as part of the contracts they imposed last week to avert a potentially devastating nationwide rail strike.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility said Monday that two investment managers it works with to help promote social change at companies had filed proposals at Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern railroads to give shareholders a vote on whether rail workers should get paid sick leave. Similar proposals are likely to be filed at CSX and at BNSF’s parent company of Berkshire Hathaway, but they haven’t been submitted yet. The ICCR represents 300 members with over $4 trillion in assets.

The lack of paid sick time in the industry became a major sticking point this fall in contract talks between the railroads and their 12 unions. Four of those unions rejected five-year deals that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses because of their concerns about sick leave, demanding schedules and other quality-of-life concerns.


Industry knows many abuses of sick time. To some its merely paid leave time. Some accumulate months of sick time and expect to be paid for it at retirement.

Railroads probably see it as another can of worms they would rather avoid. It does not run trains or improve efficiencies. Will it make hiring easier?

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I think it will make hiring much easier. My ex-asst. manager (from the last club I worked in Key West) took over his father’s train derailment business (emergency response with cranes, etc.) about three years ago.

One of the things he harped about last time I saw him was how dangerous the business was. And he was already paying top wages and medical to attract people from the Chicago area (his base.) If the railroad workers continue to eke out better wages and benefits, he might have to throw in some new benefits to attract new workers.

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