I was of course not at all surprised that Biden wasn’t going to let rail workers strike before the midterms. No president would have done that. But the deal he got for the rail workers wasn’t super great and it is now getting worse.
Railroad workers across the United States had their sick and unemployment benefits cut on Wednesday, in reductions that had been paused for more than two years as part of pandemic aid tied to the coronavirus national emergency that Congress ended last month.
Freight and passenger railroad workers will now receive a 5.7 percent reduction to their unemployment and sick benefits, which are administered by the federal government, through September 2031.
The cuts, part of a previous agreement to avert a national disaster on the debt ceiling back in 2011, are resurfacing as another debt ceiling crisis has embroiled Democrats and Republicans in a new fight.
The cuts to the country’s 150,000 railroad workers’ benefits are happening as Washington leaders have been trying to shore up shaky relations with railroad labor groups. Rail workers have been angry with President Biden, the self-proclaimed “most pro-labor president,” and Congress for imposing a labor contract that lacked paid sick leave beyond one paid personal day, to avert a catastrophic rail strike.
Then the derailment of a freight train carrying toxic chemicals in Ohio in February further exacerbated concerns from labor. This week’s benefit reductions mark yet another blow from Washington to railroad workers, rail union officials say.
“How do we trust our public servants when they’re misguided on stuff like this?” said Matt Weaver, a rail carpenter foreman near Toledo, who has worked on the railroads for 28 years. “It’s taking so long for them make this right.”
The benefit reductions date back to the 2011 and 2013 debt ceiling crises. At the time, Congress used a budget enforcement tool to cut spending to military and domestic programs, including railroad unemployment and sick benefits in return for an agreement to lift the debt ceiling. Other agencies have been able to claw back lost funding during the past decade, but railroaders have not recovered their benefits, according to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.
I have to say, it’s hard to blame the rail workers for not trusting either political party.