Perhaps, in the media or within your own life, you have heard snippets about “railroad workers rights” and “railroad unions.” However, even though you might have heard of these topics, you still may not know what they refer to. You might have even asked yourself, “Why would railroad workers form unions? What is going on?” To understand the answers to these questions, consider the severity of the situation. For example, did you know that railroad workers across the United States are facing disciplinary action for taking days off to go to the doctor?
I hope this post implores you to spread information about the maltreatment that the railroad workers are experiencing. This blog will share the most current information relating to railroad workers rights movement.
Before we unpack all that has been going on with railroad workers, we will firstly examine a place that is frequently of American interest: Italy. Whether it be Italy’s beautiful geography, remarkable monuments, or the sublime cuisine, most Americans have similar presumptions about the nation: it is simply exquisite and fosters a rich culture.
Unfortunately, however, this blog will not discuss Italy’s glorious disposition. Instead, we will be discussing another remarkable, modern-day characteristic of Italy (which, in my opinion, trumps some of the others): the rights of employees instituted by the federal government.
In Italy, every employee is entitled to at least four weeks of paid vacation. The federal government makes it illegal for any employer to prohibit their employees to not take at least four weeks of time off.
Contrastingly, this notion, as it relates to the United States (where there is no federal law regulating how many days off a private employer is required to give their employee) is borderline martian. Employees being federally entitled to paid time off in the United States is similar to oxygen in space—nonexistent.
However, even though Italian employers are required to offer at least four weeks of paid vacation to their employees, the majority of employers offer five weeks. In the United States, the average length of paid time off given to employees is 10-14 days—less than two weeks.
Without a doubt, when comparing which nation better allows its employees to have a healthy work-life balance, Italy prevails over the United States. (I did not even have to mention how Italians also receive 104 hours per year which they can use for personal affairs: taking a child to the doctor, running errands, etc.).
However, let us now consider the argument that follows from the aforementioned points: indeed, Italy may have better federal legislation for employees; but, surely, as a result of that, their economy and government is not as prosperous as the United States.
This argument, although perhaps not for the reasons one might assume, is valid—the United States indeed does have a bigger and better economy than Italy. In regards to GDP, the US economy ranks first in the world, while Italy’s is 8th. However, one must also consider the USA’s size and history. Italy’s economy crumbled after the World War; the US’ economy exponentiated. Therefore, considering that Italy had to recover from a World War, the fact that it currently ranks 8th in the world—and it has legislation ensuring the prosperity of employees—is rather remarkable.
As you read the rest of this article, keep these statistics and distinctions in mind.
Back to the States
Up until this point, we have discussed international affairs. However, the main point this blog seeks to discuss and analyze relates to railroad workers in the USA—a domestic topic. Italy’s overpowering legislation on employee’s rights shall be used as a tool of comparison for what is currently occurring in the United States.
With all this in mind, the ultimate question remains: what is going on with railroad workers in the United States?
For the past couple of months, multiple unions have been created by railroad workers to bring forth change in the workplace. These unions have threatened to go on strike multiple times.
The central issue that unions are attempting to fix relates to worker rights. More specifically, the rights of employees wishing to take days off.
For the railroad workers, the ability to have sick days has been a source of conflict. Currently, railroad workers throughout the United States are not able to take days off for any reason. Whether it be taking off days because of sudden illness or having to go to a funeral, railroad workers are unable to take off days without facing repercussions (which include suspension and potential dismissal).
According to Vice, railroad workers are “working or on call 90% of the time.” When workers are on call, it’s rather common for them to be called into work at random times and end up being away for multiple days. When workers are not on call, they are often already at work.
This has caused outrage within the railroad workers community. These workers, who are vital to America’s economy, are not being offered basic worker protections.
In fact, a spouse of a railroad worker once stated that “[they] go to work sick, they miss funerals of loved ones, they miss final goodbyes to parents on hospice, they miss holidays, birthdays, all of it.”
Moreover, some railroad companies, in an effort to have a “system” overseeing the amount of days off an employee receives, created a point system. In this system, employees gain points for showing up as scheduled and lose points when they do not show up as scheduled. Ostensibly, this makes sense: workers should both be praised for their hard work and penalized if they simply disregard their schedule. However, unfortunately, this system is far from that.
In this system, every employee starts with 30 points. If an employee wants to take a day off, they lose 15 points. Whether it be Christmas, New Years Day, or Thanksgiving, any day off by an employee leads to a deduction of 15 points.
Therefore, if an employee wishes to take a day off on Christmas and Thanksgiving, they would lose all of their points. This in turn would get them suspended and put under investigation. If they are found to be compliant workers, they are put back to work and given 15 points. If they end up losing those 15 points, they are fired. (I should also note that, in this particular point system, the only way an employee can gain points is by being on call for 14 days in a row.
Therefore, the points system forced upon the railroad workers does not penalize them for disregarding their schedules, it penalizes them for not making “work-life” simply “work.”
As one would expect, this blatant disregard of equitable worker considerations has forced railroad workers to rally together and create various unions. These unions, as was previously mentioned, have been threatening to go on strike until changes are brought forth.
Currently, negotiations are still ongoing. Thankfully, however, the threat of striking seems to be working in favor of the railroad unions. One of the tentative agreements reached between the union and workers, according to Slate, is that “[railroad workers would have] voluntary assigned days off, granting one additional paid day off, allowing workers to attend medical appointments without penalty, and creating exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgeries.”
Seeing that these workers are now being allowed to go to the doctor’s office without facing the threat of penalization, this is a definite step in the right direction.
What the future entails, we know not. However, what we currently do know is that this issue would break just about every other federal law regarding workers’ rights in Italy. While here, in the United States, railroad workers are battling to merely receive days to go to the doctor’s office because of sudden illness, Italians enjoy the privilege of federally mandated vacation days.
Perhaps, as it relates to this manner, the United States could learn from Italy. A federal mandate over workers’ rights in the United States would benefit the entire nation. This mandate would make it federally illegal for employers to overwork their employees and penalize them if they simply wish to go to a funeral. In order to bring this change into effect, everyone needs to be aware of this issue. To most, the rights—or lack thereof—of railroad workers is rather shocking. If this issue were brought to the forefront of the media, more would become aware of it, and more would be willing to advocate and bring change. This is not a local issue, this is a national one and we, as a nation, need to be aware of it.
With acknowledgement of the maltreatment of employees across the nation, as well as advocacy for reforms on federal legislation about employee rights, the United States could become more like Italy and ensure all employees get fair treatment. With acknowledgement and advocacy for change, ensuring that every worker gets basic necessities might not be too far away.