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'We, as railroaders, have zero paid time off': Arizona rail workers weigh in on potential railroad strike

Railroad workers are set to go on strike by December 9, unless Congress acts or a deal is reached.

PHOENIX — The House of Representatives took the first major step Wednesday to stave off a nationwide railroad strike that could cripple the economy and cause prices to skyrocket.

The legislation could solve a months-long standoff between the railroads and union workers over issues like getting paid sick time.

President Joe Biden helped broker a deal between the two sides back in September that included a 24% pay raise. However, it was rejected by four unions because they felt it did not address time off concerns.

Railroad workers are set to walk off the job on Dec. 9, 2022.

The impact of such a strike would likely cause more issues with the supply chain and cause prices of many goods to go up.

Congress can stop a strike thanks to the 1926 Railway Labor Act. Members of both parties have expressed support for measures that would prevent a shutdown.

Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed two bills. One piece of legislation is the already brokered deal, while a second bill would guarantee seven days of paid sick time.

“It would make a world of difference,” Rich Andrade, a state lawmaker and railroader for 28 years, said.

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“Railroad runs 24/7,” Andrade said, “We don’t shut down on weekends. We don’t shut down on holidays.”

Andrade said when he first became a railroader in 1994, he had 14 days of unpaid time off. However, as the number of workers downsized, railroads implemented attendance guidelines to keep the trains running.

The system puts workers essentially on call around the clock and can penalize them for taking time off.

“We, as railroaders, have zero paid time off,” Andrade said.

Andrade said while the money brokered by the Biden deal is nice, the focus has always been on getting more time off away from the tracks.

“It wasn’t about the money for us. It wasn’t about the raise. It was about the time off.”

The two house-passed proposals now go to the Senate, where the future of the legislation is still unclear.

12News reached out to Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema about where they stand on the bills but did not get a response.

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