U.S. freight rail companies nearly spurred a nationwide railroad strike last fall by refusing to grant paid sick days, but in a surprise move welcomed by workers, those railroads have recently granted paid sick days to almost half their workforce. But the union representing workers who operate the trains day to day, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, has had far less success reaching agreement on paid sick days. “The railroads went to the non-operating crafts first and cut a deal with them,” said Mark Wallace, first vice-president of the BLET. “If a carman [who inspects and repairs railcars] has to call in sick and doesn’t come to work, the train will still run. If the engineer or conductor has to call in sick, the train is probably not going to go that day.” Wallace said his union was negotiating with the major railroads, but said they were seeking to make it harder for the operations workers than non-operational workers to take paid sick days – perhaps by giving them demerits when they do.
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