In an article for New York Magazine, Eric Levitz wrote, “For months, the world’s largest economy has been teetering on the brink of collapse because America’s latter-day robber barons can’t comprehend that workers sometimes get sick.”
The robber barons are the railroad companies and unlike 80 percent of this nation’s labor workforce, rail workers are not guaranteed a single paid sick day. If they’re sick and need to take a day off, then they have to eat a vacation day. And even then, they have to give advance notice. Basically, they have to clear it with their boss if it’s OK to catch the flu next week.
Railway workers have been threatening a strike and President Biden has now negotiated for rail workers a 24 percent pay increase by 2024, annual $1,000 bonuses, and a freeze on healthcare costs. But paid sick leave was left out. The president is not against sick leave for rail workers, but leaving it out was the compromise. Championed by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Senate swooped in to provide paid sick leave to rail workers. Unfortunately, there are Republicans in the Senate and it failed. Let’s amend that; Unfortunately, there are Republicans and Joe Manchin in the Senate.
The bill to give rail workers seven days of sick leave a year failed to reach the 60-vote threshold, falling in a 52-43 vote. Shockingly, six Republicans voted for it. Even more shocking is that the GOP yes-voters included Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz. And not as shocking is that the only Democrat to vote against it was… I’ll give one guess. Times up. It was Joe Manchin.
Surely, those Republicans counted the votes before the vote and only voted yes because they knew it would fail. Now they can tell their constituents, “Well, I tried, doggone it, but oh, well.” Joe Manchin voted no because he’s Joe Manchin and on that particular day, he felt like being a bigger asshole than Ted Cruz.
Because of Joe Manchin, Democrats only needed eleven Republicans to agree that rail workers should have paid sick leave. But the people who don’t even have to show up to their jobs voted no. Seriously, if a Senator or House member decides to stay home every single day of their term, they can. Sure, voters can fire them in the next election, but it would literally take an act of Congress for them to be fired by Congress. But a member of Congress can choose to never leave his district, or even his house, and stay home sitting on his couch while eating Bon-Bons and watching Days of our Lives every day while collecting a $174,000 annual salary. But 43 members of the Senate who can do that don’t believe rail workers should be able to take a day off if they get sick.
And railroad barons don’t care if they come to work and share strep throat with everyone because everyone else who catches it can’t take a day off either.
Over the past six years, railways have laid off 30 percent of their workforce. For the remaining employees, it’s like the newspaper industry. Do more with less. Everyone left takes on additional duties. When The Free Lance-Star started laying people off and I survived the first round, they wanted me to add graphic design and photography to my cartoon job. One editor told me I could think of cartoon ideas while driving to and from photo assignments. They also wanted me to go back to school to study graphic design and for me to pay for it. With railways, you can’t get sick.
One way the rail companies save money is by adding as many cars to a train as possible because a 100-car train does not require more workers than a 50-car train. Surely, the freight companies are passing off these savings to consumers, right? Of course not.
Last year, the seven dominant North American railways had a combined net income of $27 billion, nearly twice their margin a decade ago. They’d rather give out raises and bonuses than hire more workers so they can provide actual sick days.
The rail companies could cut into their profits by hiring more workers and actually improving their service, but they don’t have to provide better service because they really don’t have competition. It’s like my internet provider, Cox. No other service will provide internet to my neighborhood, so I’m stuck with Cox which may be the worst in the nation But they can continue to suck and raise prices because I can’t do anything about it except move.
I think we can get eleven Republicans to vote yes on sick leave for train workers, and that involves Train. Let’s lock every Republican senator into a room and blast them with Train songs. No, not songs about trains, but from the band Train. And we don’t let them out until they vote yes on paid sick leave for rail workers. I’ll give them an hour of “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Drops of Jupiter” before they cave. Wait… Republicans have really bad taste and they might like this. Oh no! And now “Hey, Soul Sister” is in my head!
Gyagh!!!!! What have I done?
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