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Labor union holds rail worker solidarity rally in Sparks

A little over a dozen people pose with signs near a highway. They’re all dressed for cold weather.
Nick Stewart
KUNR Public Radio
Rail workers gathered at the railroad memorial park in Sparks, Nev., on Dec. 13, 2022.

Rail workers from across Northern Nevada gathered at a railroad memorial park in Sparks last week to shine a light on a number of issues, including workplace safety and paid sick leave.

President Biden recently signed a bill that made it illegal for rail workers to strike before the holidays. While employees and their unions recently agreed to pay increases, they didn’t find common ground on paid sick time.

“COVID-19 is a continuing thing, the flu is extremely bad right now, and if everybody shows up to work sick and gets their co-workers sick, there’s not going to be anybody to run the trains. We’re going to be exactly back where we are now,” said Gabe Christenson, a 19-year railroader who helped organize the Dec. 13 rally through the Nevada division of SMART, or the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

This demonstration took place at the same time as many others nationwide, including one in Washington D.C., where a federal hearing was underway to address the operations of Union Pacific Railroad.

Safety was another big concern for workers.

“We’re having three-mile-long trains now that are rolling through our communities with extremely hazardous materials, and the infrastructure and the equipment was never made to handle stuff that big,” said Christenson.

Even with a rail strike off the table, as a local union leader, Christenson says that he and his colleagues are not feeling supported despite Biden’s efforts to satisfy both the railroad companies and their employees. As for the rally, they hope they can bring attention to the issue statewide.

Nick Stewart is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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