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Norfolk Southern reaches new paid sick leave deal as it contends with derailment fallout

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A Norfolk Southern Corp. engine car moves through the Lamberts Point coal transloading facility in Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday, March 17, 2010.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Norfolk Southern said Wednesday it agreed to provide up to seven paid sick days per years for members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths.

The deal provides Norfolk Southern’s mechanical railroaders with four paid sick days per year, in addition to three existing days of paid time off that can now be used as sick days. The IBBB is now the ninth of Norfolk Southern’s 12 unions that have negotiated paid sick days, benefitting about 6,000 workers.

The move comes after months of fighting between unions and railraods – including Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF – over paid sick leave. President Joe Biden signed a bill at the end of 2022 to avert a nationwide rail strike. The legislation, however, did not include paid sick leave.

Norfolk Southern announced the deal as the company contends with political and environmental fallout from a last month’s derailment of a train carrying toxic materials in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. Company and government officials have said it’s safe to live in the area following the disaster, although some workers and residents have complained of ailments. Ohio sued the company Tuesday.

The paid sick leave agreement comes two days after Norfolk Southern reached deals with the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Last week, the company announced agreements with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation Workers, Mechanical Department and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The company reached deals with two other unions in February, while two others already had access to paid sick leave benefits.

“We continue to make strides to improve the quality of life of our craft railroaders in partnership with our unions,” said Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw. “Our railroaders help drive the American economy forward, and each of these new agreements helps ensure that they have even more time to manage their personal health and well-being.”

Norfolk Southern did not comment beyond its previously released statements.

In February, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., demanded railroad carriers offer workers at least seven paid sick days. Sanders urged rail companies to “do the right thing” while mentioning the carriers’ record profits. Sanders’ office said that rail companies spent 184% more on shareholder returns than workers’ wages and benefits.

“At the end of the day, in 2023, it is not acceptable to have workers that do dangerous work not to get one sick day,” Sanders said at the time.

–CNBC’s Lori Ann LaRocco contributed to this report.

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