A group of about 25 activists and union members gathered Wednesday at the Inner Harbor to demand sick leave for freight railroad workers after Congress passed legislation to block a nationwide strike last week.
At the rally organized by Cindy Farquhar of the Baltimore Ad Hoc Coalition to Support Freight Railroad Workers, protesters in McKeldin Square took turns using a megaphone to voice their support for railroad workers and decry President Joe Biden’s intervention in negotiations.
“What Biden did was a huge middle finger to the working class,” said Jayden Jones, who said he heard about the rally from a Discord server. “He and his supporters called him the most progressive president ever and now he’s just doing union busting.”
Biden signed a bill Friday binding rail companies and workers to a proposed agreement that union leaders approved in September. Four of the 12 unions, which represent a majority of rail workers, had voted to reject the agreements, creating the possibility of a strike beginning this Friday.
Congress passed legislation that made it illegal for workers to strike, preventing service disruptions for commuter trains in the Baltimore area that run on lines owned and operated by Jacksonville, Florida-based freight railroad CSX. The law imposed a contract that included 24% raises for workers but not paid sick days.
On Wednesday, activists holding signs in support of workers faced rush-hour traffic on Light Street, garnering a few supportive honks from passing motorists.
“I’m out here to show support for the railroad workers, who have a union, and to say, stop the government from strikebreaking!” said Sharon Black, an Amazon worker. “Railroad workers have a right to dignity and certainly to sick leave.”
Many attendees were members of socialist groups or unions, including the newly formed union representing Enoch Pratt Free Library workers, the Baltimore Teachers Union and electricians’ union IBEW Local 24.
“Every working person must stand tall for the right to strike. That is the most precious right that workers have,” said Tim Wheeler, a former Baltimore resident and member of the Communist Party-USA.
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“It is outrageous that the railroad companies such as CSX ... deny paid sick leave for workers doing the most dangerous work that can be done,” he said.
Farquhar said she organized the rally because she was fed up with how rail workers were being treated.
“I’ve been watching the news and I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand the way the railroad workers were union-busted,” she said in an interview.
Baltimore has played an important role in the history of rail strikes.
In 1877, Maryland Gov. John Lee Carroll called in the National Guard to quell an uprising by striking railroad workers protesting wage cuts, a clash that set off a chain of work stoppages in other cities that became the first general strike in U.S. history.
“Baltimore is the city where the Great Railroad Strike basically exploded,” Farquhar said. “Baltimore cannot be a silent city on this issue.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.