A crowd of about 200 protesters picketed President Joe Biden’s visit to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Dorchester Friday afternoon, decrying the bill the president signed just hours earlier to enforce a settlement between railroads and major rail worker unions as the threat loomed of a freight rail strike.
The protestors, who included railroad workers, members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and other union members, denounced the measure, which they say denies them the right to strike for benefits like paid sick leave. The bill was hastily passed through Congress this week after members of several unions voted down a contract — negotiated with Biden’s help in September — that did not include paid sick time, threatening a nationwide strike that the White House worried would damage an already-shaky economy.
Protestors, holding signs bedecked with messages like “striking is a human right” and “please support sick days for workers” chanted “paid leave now” outside the museum, where Biden was meeting with Prince William as part of William’s three-day visit to Boston.
Nick Wurst, a freight train conductor with CSX and a member of Rail Workers United who works out of Framingham, said it is “unacceptable” that politicians “who have unlimited sick time” can make this decision on behalf of rail workers “who are exhausted, who are on call 24/7 365, who move goods all across the country and who have been through — pardon my French — who have been through hell in the last three years.”
“It’s absurd that those people are able to say, ‘We don’t care that you voted this contract down. We don’t care that you’re ready to fight. You don’t have that option anymore,’” said Wurst, 26, on a phone call prior to the protest. “It’s denying our fundamental right, as workers, to fight for the jobs that we spend the majority of our waking days at.”
President Biden said he signed the measure in an effort to avoid disrupting supply chains ahead of the holiday season and causing a recession. The move has drawn fire from those who say it is hypocritical coming from a self-described pro-worker and pro-union president, but Biden said he feels he had little choice.
“The bill I’m about to sign ends a difficult rail dispute and helps our nation avoid what without a doubt would have been an economic catastrophe at a very bad time in the calendar,” said Biden on Friday. He added that he has “supported paid sick leave for a long time,” and would “continue that fight until we succeed.”
Paul Garver, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, said Biden was unfairly overriding the demands of the workers by signing the measure.
“The railway workers deserve scheduling relief and paid sick leave, and that’s the will of the people and to simply impose it without that is to just give into the lobbying of the railroad industry,” he said.
Suzanne Kreiter of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.