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Life of a railroad wife: Isolation, never knowing where a spouse is or when they're coming home

'He cried for like two, three days. He couldn't stop.'
Posted at 7:28 PM, Sep 15, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Liz has been a railroad wife for 16 years. The hardest part of her marriage is actually getting to see her husband.

"We could not have a decent conversation about anything important. We couldn't talk about what we were going to do with so-and-so. We kind of got lost there for several years," Liz said.

Her husband broke down his schedule for 3 News Now: an average worker with a 40-hour work week gets 104 weekend days off. Last year, he only had 49 days off and only 15 of those days were on the weekend. He hasn't gotten a raise in three years and, at one point, worked 450 hours in a month.

It reached a breaking point when Liz saw her husband fall apart after working 13 straight days without any hope for a break.

"He cried, he cried — this is coming back to me, I'm gonna cry," Liz said. "He cried for like two, three days. He couldn't stop."

Conditions like these are why railroad workers were willing to shut down the country.

Kelly Pettus is married to a locomotive engineer. She lives in San Antonio but traveled to Omaha in April to protest outside the Berkshire Hathaway meeting after they celebrated record profits.

"My daughter is two-and-a-half now and, earlier this year, she ended up in the hospital. He gets seven attendance points for every day he misses. They only get 30 for their career," Pettus said.

Feelings of isolation, never knowing where a spouse is or what time they are coming home or going to work — Liz and Pettus say that's the norm for a railroad wife.

"They need to know they're giving their days and nights to people who realize that these people need to be taken care of. I think you've had enough, you finally hit your limit," Liz said.

Liz says she still needs to see the tentative agreement between the railway companies and union leaders. She's still skeptical but is thankful to congressional leaders for stepping up on behalf of the workers.

RELATED: Tentative railway labor deal reached, averting strike

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