Congressional 'Trains Running On Time' Update: Do Rail Workers Deserve Paid Sick Leave? Senate Just Not Sure!
The House voted Wednesday to pass legislation requested by President Joe Biden to head off a national railroad strike, and followed that up with a second bill that would provide seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers. The lack of sick leave had been the chief reason some rail unions had opposed the labor agreement the White House helped negotiate back in September.
Eight of the 12 railroad unions ratified that agreement, but four unions have not, because of the sick leave issue. And if the four holdout unions go on strike, the others have existing agreements not to cross picket lines.
The House vote yesterday, which passed 290 to 137 with bipartisan support, would impose the September contract agreement on the railroad industry and unions, preventing a potentially catastrophic shutdown of freight traffic right before the holidays. The unions are set to strike starting on December 9 if there's no contract agreement with the railroads, or if Congress doesn't step in to impose a contract, one of those oddball powers Congress has under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
To address railroad workers' opposition to the shortcomings of the September deal, the House added the separate bill to provide seven days of paid sick leave. That one passed largely along party lines, 221 to 207, with only three Republicans joining Democrats. In recent days, a number of Republicans had been making noises about how the GOP is now the party of working Americans, but surprise, that was mostly hot air again.
Before the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged bipartisan support for both measures, saying,
We know much more needs to be done for railroad workers.[...] No one should be at risk of losing his or her job by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor or getting lifesaving surgery.
It's not clear whether the sick leave provision will actually survive in the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have promised to pass the bill to impose the contract on the industry and workers, to keep the trains running.
But there's no such consensus on sick leave; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said Tuesday that he will hold up a vote on the central bill until there's at least a vote on his amendment to provide sick leave. In a tweet, Sanders wrote,
At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. It’s my intention to block consideration of the rail legislation until a roll call vote occurs on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers in America.
As NBC News reports, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) also said the final bill should include sick leave, arguing that
"There is plenty of money for these rail companies to provide a few sick days for the people who are actually doing the work.”
And while he touted Biden as “the most pro-union president of our lifetimes,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he hasn’t decided how he will vote yet.
Just to complicate things a bit in the Senate, a few Republicans have pretended they're pro-worker, so maybe they won't support the legislation to head off a strike, because they've suddenly become very pro-union, wink-wink nudge-nudge. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said in a statement that he'd prefer to let the unions and management resolve their differences on their own, without government intervention. Which of course would mean an economically devastating strike, but it would be Joe Biden's fault that way, no problem for Rubio. Here's Marco Rubio, standing on a table and holding up his big Norma Rae sign very sincerely:
Just because Congress has the authority to impose a heavy-handed solution does not mean we should. [...] It is wrong for the Biden Administration, which has failed to fight for workers, to ask Congress to impose a deal the workers themselves have rejected.
Somebody should probably explain to Rubio that not having a spine is very different from actually being a Wobbly.
We'll keep you updated on where this goes; most likely, there'll be a vote on Sanders's paid leave amendment, but it won't get the ten Republican votes needed to pass, and the trains will keep running. But who knows, maybe there'll be an early Festivus miracle and the whole thing will pass, what with all these fabulously pro-worker Republicans sounding off about their support for labor. Just watch out for all the flying pigs, the snowballs emerging from Hell, and the monkeys flying out of Marco Rubio's butt.
[NBC News / Reuters / NYT / Politico / Image created using Stable Diffusion AI]
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