House Passes Bill to Prevent Rail Strike But Paid Sick Leave in Limbo

The House passed legislation on Wednesday aimed at avoiding a nationwide freight rail strike in a bipartisan vote, sending it to the Senate, which could act as early as next week. The vote passed 290-137.

The new bill imposes a labor agreement between unions, railroad companies, and the Biden administration that was already rejected by workers in four of the 12 unions - which include the largest and most influential unions. In an effort to appease workers, the House held a separate vote to add seven days of paid sick leave to the original contract, which passed 221-207. 

The Senate can choose to add the sick days or to leave the contract in its original form but is looking to vote on the issue before December 9th, the planned date of the strike.

Progressives Fight for Sick Leave

President Biden asked Congress to intervene quickly because a strike would compromise an already fragile supply chain affecting the U.S. economy right before the holidays. 

House legislators agreed to vote to provide sick days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats threatened to delay the bill, but it ultimately managed to pass in a bipartisan effort. 

The sick days were the main sticking point for workers, lobbyists, and progressives. 

“Today we are here to safeguard the financial security of America’s families," Pelosi said before the vote, noting that failure to pass a bill would cost 750,000 workers their jobs in the first two weeks of a rail strike.

Critics, like the Association of American Railroads, pushed back, with the president and chief executive Ian Jefferies telling the press that “rail employees have access to several leave policies, including sick leave, although those vary by union based on what they’ve bargained for.”

Disputes May Derail Legislation

With days to act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the press, “Leader McConnell and I both want to pass it quickly. We understand the time deadlines, and we’ll be working together and figure out the best way to get it done quickly.”

However, some members of the Senate, namely Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said they would refuse to consider the bill unless extra sick days for workers are guaranteed. Yesterday, Sanders stated that the new act doesn’t protect railroad workers enough. 

“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," Sanders tweeted.

Joining Sanders in the effort to expand provisions for railroad workers is Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“There is plenty of money for these rail companies to provide a few sick days for the people who are actually doing the work," Warren said.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg plan to sit down with Senate Democrats this afternoon to begin discussing the legislation. 


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