For the first time in about 30 years, Congress has intervened ahead of a potential railroad strike following calls from President Joe Biden to do so.
At Biden’s request, the House of Representatives took action on Wednesday, passing two resolutions. The first resolution, which passed 290-137, would force workers to accept the tentative agreement the Biden administration brokered in September.
That deal included a pay rise and an extra personal day, but fell short of workers’ demands for paid sick leave. Currently, railway workers do not have paid sick leave and must use vacation time instead. In effect, this means that workers must have any leave approved in advance, which means they often have to work if they suffer an unexpected illness or medical emergency. The addition of a single personal day in the September agreement was intended to reflect this concern, although it failed to do so – and prompted several unions to reject the deal.
The second House measure, which passed 221-207, would provide seven paid sick days, in a bid to address workers’ concerns. Three Republicans joined Democrats in endorsing the measure which included sick days.
The move by Democrats to add a vote on paid sick leave comes after a major backlash from lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and railroad unions, who have been disappointed by pressure from Biden to endorse a deal that did not properly address this issue.
Both resolutions now head to the Senate, where the second faces some uncertainty. While Republicans have been willing to push through the White House deal, it’s not yet clear how many would support the addition of paid sick leave. The measures were adopted separately with this in mind; whether or not there is enough GOP support to give workers sick leave, there appear to be enough votes to ensure a strike does not occur before the Dec. 9 bargaining deadline.
The Role of Congress in Reducing Rail Strikes, Briefly Explained
Congress’ approach to this railroad dispute is indicative of the power it has in resolving such disputes.
The Railway Labor Act, which was passed in 1926, gives lawmakers significant leeway on how they might approach the current situation. In addition to approving the tentative agreement, Congress is able to add provisions to it, such as paid sick leave. Lawmakers can also extend the time railroads and workers have to negotiate or set up an independent body to help determine a resolution.
Previously, Congress ended a strike that took place in 1992 by establishing an arbitration system allowing both parties to reach an agreement. “Given they have the power to force a settlement, I don’t think there are any limits to that,” says Brookings economic policy expert Cliff Winston.
As is the case with many bills, the main limitation lawmakers face is the degree of political support any measure can receive. The two resolutions under consideration will need the support of 60 members of the Senate, including 10 Republicans, some of whom expressed their openness to integrating workers’ demands.
“The way to avoid a strike is a new deal that rank-and-file members will support,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). recently wrote in a tweet.
House vote on paid sick leave follows return to work
In his statement calling for congressional action, Biden called himself a “proud pro-Labour president,” a title his recent actions appeared to contradict. While he has certainly supported unions in the past, his call for congressional action to approve the deal with no sick days has drawn the ire of several unions.
“Passing legislation that excludes paid sick leave will not solve rail service problems. On the contrary, it will exacerbate supply chain problems and further sicken, infuriate and deprive railway workers as they continue to shoulder the burden of mismanagement on the railways,” wrote the Brotherhood of Employees. track maintenance.
The AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest labor federations, echoed the statement, calling on Congress to approve paid sick leave as part of its efforts.
“While the tentative agreement negotiated by the unions this year included many critical gains – significant wage increases, caps on health care premiums and preventing crew reduction – it also failed. by not including provisions for paid sick leave or equitable hours,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a statement.
Previously, Biden had stressed that he was concerned that any changes to the existing agreement could cause delays and increase the risk of a strike. In his statement, Biden focused heavily on the significance of the economic fallout if there is no resolution to this impasse. More than 750,000 people could be out of work during the strike and the transportation of food, fuel and other goods could come to a halt, he noted.
Wednesday’s votes by Democrats marked an attempt to balance workers’ demands with concerns about the economic effects that could result if they don’t act quickly enough to fix the problem. The joint review of the September deal and paid sick leave was intended to resolve a politically difficult situation for the party as it sought to juggle competing interests.
Update, November 30, 2 p.m.: This story was originally published on November 29 and has been updated to include the passage of two resolutions by the House.