Railroad workers are unionized and their contract is set to expire on Dec. 9, which has prompted speculation about a possible railroad strike that could disrupt travel and cripple supply chains.
President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh helped broker a tentative deal earlier this year, but four out of 12 rail unions voted against it, mostly because the proposed contract included just one single paid sick day. In their current contract, the workers have zero sick days.
Paid sick leave is an eminently reasonable request, so outlets and pundits framing the potential strike as the fault of workers rather than the greediness of massive rail corporations (who rewarded shareholders with billions in stock buybacks this year alone) is facile at best and offensive at worst.
On Monday, Biden issued a statement saying Congress should intervene immediately and pass legislation to force the tentative contract on the rail workers. Taking this step would erase the workers’ right to strike, and yet, in the same statement, Biden called himself “a proud pro-labor President.”
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted on a bill to adopt the tentative contract, which passed 290-137. Many Democrats were also furious about the sick time issue, so the House also voted on Resolution 119, which would add seven days of paid sick leave to the contract. A whopping 207 Republicans voted against it. The resolution still passed with 221 votes, from 218 Democrats and a measly three Republicans.
Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also pledged to hold a vote on an amendment to add seven paid sick days to the deal.
It’s possible that Congress will extend the existing contract past Dec. 9 to get both sides back at the negotiating table.
The rail workers are only in this situation because Biden asked Congress to prevent a strike, but it’s really adding insult to injury to see so many Republicans vote against their health and wellbeing.