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Democrats vote to contract railroad workers without paid sick leave

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to impose a union contract on railroad workers to avoid a massive strike, but lawmakers did not include paid sick leave in the deal, as many workers had demanded.

The wishes of the railroad workers were essentially dismissed by most Democrats who feared the devastating economic consequences of a strike, including job losses and soaring inflation.

Thursday 80-15 vote allows President Joe Biden to sign a bill ending a standoff between unions and the nation’s largest rail carriers before an impending strike deadline. Without the intervention of Congress and the White House, workers would be allowed off the job – or their employers could lock them out – starting Dec. 9.

Not including paid sick leave for workers is embarrassing for Democrats who have championed the issue of paid sick leave for all workers for years. The United States is the only wealthy country that does not require employers to give their employees paid time off to recover from illness. IIt’s also detrimental to Biden, who has fashioned himself the most “pro-union president” in history.

The House approved the imposition of the rail deal and the addition of sick leave in two separate votes, creating the possibility of the Senate dropping the sick leave measure. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) said progressive members see it as the best chance to make workers pay for sick leave, as there would likely be enough votes to implement the contract anyway. .

It’s the best we can do [with] the hand that was distributed to us, said on Twitter. “[The White House] threw this at us.

But the sick leave amendment fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Forty-six Democrats and six Republicans voted to grant paid sick leave to railway workers.

Another embarrassment for Democrats is that some Republicans supported sick leave, but not all Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) voted against, while Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lindsey Graham (SC), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Braun (Ind. ) and John Kennedy (La.) voted for.

“I’m very reluctant to set a precedent for us to get involved,” Manchin told HuffPost, echoing the same argument several Republicans have made against intervening in the rail dispute.

Manchin said it didn’t matter that Hawley supported a sick leave amendment since he voted against the underlying bill changed by the amendment.

“He’s against it all, so it’s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it?” Manchin said.

Railway workers are subject to different collective bargaining rules than most other workers in the private sector, and it is much more difficult for them to strike. If the two parties fail to reach an agreement, Congress has the ability to step in and mandate a resolution because a strike or lockout could have devastating consequences for the national economy.

The push to include paid sick leave for railroad workers in the bill has been led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who lambasted the railroads for making record profits while refusing to address the needs of their employees.

“Last year, the rail industry made record profits of $20 billion after cutting its workforce by 30% over the past six years. Meanwhile, railway workers have no guaranteed paid sick days. Congress needs to stand with the railroad workers,” Sanders said ahead of the vote.

A dozen unions representing more than 100,000 workers have negotiated new contracts with the nation’s major rail carriers, including CSX, BNSF and Norfolk Southern. Four of the 12 unions, including the largest, rejected a recent agreement brokered by the Biden administration. One of the main sticking points has been sick leave.

Railway workers do not have dedicated paid sick leave. Unions have pushed up to 15 paid sick days during negotiations, but carriers have maintained that they should have to use paid personal time off and vacations that they have negotiated over the years. A mediation panel established by Biden on the side of the carriersclaiming that paid sick leave would be too costly.

Railway workers complained of brutal schedules and being punished simply for going to the doctor. Carriers have cut their workforce by nearly 30% in six years, and unions say their members are increasingly overworked.

“The large majority [of us] are on call, 24/7,” Ross Grotens, a railroad worker from Iowa, told HuffPost on Tuesday. “We don’t know in advance when we can leave. It’s really hard to program anything, or just exist.

In a tentative agreement, the carriers offered an extra day of paid time off and said workers could step off the schedule three times a year for medical visits without being penalized, although that time is unpaid. The package would raise wages by 24% over five years.

Union leaders presented this offer to their members and many workers rejected it as insufficient.

As soon as Biden called on Congress to enforce a deal the unions rejected, Rubio and Hawley — two Republicans who have said the GOP should become the workers’ party — scoffed at the idea of ​​Congress stepping in to wrap it up. a deal Biden couldn’t ‘close’. They have also pledged to support sick leave.

“I don’t think Congress should be in a position to have to negotiate labor agreements, but if we’re forced to, then I’ll only support one that acquiesces to workers’ priorities,” Rubio told the HuffPost. .

Hawley described his votes for the leave but against the underlying agreement as honoring union members who voted against the deal in the first place. “These are hard working people. They are just trying to support their families. It is dangerous work. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a few days off sick.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh had lunch with Senate Democrats Thursday and urged them to vote for the deal — but not add sick leave, according to Manchin.

“They were very clear: what we have is the deal that was negotiated and it’s a fair deal,” Manchin said.



The Huffington Gt

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