House Passes Rail Strike Bill and Sick Leave Amendment

The House of Representatives has passed bipartisan legislation (H. J. Res. 100) imposing a new labor contract on railroad workers as proposed by President Biden, which would avert a scheduled national railroad strike next week. The House also passed a partisan amendment (H. Con. Res. 119) that would amend proposed and existing contracts to give rail workers 7 days of paid sick leave per year, but this amendment would have to be adopted separately by the Senate in order to take effect.

H. J. Res. 100 passed the House by a vote of 290 to 137, with Democrats splitting 211 to 8 in favor and Republicans against by a 79 to 129 margin. The legislation wound up getting more than two-thirds of the House in support, which means it could have gone under the “suspension of the rules” procedure used to accelerate minor legislation.

But the “sidecar” sick leave bill passed by a much narrower margin of 221 to 207. All 218 Democrats presented voted yes, and all but three Republicans present voted “no.” (The three GOP “yes” votes were Don Bacon (R-NE), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and John Katko (R-NY)).

The action now goes to the Senate. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are scheduled to brief the Senate Democratic Caucus tomorrow and tell them, among other things, if President Biden actually wants the sick leave bill or not. The original deal struck by Biden and Walsh at a White House meeting in mid-September only gives one sick day to one union, and that agreement is what is being imposed by H. J. Res. 100. The addition of 7 sick days for everyone is, essentially, going back on the deal that Biden agreed to, which puts Biden in an interesting spot.

The White House released a strong Statement of Administration Policy in favor of H. J. Res. 100, but there is no mention of H. Con. Res. 119. After the House vote, Biden released a statement asking the Senate to vote as soon as possible: “The Senate must now act urgently.  Without the certainty of a final vote to avoid a shutdown this week, railroads will begin to halt the movement of critical materials like chemicals to clean our drinking water as soon as this weekend.  Let me say that again: without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin. The Senate must move quickly and send a bill to my desk for my signature immediately.”

But, again, Biden’s statement made no mention of the sick leave amendment. The White House press secretary later said “The President believes that a bill averting a rail strike needs to reach his desk by this weekend…Of course, of course he supports paid sick leave for all Americans, including rail workers, but he does not support any bill or amendment that would delay getting that bill to his desk by this Saturday.”

(See a long back-and-forth on this subject starting just after the 52 minute mark here.)


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