Railroad unions pressure Senate on sick leave after close House vote

Railroad unions, which oppose an employment contract brokered by the Biden administration, are pressing the Senate to change the deal to include seven paid sick leave for railroad workers, after the House barely passed by a narrow vote.

Parliament easily passed legislation Wednesday to enforce the labor deal, a move that some unions rejected, a move that would require all unions to abide by the deal and would make it illegal to strike. Dozens of Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to enforce a labor deal that would retroactively give railroad workers a 24 percent salary increase and increase healthcare benefits.

Unions, which still oppose this agreement, are also asking for more leave for health reasons. As a nod to this request, Congress passed a law amending the agreement to give them seven paid sick days. But this vote was much closer, 221-207, and only three Republicans supported this language.

This worries unions that Republicans may not support the language during sick days and may not get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. While the Senate is expected to pass the main agreement, senators did not offer any indication on how the separate vote on Wednesday could lead to sick leave.


Senate leaders are under pressure from railroad unions to approve language that gives workers more sick leave. (via Getty Images Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg | Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images / Getty Images)

As a result, unions are working overtime to lobby the Senate.

“We’re looking for absolutely every Senate office,” Clark Ballew, communications director for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), told FOX Business. “All of our 23,000 members are calling US senators and begging them to add sick leave to this contract.”


BMWED is one of four unions to oppose the original employment contract and is leading efforts to have sick leave language approved in the Senate. Ballew said the group is working with other unions that oppose the deal, and that their top leaders are now lobbying the Senate in Washington.

“BMWED applauds representatives in Congress and all senators who will support railroad workers on paid sick leave,” the group said on its site. “Additional legislation needs to be passed so that rail workers can have basic protections against disease and protection from fines from railroads when workers are most vulnerable.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rail strike

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi quickly brought up a railroad union bill, and she spent it with language that extended sick days for railroad workers. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Another union that opposed the original agreement, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said the transition to the sick leave language would be a step towards “correcting a major omission” in the main agreement.

“We urge the House and Senate to vote in favor of guaranteeing railroad workers seven days of paid sick leave,” the group said. “A worker who goes to the doctor should not be fired. Yet the year is 2022 and railroaders are fighting for sick leave in the richest country in the world.”


The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers (SMART), a large union with more than 200,000 members, opposes the idea of ​​Congress stepping in, but has said it’s best to skip sick leave at this point.

“We ask these elected leaders to stand by our essential workers and urge the House and Senate to vote in favor of guaranteeing railroad workers seven days of paid sick leave,” SMART said. said.

On the other side of the issue are rail freight companies that warned in Congress this week that more sick leave sets a bad precedent that could push other unions to push for Congress to participate when they hit a stalemate.

Congress workers rail strike

More than 100,000 railroad workers were threatening to strike because there was no final union agreement. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“If a negotiating party believes it can get a better deal from Congress than it could through good faith negotiations and legal PEB, the consequences of ratifying such a measure will deter future voluntary deals for freight rails, Amtrak and airlines. [Presidential Emergency Board] “This ignores over 100 years of precedent and clearly hijacks long-standing bargaining procedures,” said Ian Jeffries, President and CEO of the American Railroad Association.

The Senate is expected to ratify the main employment contract, but whichever way the Senate goes on sick leave, this vote will likely determine the end of the fight. Congress’ involvement in railroad union contracts is the final word on these matters, and any strike to protest the absence of sick leave or any other issue would be an illegal strike.

Railroad workers are expected to go on strike until next week, without any deal.


Railroad union agreements are traditionally negotiated every five years, and the current struggle for a new agreement has lasted more than three years. This means that new negotiations will resume after just two years.

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