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Congress Blocks Rail Strike, Imposes Biden’s Contract, Leave Paid Sick Leave for Future Fight

Back in September, President Joe Biden played a crucial role in getting railroad bosses and union leaders to forge a contract agreement and save the nation from a railroad strike. Before Thanksgiving, eight unions representing 55,000 freight rail workers, ratified the contract, but four, representing 60,000, rejected the deal. Facing a strike deadline of December 9, $2 billion a day in potential economic damage, and a lot of holiday freight—not so much presents, but fuel and the chlorine we need to clean drinking water—getting stuck at the shipyards, President Biden told Congress to impose his September settlement and make a strike illegal. Congress has obliged:

The Senate has approved a measure meant to avert a railroad strike in eight days — without the paid sick days rail workers have been asking for.

Senators passed the bill to force unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year between railroad managers and their workers and make an imminent strike illegal — without making any changes — by an 80-15 vote. They rejected a measure to offer paid sick leave, 52-43. Both measures required 60 votes to clear the Senate.

Both bills cleared the House on Wednesday.

Biden applauded the move and vowed to sign it as soon as Congress sends it to his desk — which could happen as soon as Friday.

“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” he said in a statement [Ximena Bustillo, “Senate Passes Railroad Legislation to Prevent a Strike,” NPR, 2022.12.01].

Union members are mad that Congress and the President aren’t giving them paid sick leave, the major provision they were fighting for. A few Republicans are trying to spin the exclusion of paid sick leave from this deal as a failure of the Biden Administration:

Some in the GOP used the issue to attack Biden from the left, portraying the proposed congressional action as a betrayal of workers. “Asking Congress to meddle in this & turn its back on workers is insane,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott, who like fellow Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the deal [Ben White, “Inside Biden’s Decision to Halt a Rail Strike,” Politico, 2022.11.29].

But (1) get real: Republicans blocked that proposal, with nearly all of their House and Senate members voting against it, (2) standing and fighting for paid sick leave within this contract could have delayed Congressional action until January, when the incoming House Republican majority may well have fought for a worse deal for workers, and (3) President Biden, ever the artist of the possible, says he’ll keep working to get paid sick leave for railroaders and other workers, just outside the time constraints of a strike deadline that could have sent the economy in a hole for the holidays:

“I think we’re going to get it done, but not within this agreement,” Biden said when asked if the rail workers deserve more than one day of paid sick leave. “We’re going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and I’m going to go back and we’re going to get paid leave, not just for rail workers, but for all workers.”

…“If in fact this shuts down over the question of one to five or seven or nine or whatever the number is … of paid leave days, it’s going to immediately cost 750,000 jobs and cause a recession,” Biden said, arguing what had been negotiated in September was “so much better than anything they ever had.”

“I’m going to continue to fight for paid leave for not only rail workers but for all American workers,” Biden said [Brett Samuels, “Biden on Rail Worker Sick Leave: ‘We’re Going to Get It Done But Not Within This Agreement’,” The Hill, 2022.12.01].

Rail workers deserve paid sick leave as part of their compensation for the vital work they do for the nation. Perhaps Democrats can press their advantage next week (after the Warnock/Walker runoff in Georgia, so as not to enflame any conservative tempers that could sway the vote to put an idiot-puppet in the Senate), vote to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, and push paid sick leave and other Democratic priorities to the President’s desk for Christmas.


  1. John 2022-12-02 07:51

    I’d place any Deadwood odds that most South Dakota rail workers voted FOR Thune, Rounds, Johnson, and trump – in other words most rail workers voted against their interest. They fell for the echo chamber of lies of faux social issues.
    Now, all of sudden, it matters because the republicans in the house and senate voted against paid leave for rail workers. Just how did one expect they would vote?! They’ve NEVER been pro worker. They are pro corporation. Always have been. Meanwhile the congress critters have unlimited paid sick leave.

    Restated from another: the majority of Americans support paid sick leave for rail workers, the majority in the rail unions support paid sick leave for rail workers, A majority of senators voted for it. It doesn’t pass. This country is not remotely a democracy.

  2. Nick Nemec 2022-12-02 08:07

    Joe Biden understands that politics is about the art of the possible. You take what you can get today and come back tomorrow to continue the good fight. The GOP doesn’t give a crap about workers despite their hand wringing.

  3. O 2022-12-02 08:27

    No. This needed to be the time that labor got to say that “good enough” is not good enough. With all due respect to Cory’s reporting, it leads out the context of the negotiations. It leaves out that rail carriers are enjoying record profits — $20billion this year; it leaves out the work force has been reduces 30% over the past years to achieve those profits; it leads out that carriers have used stock buybacks to enrich shareholders and CEOs which has left companies too cash poor to pay for worker benefits; it leads out that rail okras currently have NO paid sick leave; one worker even died of a heart attack after being told he had no vacation time to see a doctor and report to work after complaining of chest pain; it leaves out that four of the unions involved in this negotiation voted to reject the Biden negotiated settlement.

    Biden made a deal that was too sweet — in the whole context — for the management. This is a story of corporate greed to the point of exploitation of the men and women who do the work to make those profits for the management and owners. This is a story about mismanagement. It is a story about how a Democrat party once stood for labor but now does not. This is how the rust belt went for Trump in 2020: the slow disillusion of basic bread-and-butter democratic middle-class ideals.

    With all due respect, Nick, I disagree. This was the time to make a stand. The House did a version with that with the second measure of the seven sick days (but that should have been in the original bill — not a separate bill). Biden made a bad deal and he did not have to do that. He could have mandated the sick leave that he KNEW was a hang up for many of the unions. Mandatory sick leave is SUPPOSED to be a cornerstone of Democrat’s national legislative agenda and they did a hard pass when put to the test here.

    This all is a shameful display of corporate Democrats abandoning their core constituency. They DESERVE to lose elections for actions like this.

  4. BobJ 2022-12-02 08:42

    O, you are just another delusional republican who swallowed the trump pill. The democrats will fight for the sick leave and the republicans will obstruct. You just watch.

    I wish I was wrong on this, but I am not.

  5. O 2022-12-02 08:43

    Correction, I got on a rant: Corry does fully report that four unions did reject the Biden negotiated deal. I was wrong on that.

  6. O 2022-12-02 09:00

    Bobj, the Democrats COULD have made the sick leave part of the original package Biden negotiated. Instead of labor having to swallow all the concessions, management could have been the one to “take one for the team” to avoid the rail shut down. Instead, all this had to be framed as labor being the ones to decide if they were going to take the deal or not because all the terms were fully agreeable to management. Biden and his administration did not have to come at this from that point-of-view; in fact, he had said that he would be the big supporter of labor. He failed in that. He did not have to put 15 sick days in the agreement — even 3 would have been movement in the right direction; he negotiated ZERO.

    I am not a delusional Republican, I am a union true-believer who is tired of corporate greed getting the upper hand — even when in situations when it seems like unions should be getting a fair shake but somehow corporate interests still get tipped in favor by the democratically-electedl.

  7. M 2022-12-02 09:31

    Hey O, not all unions, affiliations, and associations are created equal. Furthermore, the states and the feds treat them differently.

    Police unions have helped their members get immunity for murder and the taxpayers’ foot the payoffs. The benefits depend upon the states.

    Doctors’ associations have always been powerful; however, they won’t be any good against those red states who want to jail them for life saving abortions. Not when it’s the law.

    Associations for teachers are different from state to state. They have power in California, zip in S.D.

    Transportation unions are powerful enough to mess up the economy and everyone’s lives. Do we want that ever, but especially right now? I know it’s hard not to have sick days but bringing things to a halt is a whinny way to get empathy out of me. Compromise….their insurance is excellent, the wages are enviable from a teacher’s perspective, and more than half the country goes without sick leave.

    Thank you, Biden. Now if this were Reagan, everyone would be fine with it right?

  8. O 2022-12-02 09:51

    M, first, let me acknowledge my passion on this topic. Especially in this instance where it seemed that the deck was SO stacked in labor’s favor. Labor had to get a win this time — it HAD to. Labor’s guy (Biden) was mediating and management had been so bad, and this industry, as you point out, is SO crucial to the economy . . . This was the watershed moment to condemn corporate greed. This was the moment that a Democrat president would say that the era of respect for the worker was BACK!

    Instead, all the onus falls on the worker again. The raise is fine — but not great. Spread out over five years, I’m not sure it even keeps up with inflation, much less matches the production gains or record-profit gains that industry has enjoyed over that span. What good is insurance when you are unable to leave work to use it? Saying wages are enviable to teachers is the definition of damnation by faint praise. And as for half the country going without sick leave, this was the turning point to make that hard turn to chart the better path.

    I guess what I’m saying is that this should have been better than “business as usual” this time. The stars had aligned for better than that and Biden let it go. That is why Trump et al remains a political threat — because Democrats keep that door open.

  9. Richard Schriever 2022-12-02 10:25

    O – I sometimes work on highway projects (for a closed-shop unionized company) that cross RR rights of way. I have been sorely tempted to apply for a job as an “observer” of said projects for the RRs. That job entails watching the project’s process to assure all is performed in proper accord with the engineering standards. It also entails calling in every Thursday to be offered options as to which of any projects in the works one might care to – OR NOT – observe. When and where one works in that capacity is entirely up to the observer. I

    I have also had the opportunity to engage in conversation with other RR workers about their working conditions, pay and so on. Pay is excellent. Benefits are excellent.

    I fully understand your POV. But……….. RR work on the whole – one can always find a few anecdotes to counter – is quite attractive.

  10. Mark Anderson 2022-12-02 10:59

    O, Marco Rubio agrees with you wholeheartedly.

  11. O 2022-12-02 11:20

    Mark, in the Senate, Republicans Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marco Rubio of Florida all voted to put the sick leave provision into the settlement. That is my point, Democrats open the door to these opportunists. Maybe there is some sincerity with some of them, but the GOP gets to start making waves again about being the party of the working man. It does underscore the undermined credibility Democrats have on the labor issue that cost Democrats the reliably blue rust belt states. Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania . . . are all states that should NEVER be in play for Republicans, but are because of events like what is happening with this rail worker action. How many times do Democrats have to be told that their constituents feel unheard!? (Or set aside to the interests of Big Business profit?!)

  12. bearcreekbat 2022-12-02 12:27

    The idea that workers should respond by voting for against Democrats (i.e. for Republicans) in future elections because Democrats “DESERVE to lose elections for actions like this” is unfortunate and seems over the top, given the standard anti-union history of the Republican party (notwithstanding some apparently meaningless inconsistent Republican votes for paid leave). It reminds me of the chorus in a classic Jerry Jeff’s Walker tune:

  13. O 2022-12-02 13:30

    Corporate-aligned Democrats who have grown fat from the riches of the wealthy and aligned themselves with those interests above the interests of the working men and women of this nation are owed no allegiance from those voters. Voting Republican doesn’t advance working interests any further (although it doesn’t seem to do much better to stay Democrat); instead how about primary out those corporate Democrats for some new blood who will support labor? There has to be more choice than bad Democrat and worse Republican — neither of whom are looking out to rebuild a strong middle class. bearcreekbat, I would say that voters should not wait until November to express their contempt for officeholders’ actions when faced with only the false dichotomy of partisan choice.

    Otherwise your argument is that Democrats are exempt from criticism and accountability from corporate shilling as long as they stay just a bit ahead of Republicans on the despicable scale in doing so.

  14. Arlo Blundt 2022-12-02 15:29

    BNSF and others in the long haul business are printing money…Warren Buffett is doing quite well, thank you. Railroad Unions, which are not part of the Social Security system but have their own retirement do quite well for their workers, who are essential to our economy. It’s outdoor work in the winter, dangerous, and well paid. Why they do not have paid sick leave is a mystery, but they obviously have passed on that benefit in the past to receive other pay and benefits. Given the history, they should probably be able to negotiate that perk in the future. Given our supply chain difficulties, we cannot have the railroads shut down.

  15. Mark Anderson 2022-12-02 16:38

    Actually O, Marco Rubio said something like “shouldn’t we help the working class” to fellow Republicans. Something like that quite awhile back. All because they were voting for them. He’s rather a Rino in many ways. Of course he was a Catholic, became a Mormon, came back to Catholicism. He’s that way in everything. For now he’s whatever the flavor of the year Republicanism is.

  16. Mark Anderson 2022-12-02 17:12

    O, I’m all for unions. My father ran the IBEW in South Dakota, in his “spare” time. The AFL-CIO wanted him as president, he declined for financial reasons and was vice president, again in his spare time. People in Highmore were blown away at his funeral because so many people from all over the state showed up. They told me glowing things about him and his total support of the working man. I knew it because the year before I drove him on a trip to Montana. We stopped at every dam site for meetings. I went with him to St. Louis where I saw the delegates out vote what the leader of the IBEW wanted to do. So much for union bosses. Democrats have always supported unions. Where have you ever seen a Democratic governor’s try to disrupt a vote for a union? Republican’s do it all the time.
    I agree with you that Democrats need to push it more. Union’s will make America more fair, more so than government action. All the right to work for less states need to vote Democratic. Union workers need to work within the Democratic party and not sit on their hands and let Republican’s win.

  17. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-12-02 17:35

    Read up on unbiased histories of guilds, associations, and unions. IDGAF what current politicians (D or R) blabber about – none of them eviscerated turkeys in Elizabeth, MN, in 1974.

  18. bearcreekbat 2022-12-02 18:02

    O, just to clarify, I don’t advocate giving any politician a pass, whether Democrat or Republican. In my view, no politician is exempt from criticism and accountability for bad votes or bad policy positions, but that certainly offers no justification for voting for another politician with an even worse voting record or worse policy positions. My point is simply that it is better to support a candidate that may disappoint you some of the time, or even a lot of the time, over a candidate that disappoints you most of the time or all of the time. To abandon the former and support the latter, either by a vote or by staying away is self-defeating and will not make matters better. Of course finding and choosing candidates in the voter’s party primary whose views align more of that voter’s views is exactly the rational choice, such as your suggestion to reject “those corporate Democrats for some new blood who will [better] support labor,”

    The reality of our current two party system seems to actually confirm that the dichotomy of partisan choice in anything but false. So far, recent history has shown that voting for a third party that might be more progressive or more conservative that one of the two parties has only worked to the advantage of the opposite party by splitting the vote between moderates and those with more extreme views.

  19. Jenny 2022-12-02 18:18

    The IBEW is popular here in MN, Mark. Any electrician I know is proud to be in it and any young electrician’s goal when they become a journey man electrician here in MN is to get into the coveted IBEW. Better pay and guaranteed pension. I always support my local IBEW by hiring them if I ever need work done.

    Frankly it’s sickening and makes me upset that the supposed proud Union supporter that Biden claims he is, can not support these railroad workers. This is what I’ve been saying for a long time, there is not much difference between the two Parties anymore – it’s Republican and Republican Lite and the Corporate Dems can go to Hell for all I care. At least the Pubs are upfront with most things, anti-LGBT, anti-living wage, anti-Union. The Corporate Dems pretend to be Pro-Union until they vote against the working class. Paid sick leave, how dare Union workers fight for such a luxury. Who do they think they are? Sick leave is what most industrial countries have but welcome to America. It just always has to be about the bottom line here. Always. When you treat your employees well you will have happier families and a more robust and healthier economy but workers in this country get nothing but left over crumbs from corporations.
    Vote Progessive and REAL change will happen.

  20. Jake 2022-12-02 18:21

    Stop and think, somewhat, as to WHY those six GOP stalwart senators who are trumpist kool-aid drinkers from the start would even consider voting for a Democrat proposal for sick leave after being totally against “ANYTHING” the Dems brought forward for years??!!! A caucus of GOP senators before that vote was taken ‘stood them up’ to look like they were on labor’s side finally; but only after having their ‘arse’ handed to them on a platter in the mid-terms elections. They will now be bleating loudly about how they “backed labor” on that vote-just to curry favor from some shallow thinkers of their party who think the GOP will help the common man out.

  21. O 2022-12-02 21:24

    Mark, My father was IBEW as well. In fact, my first job was as an apprentice on an IBEW job. Union work is all I have ever know.

    I have followed the reporting closely around this iteration of the rail worker negotiations; I had such high hopes that the White House direct intervention in the contract negotiations, which had been effectively stalled since COVID, would give Pres. Biden the opportunity to put some action to his boast as a “Pro worker/ Pro-union President.” The bottom line is that the agreement that he spearheaded was little if anything in substance better for workers than was previously at the table before his insertion. He didn’t use the power of the bully pulpit to put corporate greed and mismanagement on trial — instead he bargained an agreement that even at the table was know that many of the union rank-and-file would not find acceptable. The owners were fine with it. The owners were never put under the onus of being possibly responsible for shutting down the rail system because they got what they wanted in negotiations; labor was again the ones told to give in to make the peace. The issue of contention was paid sick leave which fundamentally comes down to ownership facing up to years of draconian workforce downsizing for profit.

    Why? Why didn’t Biden put corporations to the test? Why put all the responsibility (and potential blame for the shutdown/strike) on the workers? Why weave all this into a typical GOP narrative of the big-bad-selfish union workers and the victim of the US society? I know bearcreekbat is right about how this would have been worse under Reagan (and was with the air traffic controllers), but how do I and others effectively channel the outrage of such a squandered opportunity when “our guy” let us down SO fully at such a crucial moment? I feel now that I’m fully understanding how Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pensylvania . . . felt watching the erosion of strong Democratic ideals in their leaders year after year until it gets to the point that they don’t even recognize them as Democrats any more. Worse yet, you feel like nobody has your back — it becomes a personal betrayal.

    Jake, the point I will make over and over is that it is easier for those GOP opportunists to sell that lie (of helping the working class) when there is no Democrat accomplishment to weigh against those empty promises. In 2020, I don’t think voters really believed Trump as much as they had stopped believing the Democrats — or more accurately were tired of being disappointed by the Democrats lack of accomplishments in making their lives better — ore even ebbing the spiral downward: the loss of jobs, erosion of wages, collapse of cities — all under the shadow of millionaire investors getting richer and richer.

    This is bad politics. At its core, this is what catapulted Trump over Clinton and will be the Achilles heel for Democrats moving forward again and again; but they refuse to learn the lesson and take a stand to be on the side of the majority of who will elect them at the polls.

  22. M 2022-12-03 09:05

    O, obviously you are very knowledgeable about this topic, and I admire that. However, some of the hardest labor jobs don’t have unions and the RR workers are envied in this area for the benefits they have after retirement. While most around me are on Social Security and Medicare, they worry every time it’s mentioned that cuts will be made. And the bennies they do have don’t match the hard work they’ve done all their lives.

    What I want is Everyone with health care, sick days, day care, living wages, vacations, and pensions. The people who already have these things are more likely to be productive, happy, physically and emotionally healthy, have self-definition, and take fewer days off. Many have time to volunteer in their communities and run for local offices etc.

    Honestly, I didn’t know that RR workers didn’t have paid sick days, yet now is not the time to be so pissed at democrats. For goodness sakes look at the mess in Washington and wait for the next round of negotiations. There are more important things that Biden has to accomplish before January when the rascally Republicans get in to undo everything.

  23. All Mammal 2022-12-03 10:52

    I love how you said that, M. You provide a valuable perspective.

  24. O 2022-12-04 09:47

    This discussion and this issue shows how broken the Democratic Party and Democrats have become. When Republicans speak of the reforms they expect, they do not nibble at the edges about the incremental; they speak of deregulation of industries, of overturning decades of Court precedent . . . with BIG change. When Republicans speak of changing how wealth is distributed, they speak (spoke) of millionaires becoming BILLIONAIRES.

    Democrats once believed in a middle-class and took revolutionary steps to achieve that. Democrats once saw a broken social system and took revolutionary steps to enact a social safety net to protect the poorest. Both were WILDLY popular and led this nation to unprecedented growth — even as we taxed at rates of 70 and upper 90% of income to make them happen. Corporations were required t do public good as a requirement of their very existence. Unions democratized the workplace so that the owner/management’s greed would be checked by common respect to the workers that create those profits.

    Many people elected President Biden with the hope that he would take the steps, as a self-professed friend of labor, to chart pathways back to some of those better times. He moved the needle some with President Obama (and Speaker Pelosi) with the Affordable Care Act. This railway negotiation was a time when he did not need Congressional approval to hammer out a deal; he had the opportunity to put corporate greed on trial for its failures to the working men and women. He had the power to honestly have the backs of unions. This is where I have a disagreement with M, we cannot cower because some have it worse and that could be us; we must fight to bring ANY up in a fight to ratchet ALL up. Nobody gets ahead when we point to those trying and say that “they already have ti better than some.” I would also say that we have come to have a warped view of “doing well” when we look at some of these groups.” Remember how the GOP sets their goalposts? President Biden did not move the needle to help in that creation of expectations. He caved to GOP thinking on labor. That won’t save him from Republican attacks in 2024 — it only weakens him in the eyes of Democrats (as I’ve written ad nauseam). Democrats need to adopt the “Go Big or Go Home” mantra of using time in office and opportunities provided at those times to make change. I am about to die of old age waiting for promised change.

  25. All Mammal 2022-12-04 10:11

    What would happen if teachers went on strike in order to get paid a livable wage? Or go big and demand a comfortable wage so they can retire without needing a ride from M to the food bank and to sign up for food stamps? Would President Biden or anybody have their backs? It isn’t possible because teachers can’t negotiate pay in SD. That is illegal. Teachers unions are criminal. Who is going to do the talking for teachers? Schools are taking another cut while we have billions in the state coffers. See? That is why we are where we are.. waiting. Because our kids’ education has been neglected and no investment gets put into those who teach the young people. We wind up with Noems and the ignorant people who keep electing ignorance. Good for the railworkers. They work hard and deserve what they ask for. Boy, we need them so we can have our power and stuff. Make Buffet pay for their days off.

  26. O 2022-12-05 09:46

    All Mammal, this piece from Alternet seemed to answer your larger question just as you asked it. It focuses on the power of the strike and how even Democrats have worked to take its power away — tipping the scale to favor corporate power:

    The last point I’ll make on the rail specific discussion is when Obama was president, he signed an executive order stating some guidelines ALL government contractors must. meet to get contracts. Those included meeting a $15.00 minimum wage, nondiscrimination hiring policies, and a requirement of 56 hours (7 days) of paid sick leave). The sick leave was specifically exempted for railway workers in those requirements. They were left out as a concession to railway owners. Biden could end that exemption — but has not. Again, when will the “friend of labor” BE THE FRIEND OF LABOR?

  27. bearcreekbat 2022-12-05 11:34

    O, as I understand the news reports, the Senate, not Biden, rejected the House bill imposing paid sick leave to end the strike threat. According to a CNBC news report, the Constitution explicitly empowers Congress, not the President, to impose a resolution to avoid a railroad strike:

    Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has ruled it can use that authority to intervene in disputes by rail labor that have the potential to affect trade across state lines

    The report, however, adds:

    A nearly century-old law, the Railway Labor Act (RLA) of 1926, gives the president the authority to intervene as well in situations where a rail strike could significantly affect essential transportation.

    But in checking the apparent powers of the President under the RLA law it simply doesn’t appear that President Biden could have unilaterally obtained paid sick leave for railroad workers. The RLA apparently does not empower the President to impose either paid leave nor any other terms on the railroads. Rather, at most it looks like a President has only the power, acting through a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), to order medication and if that failed, the PEB can only make yet another recommendation to Congress.

    . . . The RLA also provides mandatory dispute resolution procedures (outlined below) that preclude strikes over union representation and grievance disputes, and postpone the ability of the parties to take action in bargaining disputes until they have completed an elaborate, time-consuming process involving negotiation, mediation by the NMB [National Mediation Board] possible review by a Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”), and cooling-off periods.

    Process Designed to Produce Collective Bargaining Agreements. The RLA’s elaborate procedures for resolving bargaining disputes (referred to by the courts as “major disputes”) are designed to facilitate negotiations, narrow disputes, and focus public opinion on the participants in order to pressure the parties to voluntarily reach an agreement. The NMB’s ability to hold the parties in mediation to force good faith negotiations and to assist the parties in reaching settlements, coupled with the status quo requirements of the RLA, provide incentives to the parties to settle their disputes peacefully. The NMB can time the release of the parties from mediation to coincide with a period when Congress is in session and able to deal with the dispute. PEBs also contribute to the settlement process by providing the parties with an impartial assessment of their dispute and recommendations that can assist the parties in reaching a negotiated agreement. Where the parties are unable to reach a peaceful solution to their labor disputes, PEB recommendations help Congress and the Administration to quickly respond to self-help actions by the parties.


    So objectively, it appears that Biden only had one of three choices:

    (1) Sign the compromise bill without paid sick leave that the Senate approved (the option actually picked by Biden).

    (2) Veto the bill that the Senate agreed to and order mediation under the RLA, in which case railroad workers would get nothing pending attempts to mediate the dispute. I note that mediation, by defintion, cannot impose any resolution unless both parties agree to that resolution. If mediation failed, the President could then have made another recommendation to a new Congress to impose paid sick leave (the mediation delay likely would have delayed matters until 2023 when the Republican majority took over the House, while the Democratic Senate majority could have increased to 51 with a Walker win in Georgia). Unfortunately, this makes it likely that a new Republican House majority would have rejected anything beneficial to the union, and would not resolve the problem in the Senate unless the Democratic majority voted to end the filibuster rule once and for all.


    (3) Veto the bill and do nothing to avoid a nationwide railroad strike despite the consequences to the nation and to railroad workers.

    Am I missing another option for Biden? if not,which of the other two option do you think Biden should have chosen, if not signing the bill agreed to by Congress?

  28. bearcreekbat 2022-12-05 11:39

    mediation, not medication

  29. All Mammal 2022-12-05 12:42

    O- my reaction to your article: Oh hell no! When the word force is used, people are definitely going to resist. Thank you for the article and I am with you and all of our working brethren and sistren?. AI and machines will never be able to replace laborers. Their compensation should reflect their value. If we shut down without them, they should have every incentive to come to work.

  30. O 2022-12-05 13:30

    bearcreekbat, your analysis is correct as of the vote by the Senate. His actions were correct in this moment.

    However, this is act 3 of the drama. My point is that Biden had the power to broker a FAR better deal when acting in his role as arbitrator weeks before (during act 2) when he brokered the deal that once again leveraged against the union and sided with the owners who have seen profits double since 2013 by way of draconian labor reductions that have resulted in exploitation of labor — the core reason for the owners’ stance of no sick leave. “The Squad” tried to force the House to remedy this error but didn’t have the votes to get a stand-alone position on the new contract language with the imposition (so made two resolutions); the Senate rejected the imposition of sick leave (although it did get a simple, BIPARTISAN majority vote –but not the 60 for closure). The hope being that Biden, seeing the political will, would take one of several administrative actions to remedy his original administrative cowardice and establish sick leave.

    For example, today, President Biden could withdraw the exemption of rail workers from sick leave for government contract work from the Obama Executive Order. That would be a huge step in reforming the practice in the industry.

    Pres. Biden can again insert himself into the negotiations (remember, 4 unions and a majority of the rank and file rejected the proposed contract) and force a new settlement that does include sick leave, putting the onus of contract failure on the rail ownership (where it belongs IMHO) if owners do not agree to those terms. Then let congress vote again on imposing that contract — this time on ownership. Put Congress to the test: is saving the economy only important when undermining workers?

    If this President and this party were “for the working men and women and the unions” then this fight need not be lost nor need it be over.

  31. bearcreekbat 2022-12-05 14:46

    O, thanks for your reply. I am not sure, however, that I fully understand it. For example, you state that “Biden had the power to broker a FAR better deal when acting in his role as arbitrator weeks before (during act 2).” Where does such presidental power come from – a constitutional provision or a statute? Or are you using “power” in the sense of persuasiveness by virtue of being President and mean Biden should simply have kept pushing for more from the House, Senate or railroads ignoring the evidence of an impasse?

    You also indicate the possibility that “Biden, seeing the political will, would take one of several administrative actions to remedy his original administrative cowardice and establish sick leave.” I understand the general idea of conditioning federal executive branch contracts with railroads upon the grant of sick, leave (i.e. “withdraw the exemption of rail workers from sick leave for government contract work”), yet wouldn’t this be limited to future contracts? Or is there a federal statute that would allow a unilateral change in existing railroad contract terms with the U.S. government upon the directions of a President that doesn’t violate the 5th Amendment taking clause? Otherwise, what other possible “administrative actions” were legally available to Biden to force the railroads to provide paid sick leave?

    As for inserting himself in the negotiations to advocate for paid sick leave, I thought that is exactly what Biden did but that he was unsuccssful. Is that incorrect? Did he have some additional ability beyond that described earlier authorized by the RLA? It almost sounds as if this argument is a way of stating that Biden should have vetoed the compromise despite the liklihood of a nationwide railroad strike?

  32. bearcreekbat 2022-12-05 14:54

    Incidentally, I too strongly support the idea of paid sick leave for railroad workers and sincerely hope that the fight for these benefits is neither lost nor over, but will continue in one way or another until successful. Perhaps one tactic could be to convince voters to hold members of Congress accountable for their negative votes, and replace them with more labor sensitive individuals.

  33. O 2022-12-05 16:02

    bearcreekbat, President Biden has the power to arbitrate a deal over labor disputes in railways under the National Railways Act through Executive Order(see how that unfolded with this timeline: In effect, he (and his administration) created the final deal between labor (the unions) and management (the owners) in this round of negotiations. Many believed that “pro-labor” Biden would stand up for unions and labor in this capacity as arbitrator. He did not. Sick leave was left out of that final deal. Sick leave was the point of contention during negotiations (and I would LOVE to litigate that again here). Given the timing, this deal would be the deal that would have to be honored because of timelines and shipping schedules. The US could not afford a shipping shutdown, so the onus of economic shutdown would be too strong for either side to allow that to happen. This was a chance to make business blink. That is the arbitration that could/should have been struck in August. President Biden had that authority and opportunity. If rail owners had not assented to those terms, Congress could have mandated it (as they just did to the Union workers – same shoe; different foot) to save the US economy. President Biden had already inserted himself into the negotiations process; I argue he should have done it for the betterment for the workers — not the betterment of the owners, as has been the case all too often with government involvement since the 1980’s.

    I also advocate he use the power of executive order to amend current executive order to remove the exception of railway workers from the exception of rail workers from sick leave requirements from President Obama’s government contract minimum requirements. The government uses trains to carry freight. As that executive order is well-established, there can be no objection to its implementation; in fact, all other government contractors must live up to its sick leave conditions, so its implementation over all industries seems more fair in equal application rather than selective application. You are correct, that would need be future contracts, but given the implementation of workforce logistics, staffing increases would need to begin happening VERY soon to accommodate. Once that log jam is broken, sick leave becomes a moot issue.

    It is not that President Biden was unsuccessful; he chose not to do it. He chose not to include sick leave in his arbitration. He chose to give the short end to labor — and to give a win to big business making the big profit. He chose not to create a beachhead to move the sick leave issue forward for ALL workers. He chose not to empower unions with a clear example of a federal arbitration win. He chose.

  34. Richard Schriever 2022-12-05 16:50

    Jenny, Not one democrat voted against sick leave. Not one. Your assertion they did, is a straw man.

  35. O 2022-12-05 20:06

    Richard, unfortunately, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) was a (the only) Democrat to vote against the sick leave.

  36. bearcreekbat 2022-12-06 01:05

    O, that link was quite informative and helpful. One of the statements in the link is:

    President Biden signs an Executive Order exercising his powers under the Railway Labor Act and creating a Presidential Emergency Board of neutral arbitrators.

    And it appears that this Board made the non-binding recommendations, not Biden himself. He apparently was not an arbitrator. Thus it appears that the statement “He chose not to include sick leave in his arbitration” is not quite accurate, unless it means he chose to follow the law requiring the appointment of neutral Board members rather than appointing Board members that agreed in advance to include paid sick leave in their “neutral” non-binding arbitration recommendation. If Biden acted in good faith in appointing genuinely “neutral arbitrators,” rather than individuals that would agree in adavance to do whatever Biden directed them to do, then is he to be faulted because the “neutral” Board members did not impose a paid sick leave provision in their recommendations? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce link in your comment states:

    August 16, 2022: The PEB issues its recommendations under report No. 250. The PEB recommends wage increases by 24 percent during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, with a 14.1 percent wage increase effective immediately. The recommendations also include five annual $1,000 lump sum payments, adjustments to health care premiums, and limited changes to work rules. A portion of the wage increases and lump sum payments would be retroactive, resulting in more than $11,000 on average in immediate payouts to employees. These recommendations would include the most substantial wage increases in decades – with average rail worker wages reaching about $110,000 per year by the end of the agreement. When health care, retirement, and other benefits are considered, the value of rail employees’ total compensation package, which already ranks among the highest in the nation, would average more than $150,000 per year. The issuance of the PEB recommendations triggers an additional 30 day “cooling off” period under the RLA to allow parties to negotiate over adoption of the recommendations.

    Thus, it is certainly true that the PEB did not recommend mandatory unpaid sick leave. Meanwhile, however, Biden reportedly is still publicly declaring that he continues to support requiring paid sick leave for railroad workers:

    President Biden on Thursday said he supports increasing paid leave accommodations for rail workers, but that it should be addressed separately from a congressional bill to avoid a work stoppage that he warned could cause a recession.

    “I think we’re going to get it done, but not within this agreement,” Biden said when asked if the rail workers deserve more than one day of paid sick leave. “We’re going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and I’m going to go back and we’re going to get paid leave, not just for rail workers, but for all workers.”
    . . .
    The president and his team helped negotiate a tentative agreement in September between the freight rail carriers and union workers that provided workers with 24 percent raises over five years and allows for time off for medical appointments. But it did not include more than one day of paid sick leave, a sticking point for many union members and some Democrats.

    The House voted Wednesday to force the freight rail carriers and unions to accept the contract negotiated in September. The chamber also voted to approve a separate version of the deal that included seven paid sick days.

    . . . the Senate rejected a proposal to provide additional sick leave </i?before voting on the House-passed bill.

    Just before the Senate’s vote Thursday, Biden said lawmakers should not let concerns about paid sick leave become an obstacle to avoiding a work stoppage.

    “If in fact this shuts down over the question of one to five or seven or nine or whatever the number is … of paid leave days, it’s going to immediately cost 750,000 jobs and cause a recession,” Biden said, arguing what had been negotiated in September was “so much better than anything they ever had.”

    “I’m going to continue to fight for paid leave for not only rail workers but for all American workers,” Biden said.

    I tend to doubt that it would have changed the outcome even if the neutral PEB had included paid sick leave in the non-binding arbitration recommendations. I suspect that would not have moved Senate Republicans to support the House paid sick leave proposal, or impose such a recommendation anyway. But it is true that Biden “chose not to create a beachhead to move the sick leave issue forward for ALL workers,” as although he had no ability to either control the PEB if it was in fact “neutral” and no ability to force Republican Senators to support the paid sick leave passed by the House, he did have the power to chose to veto the bill that imposed the PEB recommendations without paid sick leave and allow the strike to go ahead, letting the chips fall where they may. If the prediction that this would have cost 750,000 jobs and thrown the economy into a recession causing harm to even more people, however, then he truely found himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I find it hard to fault him for the choice he ultimately made.

    Once the threat of an immediate railroad strike is resolved, it will be interesting to see if the Biden administration makes any changes in future rail shipping contracts to require paid sick leave as a federal contract requirement. Do you know if such a policy is being proposed by unions?

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