Bernie Sanders blocks Republican proposal to end railroad strike
- Sen. Bernie Sanders blocked a Republican resolution to avert a railroad strike and override workers.
- Republicans want Congress to step in and pass contract recommendations, even if workers disagree.
- Sanders said the workers deserve paid sick leave, which is the demand holding up the deals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Wednesday blocked a Republican proposal to push through a deal for railroad workers and prevent a nationwide strike that could shut down the economy.
The GOP-backed resolution would waive workers’ demands to be able to call in sick or family emergencies. As the strike looms, Amtrak has canceled trips across the country and the Biden administration is scrambling to help broker a deal.
“CEOs in the rail freight industry need to understand that they can’t have it all,” Sanders said during a speech on Wednesday. “The railroad industry must accept a fair and just contract. It’s time for Congress to stand with the workers for change and not just the big multinational bosses.”
The senses. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi wanted Congress to adopt a series of recommendations from a bipartisan panel appointed by the president and avoid a strike, even if workers did not voluntarily agree to a deal.
“There are mechanisms that have long existed in the law to allow Congress to step in and prevent the economic disaster that would ensue,” Wicker told Insider earlier on Wednesday. “I think it’s time to invoke this interim law.”
The United States Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, estimated that a shutdown would cost the economy $2 billion a day. John Drake, vice president for transportation, infrastructure and supply chain policy at the Chamber of Commerce, told Insider in a statement that he “welcomes” the Republican resolution.
But the proposal could potentially overturn the workers’ decision on their contract, which they have been negotiating since 2019, if the workers fail to reach a voluntary agreement with the rail carriers. Workers must strike on Friday if they cannot reach an agreement; unions and rail carriers had discussions moderated by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the Labor Department throughout Wednesday. However, if Congress took action, it would force a new deal and avert a strike.
Sanders, Wicker and Burr sparred over workers’ demands, with Sanders stressing that workers should be paid for sick leave – and have a say in their contract.
“I wonder if the CEOs and top executives of the railroads would be fired if they got sick or had a medical emergency in their family,” Sanders said. “I very much doubt it.”
Sanders noted that railroad workers would not be entitled to any sick days, paid or unpaid, under the presidential panel’s current set of recommendations. This turned out to be an intransigent problem for all of the unions that did not sign the tentative agreement.
“The Burr-Wicker resolution would strip workers of these basic rights,” he said.
Burr said the resolution was now in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and expressed confidence that Republicans could provide most of the votes needed to pass the resolution. It would take 60 votes to cross the threshold of filibuster, support he is very unlikely to get. Ten Senate Democrats are expected to join every Senate Republican to pass the measure.
“I don’t think anyone wants a strike or a lockout,” Sanders said. “We hope that a settlement will be reached the next day. In my opinion, if we reach a settlement, I hope that the railways – which are making huge profits – will treat their workers with the respect they deserve. “