by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has blocked a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) and Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.) that would avert a freight-rail strike.
Wicker and Burr introduced a resolution that would adopt the recommendations of the presidential emergency board (PEB) appointed by President Biden as binding for a new, national, freight-rail labor contract. The PEB recommended a 24 percent pay increase over the five-year span of the contract, the largest pay increase in the history of national bargaining.
Sanders said, “Rail workers have a right to strike for reliable schedules. They have a right to strike for paid sick days. They have a right to strike for safe working conditions. Rail workers have a right to strike for decent benefits.”
After talking about wealth inequality and “the billionaire class,” the crux of Sanders’s objection was the PEB’s recommendation about sick days. “Right now if you work in the freight rail industry . . . you are entitled to zero sick days,” Sanders said. “What that means is that if you, as a worker get sick, if your child gets sick, if your spouse gets sick, and you need to take time off of work, not only will you not get paid, you actually could get fired,” he said.
Sick leave was considered at length by the PEB. Unions had proposed “15 days of paid sick leave annually where no sick leave is currently provided and increase the number of days of paid sick leave annually to 15 days where less than 15 days of paid annual sick leave is provided.” That means some workers already do get paid sick leave. …
… Sanders’s objection now means that the resolution will require 60 votes to pass the Senate. Burr said, “This is in Senator Schumer’s hands.”