All but 3 Republicans vote against paid sick leave for railway workers

The House of Representatives passed two bills yesterday aimed at averting a potential freight rail strike.


Railroad unions have been attempting to negotiate a new contract with U.S. rail companies since last winter. The main point of contention is the provision of paid leave: railroad workers are not guaranteed any sick paid leave. In September, the Biden administration intervened to broker a tentative agreement between unions and the railroads that included a 24% pay increase over the next two years and annual $1,000 bonuses.

However, the railroads only conceded one single paid personal day. As a result, four of the 12 unions, including one of the largest, voted down the tentative deal. Together, the four unions represent more than half of the unionized rail workers.

Faced with an impending strike that could cost the U.S. economy an estimated $2 billion a day, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation imposing the tentative agreement reached in September “without any modifications.” The President’s refusal to include more sick days dismayed union workers:

“Joe Biden blew it,” said Hugh Sawyer, treasurer of Railroad Workers United, a group representing workers from a variety of rail unions and carriers. “He had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days. The Democrats and Republicans are both pawns of big business and the corporations.”

Keep in mind, in 2021, the seven Class I freight railroad companies generated $80.3 billion in operating revenue.

The bills

The first bill to pass the House, H.J.Res.100, uses the Railway Labor Act of 1926 to essentially force an agreement between the unions and the rail companies. This would keep the September terms in place, including just one day of paid leave.

H.J.Res.100 passed in a 290 to 137 vote, with eight Democrats and 129 Republicans voting against the resolution. Democratic Reps. Judy Chu (CA), Mark DeSaulnier (CA), Jared Golden (ME), Donald Norcross (NJ), Mary Peltola (AK), Mark Pocan (WI), Rashida Tlaib (MI), and Norma Torres (CA) voted against the bill.

  • Rep. Peltola explained on Meet the Press that she is against a resolution that does not include sick leave: “I just don’t think it’s right or fair to expect workers go to work sick as a dog without being able to have a few days to recover.”
  • In a statement issued yesterday, Rep. Torres said that she “[does] not believe that Congress should be dictating the results of a union contract negotiations process.”
  • Rep. Golden told The Hill that intervening in the potential strike “undermines the fundamental bargaining power of workers and unions across the country.”

The House then passed a second resolution requiring rail workers be granted seven days of paid sick leave each year. H.Con.Res.119 passed in a 221-207 vote, with all Democrats voting in favor. All but three Republicans voted against paid sick leave for rail unions. The three who voted in favor were Reps. Don Bacon (NE), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), and John Katko (NY).