The Pumpkin Patch
A photo of the BNSF Galesburg Classification Yard (Photo: Contemplative Imaging, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

The Unit­ed States Sen­ate vot­ed today to adopt a res­o­lu­tion that pre­vents a crip­pling rail­road strike, but refused to require large, prof­itable rail­road com­pa­nies like BNSF or Union Pacif­ic to pro­vide sick leave to their work­ers (as the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives had vot­ed to do yes­ter­day) in a sec­ond, relat­ed resolution.

The Sen­ate’s action, com­ing one day after the House votes, answers a request made by Pres­i­dent Joe Biden sev­er­al days ago.

Sen­ate Repub­li­cans used the cham­ber’s unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic six­ty vote thresh­old to nix the amend­ment to require paid sick leave for rail­road work­ers. Demo­c­ra­t­ic and inde­pen­dent sen­a­tors vot­ed for it (with the notable, frus­trat­ing, and pre­dictable excep­tion of Joe Manchin), but most Repub­li­cans with­held their votes.

The amend­ment actu­al­ly received major­i­ty sup­port (52–43), but that was­n’t good enough for it to pass because of the Sen­ate’s utter­ly ridicu­lous rules.

The PNW roll call on the sick leave amend­ment was as fol­lows:

Vot­ing Yea for Paid Sick Leave for Rail­road Work­ers: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)

Vot­ing Nay Against the Rail­road Work­ers: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID), Lisa Murkows­ki and Dan Sul­li­van (AK), Steve Daines (MT)

Three Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors missed the vote: Cory Book­er, Chris Mur­phy, and Raphael Warnock. Their pres­ence and affir­ma­tive votes would have raised the yea total to 55. Repub­li­cans Richard Burr and Cindy Hyde-Smith also missed the vote.

Three ultra MAGA Repub­li­cans — Josh Haw­ley of Mis­souri, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­oli­na — broke with their par­ty to back the amend­ment. Our team can­not remem­ber a vote in which Haw­ley, Cruz, and Gra­ham vot­ed with the Democ­rats while Murkows­ki, Rom­ney, and Collins didn’t.

The under­ly­ing res­o­lu­tion then passed 80–15. The PNW roll call was as follows:

Vot­ing Yea to Pre­vent a Rail­road Strike: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden (OR), Jon Tester (MT); Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID), Lisa Murkows­ki (AK), Steve Daines (MT)

Vot­ing Nay Against the Res­o­lu­tion: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley (OR); Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Dan Sul­li­van (AK)

Sul­li­van was one of a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans who vot­ed nay on both the amend­ment and the under­ly­ing res­o­lu­tion (they don’t want rail­road work­ers to have paid sick leave and don’t want to avert a strike). Mar­co Rubio of Flori­da was anoth­er, as were the two Scotts: Rick of Flori­da and Tim of South of Carolina.

Susan Collins was also bemus­ing­ly a nay on both motions.

Democ­rats vot­ing against the under­ly­ing res­o­lu­tion besides Merkley includ­ed Eliz­a­beth War­ren, John Hick­en­looop­er, and Kristin Gilli­brand. They were joined by Bernie Sanders, an inde­pen­dent who cau­cus­es with Democrats.

Pas­sage of H.J.Res. 100 drew applause from the White House.

“On Tues­day, I met with Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers from both par­ties and told them that Con­gress need­ed to move quick­ly to avert a rail shut­down and eco­nom­ic cat­a­stro­phe for our nation,” said Pres­i­dent Biden in a statement.

“Now, I want to thank Con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship who sup­port­ed the bill and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Sen­a­tors and Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in both par­ties who vot­ed to avert a rail shut­down. Con­gress’ deci­sive action ensures that we will avoid the impend­ing, dev­as­tat­ing eco­nom­ic con­se­quences for work­ers, fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties across the country.”

“Com­mu­ni­ties will main­tain access to clean drink­ing water. Farm­ers and ranch­ers will con­tin­ue to be able to bring food to mar­ket and feed their live­stock. And hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans in a num­ber of indus­tries will keep their jobs.  I will sign the bill into law as soon as Con­gress sends it to my desk.”

“Work­ing togeth­er, we have spared this coun­try a Christ­mas cat­a­stro­phe in our gro­cery stores, in our work­places, and in our communities.

“I know that many in Con­gress shared my reluc­tance to over­ride the union rat­i­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dures. But in this case, the con­se­quences of a shut­down were just too great for work­ing fam­i­lies all across the country.”

“And, the agree­ment will raise work­ers’ wages by 24%, increase health care ben­e­fits, and pre­serve two per­son crews.”

“I have long been a sup­port­er of paid sick leave for work­ers in all indus­tries – not just the rail indus­try – and my fight for that crit­i­cal ben­e­fit continues.”

“This week’s bipar­ti­san action pulls our econ­o­my back from the brink of a dev­as­tat­ing shut­down that would have hurt mil­lions of fam­i­lies and union work­ers in count­less indus­tries. Our econ­o­my is grow­ing and infla­tion is mod­er­at­ing, and this rail agree­ment will con­tin­ue our progress to build an econ­o­my from the bot­tom up and mid­dle out.”

“This week, Pres­i­dent Biden called on Con­gress to act to avoid a nation­al rail shut­down, and adopt the ten­ta­tive agree­ments reached ear­li­er this year by the unions and rail­roads — and facil­i­tat­ed by our Labor Sec­re­tary Mar­ty Walsh. These ten­ta­tive agree­ments secure crit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties for work­ers — includ­ing a 24 per­cent raise and $5,000 bonus — and have already been rat­i­fied by most of the rail unions,” said Wash­ing­ton’s senior U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Murray.

“While I am always reluc­tant to bypass the tra­di­tion­al nego­ti­a­tion and rat­i­fi­ca­tion process for any col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, the harm a nation­al rail shut­down would cause to work­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties in Wash­ing­ton state and across the coun­try is unde­ni­able — and I vot­ed to pro­tect the liveli­hoods of count­less Amer­i­cans and local communities.”

“Every sin­gle work­er in this coun­try deserves paid sick days—and that absolute­ly includes rail work­ers. It’s real­ly that sim­ple. So I am dis­ap­point­ed that the major­i­ty of Sen­ate Repub­li­cans would not vote with us to pro­vide sev­en paid sick days for rail work­ers. I have been fight­ing for decades now to final­ly estab­lish a nation­wide sick day pol­i­cy — and despite Repub­li­cans’ con­sis­tent oppo­si­tion, I cer­tain­ly won’t be stop­ping now. It’s time we final­ly pass my Healthy Fam­i­lies Act and guar­an­tee paid sick days for all workers.”

“I vot­ed no,” said Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

“It is com­plete­ly messed up that our rail work­ers are on con­tin­u­ous call, have no sick leave, and if they miss work due to ill­ness – get fired. The rail­roads are mak­ing bil­lions while treat­ing their work­ers horrendously.”

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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