- Senator Bernie Sanders blocked a Republican resolution to avert a rail strike and override workers.
- Republicans want Congress to step in and enact contract recommendations, even if workers don't agree.
- Sanders said that workers deserve paid sick leave, which is the demand holding up agreements.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Wednesday blocked a Republican proposal to push through an agreement for rail workers and prevent a potentially economy-stopping national strike.
The GOP-backed resolution would forgo workers' demands to be able to call out sick or for family emergencies. As the strike looms, Amtrak has canceled cross-country trips, and the Biden administration is scrambling to help broker a deal.
"The CEOs in the freight rail industry need to understand that they cannot have it all," Sanders said during a Wednesday floor speech. "The rail industry must agree to a contract that is fair and is just. It is time for Congress to stand on the side of workers for a change and not just the heads of large multinational corporations."
Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi wanted Congress to pass a set of recommendations from a presidentially-appointed bipartisan panel and avert a strike, even if workers did not voluntarily agree to a deal.
"There are mechanisms that have been in the law for a long time 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 that provisional law."
The US Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, estimated a shutdown would cost the economy $ 2 billion a day. John Drake, VP of 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 would potentially overrule workers' decision on their contract, which they've been bargaining since 2019, should workers not reach a voluntary agreement with rail carriers. Workers are set to strike on Friday if they do not reach an agreement; unions and rail carriers have been in discussions facilitated by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and the Department of Labor throughout Wednesday. However, Congress taking action would force a new deal and avert a strike.
Sanders, Wicker, and Burr sparred over the workers' demands, with Sanders emphasizing that workers should get paid for time out sick — and a say in their contract.
"I wonder if the CEOs and top executives of the railroads would get fired if they got sick or had a medical emergency in their families," Sanders said. "I doubt it very much."
Sanders noted that rail workers would be entitled to no sick days, either paid or unpaid, under the current set of recommendations from the presidential panel. That's proven to be a hardline issue for the set of unions who haven't signed on to the tentative agreement.
"The Burr-Wicker resolution would take these fundamental rights away from workers," he said.
Burr said that the resolution is now in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and expressed confidence Republicans could lend most of the votes needed to pass the resolution. It would need 60 votes to cross the filibuster threshold, an amount of support it's very unlikely to garner. Ten Senate Democrats would need to join every Senate Republican for the measure to pass.
"I don't think anyone wants a strike or a lockout," Sanders said. "We hope that a settlement will be reached in the next day. In my view, if we reach a settlement, I would hope that the railroads — which are making huge profits — treat their workers with the respect they deserve."