President Joe Biden on Friday signed legislation aimed at averting a nationwide rail strike, by imposing a contract with no paid sick leave onto 115,000 rail workers. The majority of rail workers had voted against this contract.
The president’s signature comes one day after the Senate resoundingly approved Biden’s labor agreement, 80-15, and rejected a measure to add seven paid sick leave days, 52-43. One Democrat, Joe Manchin, and 42 Republicans voted against adding sick leave. Rail workers currently have no paid sick days.
On Wednesday, the House approved the sick leave measure 221-207—with every present Democrat voting in favor.
As I wrote previously, the paid sick leave measure, given to Biden on a platter by progressives, offered the president a second chance at getting it right for rail workers. He could have expressed excitement about the prospect of finally giving rail workers paid sick leave, blasted Republicans who opposed the measure, and at the very least put pressure on legislators to pass the measures.
Instead, he created a sense of urgency, moving the deadline for such legislation up by a week. Rail workers had threatened to strike on December 9, but Biden insisted he needed a bill from Congress the weekend before. He also made clear that he didn’t support any amendments that would cause delay.
Now, Republicans like Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley are billing themselves as more pro-worker than the president, given that they voted for the paid leave amendment.
Biden is left losing on both counts—practically, as a supposed advocate for workers, and politically, as a Democratic president. Biden could have put up an actual fight for paid sick leave, rather than feebly suggesting he’ll fight for it later. It would have been good politics, and morals too.
Instead, Biden did not express his support for the paid sick leave measure that his caucus overwhelmingly supported in the House and Senate, nor did he engage with the notion that perhaps the best way to avert a strike is to address demands that prompted the threat in the first place.