Nov 30, 2022
Sen. Bernie Sanders said late Tuesday night that it was time to "put up or shut up" for any U.S. lawmaker who claims to fight for the working class as he and other progressives in Congress vowed to insert paid sick leave into a labor agreement between railway workers and the nation's rail companies.
"If you are a supporter of the working class how are you going to vote against the proposal which provides guaranteed paid sick leave to workers who have none right now?"
With a vote in the U.S. House as early as Wednesday morning, Sanders was asked by MSNBC host Chris Hayes whether Congress has the authority to mandate that sick leave--the final key demand of railway workers unions who have battling the carriers for months--be added to the deal that congressional lawmakers have been asked by President Joe Biden to force through as a way to avert a strike by the workers that would have huge impacts on the national economy.
"Congress has the power to come up with an agreement in order to protect the economy," said Sanders. While he said that he doesn't know anybody who wants a strike--and acknowledged that such a work stoppage would hurt the broader economy--Sanders said the "bottom line" in this fight is quite clear.
"The bottom line," said Sanders, "is that the American people and workers throughout this country are profoundly disgusted by the kind of corporate greed that we are seeing. Everybody knows that billionaires are getting richer, working people are struggling, corporate profits are at an all-time high, and their making goods unaffordable for ordinary Americans--that's the overall reality. And what you're seeing in the rail industry is that phenomenon in spades."
Citing statistics that show the major rail carriers have made an estimated $21 billion in profits over the last three quarters, another $25 billion in stock buybacks to enrich their wealthy investors, and multi-million dollar salaries to top executives, Sanders slammed the fact that the railway workers themselves "have zero--underline zero--guaranteed sick leave."
Watch the full interview:
On Tuesday night, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment in the House that would add seven paid sick days to the labor contract proposal that was negotiated with the assistance of the White House earlier this year, but subsequently rejected by a number of the railway unions for lack of sick leave. With the strike deadline looming, Biden on Monday angered many rank-and-file union members and outside progressives by asking Congress to force through the previous contract deal without pushing for the inclusion of sick leave.
\u201cRail workers can't schedule getting the flu on a Tuesday 30 days in advance.\n\nWhat we're seeing is an inhumane deal being pushed onto workers even after a majority voted it down. If we are a pro-labor party, we must stand up for them. They need paid sick leave now.\u201d— Congressman Jamaal Bowman (@Congressman Jamaal Bowman) 1669741864
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday backed Biden's call to push through a vote on the contract "with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms," but in a Dear Colleague letter issued Tuesday evening she adjusted that course by indicating that two votes would be held, explaining to members:
- First, we will consider the strike-averting legislation to adopt the Tentative Agreement, as negotiated by the railroad companies and labor leaders.
- Next, we will have a separate, up-or-down vote to add seven days of paid sick leave for railroaders to the Tentative Agreement.
- Then, we will send this package to the Senate, which will then go directly to President Biden for signature.
With Sanders vowing to fight for the same kind of inclusion in the Senate, reporting from Capitol Hill indicated that there may be Republican enough support for adding the paid sick leave to overcome the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster in the upper chamber.
\u201cYou can't win if you don't try. It is beyond belief that rail workers in America get penalized & fired for calling in sick if they come down with COVID, the flu or another illness. No one can defend that policy. It's time to guarantee paid sick days and end this greed.\u201d— Warren Gunnels (@Warren Gunnels) 1669765937
Asked if he thought he could get the ten necessary votes from the GOP in the Senate, Sanders said, "Well, who knows?" as he mentioned that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the party caucus' whip, has indicated "significant" support for the amendment among Republicans.
"Look, you have a number of Republicans who claim--claim--to be supporters of the working class," he added. "Well, if you are a supporter of the working class how are you going to vote against the proposal which provides guaranteed paid sick leave to workers who have none right now? So I am cautiously optimistic that we can get this done."
\u201cYou ready for a really radical idea? Firing a worker because they\u2019re sick and can\u2019t come to work. That\u2019s radical. What\u2019s not radical is guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to all rail workers in America. Let\u2019s get it done.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1669777684
Asked by Hayes if this represents a "put your money where your mouth is" moment for a Republican Party that has tried to claim the mantle of being the authentic blue-collar party, Sanders nodded in agreement.
"Put up or shut up," said Sanders. "If you can't vote for this, to give workers today--who really have hard jobs, dangerous jobs--if you can't give them paid sick leave, don't tell anybody that you stand with working families."
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