News & Commentary

November 30, 2022

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, although progressive members of Congress express support for the rail workers, legislation implementing the tentative agreement likely to pass; Biden’s nomination for the Wage and Hour chief advances in the Senate; and the NLRB extends the comment period on its proposed election-blocking and voluntary recognition rulemaking.

As a looming and, in the words of the President, “potentially crippling national rail shutdown” hangs in the balance, and in the wake of President Biden’s announcement yesterday urging the Congress to implement legislatively the tentative agreement between the unions representing some 115,000 freight rail workers and the nation’s largest rail carriers that the Biden Administration helped broker in September, several progressive members of Congress have taken to Twitter to express support for and solidarity with the workers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for example, announced yesterday that she stands with the rail workers and proclaimed, in rhetoric evocative of Eugene Debs’ famous Canton, Ohio speech, that railroad workers “grind themselves to the bone for this country as their labor produces billions for Wall St.”—if Congress intervenes, the Congresswomen insisted, “it should be to have workers’ backs and secure their demands in legislation.” Similarly, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)  tweeted that he “can’t in good conscience vote for a bill that doesn’t give rail workers the paid leave they deserve,” and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) deemed it “absurd” that the Agreement only provides the workers one paid sick day and asserted that “[w]e need to stand with workers.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), emphasizing the record-breaking profits raked in by the rail industry last year, likewise demanded that “Congress must stand with rail workers,” and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) confirmed that she “will not support a deal that does not provide our rail workers with the paid sick leave they need and deserve.”

Moreover, support for the rail employees is, to some extent, crossing political lines, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted that he “will not vote to impose a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers” and encouraged the railways and their employees to negotiate a deal that the workers, “not just the union bosses,” will accept.

In any event, rail legislation is by all appearances poised to pass in the House later today, as House leaders have apparently devised a scheme to secure the support of progressives, pursuant to which the House will vote to implement the White House’s tentative agreement first and will then vote separately on an additional bill that would incorporate seven days paid sick leave into the deal. Both bills, if passed, will then be transmitted to the Senate, where leaders have not yet clarified how they seek to proceed but, CNN reports, expect to have the votes to survive a filibuster. Indeed, both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress vowed, after a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, to move quickly to resolve the rail showdown; in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted that they “will have a bill on the floor” by today, and in the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had agreed to “try to get it done ASAP” in the upper chamber. President Biden conveyed his confidence on Tuesday that a rail strike will, once again, be averted.

In administrative news, the Senate HELP Committee on Tuesday finally voted, after several postponements, in favor of advancing Biden’s nomination for Administrator of the Wage and House Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor, the top enforcer of the federal government’s wage and hour laws, for consideration by the full Senate. Biden nominated Jessica Looman in July after the Senate rejected his first pick, David Weil, in April. Looman has served as the Principal Deputy Administrator of WHD since January 2021 and she is a former labor lawyer and union official.

Finally, in NLRB news, the Labor Board announced yesterday that it has extended the deadline for submitting comments on the agency’s proposed rulemaking regarding election-blocking charges and the voluntary recognition bar doctrine—comments may now be filed until February 2, 2023. The proposed rulemaking, seeking to rescind a regulation promulgated by the Trump-Board in 2020, would restore the Board’s longstanding approach to so-called “blocking charges,” under which regional directors are authorized to delay processing election petitions in the face of pending unfair labor practices charges, as well as the Board’s rule announced in Lamons Gasket Co., which bars an election petition after an employer’s voluntary recognition of a union for “a reasonable period of time,” both of which policies had been abandoned by the Trump-Board’s 2020 rule. Public comments can be submitted here.

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