When he forced a contract on rail workers, the president pledged to continue the fight to provide them paid sick leave — here is how he could do it.

by Rebecca Burns, Julia Rock, andMatthew Cunningham-Cook, The Lever

When President Joe Biden pushed through a bill last week forcing a contract on exhausted rail workers, he vowed to continue fighting for paid sick leave, a key demand in the years-long contract battle between the increasingly overworked workers and their profit-soaked employers. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg echoed that promise in a widely-watched grilling by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

But after intervening on the side of the railroads, Biden and Buttigieg have yet to say just how they will try to secure sick days for 125,000 rail workers, who are among the 33 million U.S. workers lacking access to a benefit that’s universal in other wealthy nations around the world.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is talking to the media after his speech at The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 490

In truth, the administration has several possible avenues it could pursue to try to deliver those protections. Biden could try to expand an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide sick leave, Buttigieg could robustly enforce existing rail safety laws to challenge harmful attendance policies, or the administration could use the last few weeks of Democrats’ control of Congress to push for the passage of a national paid sick leave bill languishing in committee after being reintroduced 10 times in the last 15 years.

To be clear, the first of these options would almost certainly trigger a legal challenge on the basis of the arcane rail laws that the rail industry has relied on to preempt its workers from key federal protections. And all of these moves would require picking a fight with rail industry donors who have funneled almost $20 million to Democrats in the last decade.

Read More