Railroad Asks 9th Circuit to Back Calif. Sick Leave Carveout

Railroad Asks 9th Circuit to Back Sick Leave Carveout

Several railroad companies, including Amtrak and Union Pacific, asked the Ninth Circuit to affirm a lower court’s holding that California’s paid sick leave law doesn’t apply to them because it conflicts with a general law governing railroads.

The companies argued in a brief filed Monday that the federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act already requires railroads to provide up to 195 days of paid leave per year for ill or injured workers, and Congress made clear in Section 383 of the law that “railroads cannot be forced to provide additional sick leave – whether the same, similar, or different – under state law.”

“Accordingly, the simple interpretation is the correct one: Per the plain meaning of Section 363(b), states cannot force railroads to provide any form of paid sick leave beyond what the RUIA requires,” the railroads wrote.

Calling the RUIA’s leave benefits “extraordinarily generous” and adding that “no other employees in the country are entitled to receive such benefits under federal law,” the railroads brushed aside the argument advanced by California’s labor commissioner and a group of rail workers’ unions that these benefits are more akin to short-term disability than sick leave.

“None of defendants’ arguments has any basis in the language, structure, purpose, or legislative history of the RUIA,” the railroads wrote, saying a 2017 ruling from the First Circuit supports their stance.

In a pair of rulings in the railroads’ favor, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller held that the RUIA and a section of the U.S. Constitution known as the dormant commerce clause render California’s sick leave law inapplicable to railroads. The dormant commerce clause prevents states from imposing burdens on interstate commerce without the U.S. Congress’ explicit approval.

California’s labor commissioner and the unions appealed in May and filed their opening briefs in September. The unions involved include the transportation and mechanical divisions of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, known as SMART-TD and SMART-MD, respectively; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and several other protective organizations.

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