Senate "Vote-A-Rama" Includes Paid Sick Leave, Other Workplace Amendments

March 27, 2015

A number of notable but purely symbolic employment-related amendments were passed as part of the Senate budget resolution bill that was approved this week.  The votes involved amendments to the congressional budget resolution and do not actually amend or enact any laws.  Most notable was a vaguely worded amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), passed by 61 to 39, which is being portrayed as a victory for paid leave because it garnered the support of 15 Republicans, including HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  However, the language of the amendment is virtually indecipherable:

The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to efforts to improve workplace benefits and reduce health care costs, which may include measures to allow Americans to earn paid sick time to address their own health needs and the health needs of their families, and to promote equal employment opportunities, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.
Another amendment by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), also passed 61 to 39, seeks to prevent retaliation against employees for discussing wage information.  The amendment was offered as an alternative to a broader measure incorporating the Paycheck Fairness Act, offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), which was defeated by a vote of 45 to 54.  Amendments were also offered involving reasonable accommodation of pregnant women, which passed 100 to 0, and two involving minimum wage increases.  One authorizing a "substantial increase," offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was rejected by 48 to 52.  An amendment by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to reaffirm the ability of states to enact a higher minimum wage than the federal level was passed by 57 to 43.  The Senate and House passed budget resolutions will now have to be reconciled and then sent to the President, who has indicated he may veto the bill.