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Amtrak, CSX exempt from state paid sick-leave law, court rules

A federal railroad law passed in 1938 means the two railroads don't have to comply with a state law - passed by voters in 2014 - that requires Massachusetts employers to set aside paid sick leave for their workers.

US District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton wrote in a ruling that the federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act overrides the state law. In their original complaint, the railroads argued that that law makes paid sick time a matter for collective bargaining.

They said many of their workers already have sick-time benefits that meet or exceed the state standard of up to 40 hours per year of paid sick leave, but that they shouldn't be forced to provide that sort of benefit for other workers who haven't won it in collective bargaining.

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Comments

Anyone know of any other railroad laws that trump state laws? Do railroad laws apply to the MBTA?

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Without being a lawyer, I can say that there are a lot of Federal laws applicable to railroads that override state and local regulations. The U.S. Constitution specifically allows Congress to regulate "interstate commerce", and thus the railroads were one of the first industries to be regulated by the Federal government. The railroads, for example, have a special Federally-regulated retirement system that predates Social Security, and thus railroads pay into the RRTA system and not into Social Security,

On the other hand, most Federal railroad laws and regulations don't apply to the MBTA. This is why the T doesn't operate commuter rail lines itself, instead it contracts to a corporation that is legally a Railroad under the Federal rules. If the T were to become a Railroad, then all of the Federal railroad rules and laws would apply to all of their employees, including bus drivers and subway train operators. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare for them.

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My understanding -- I'm not a lawyer, but am not wildly speculating either -- is that the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 was the first federal act that gave the federal government control over railroads. It's based on the "commerce clause" of the Constitution; to wit:

The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”.

It's not just that federal law trumps state law. The regulation of "interstate commerce" goes back to the Constitution. It has often been addressed by the Supreme Court, and usually 'broadly interpreted'. Many aviation laws and regulations derive from this president.

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...since many other transit authorities operate both railroads and non-FRA transit operations (New Jersey Transit and SEPTA are two in particular where it's all in-house). NY's MTA and Chicago's RTA also operate commuter railroads under the umbrella agency, although the "operating companies" are different (i.e., Long Island RR, Metro North...)

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Here's some more detail:

NJT doesn't contract out, but it does have a separate operating division for commuter rail - NJT Rail Operations. SEPTA does similar, with its Railroad Division (as opposed to the City Transit Division and Suburban Division).

The MTA is a legal mess that I haven't quite wrapped my head around, but I do know that there are multiple different legal entities involved in Metro-North and the LIRR, most branding themselves as "MTA _", and all controlled by the umbrella MTA. For Metro-North, for example, "Metro-North Commuter Railroad", dba "MTA Metro-North Railroad", operates the trains, while "Midtown TDR Ventures LLC" owns most of the tracks (Hudson & Harlem lines). "Metro-North Commuter Railroad" is legally a railroad, and thus subject to federal jurisdiction.

Chicago's Metra (not RTA - RTA is the state's oversight and funding body that covers Metra, the CTA, and Pace) is less complicated, but still not very simple. All operations are contracted out, to a mix of operators. BNSF operates the aptly-named BNSF Line. UP operates the UP/North, UP/NW, and UP/West lines. The other 7 are operated by the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Rail Corporation, which is a subsidiary of Metra.

Most other agencies contract out their operations to either Amtrak, one of the host railroads, or a company like Keolis.

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Not true. Railroad employment laws only apply to employees directly engaged in railroad activities.

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I believe the law clearly states that it applies only to those who have been working on the railroad all the live-long day.

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It might be an over simplification but I believe federal law trumps state law which trumps local law.

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Similar situations occur regularly, with similar results. An example:
A few years ago, Mayor Menino objected to LNG tanks passing thru Boston Harbor to get to Distrigas in Everett on safety grounds, although there was a Coast Guard approved safety plan in place. The USCG has jurisdiction over these operations. There was a short federal trial that ended in 'case dismissed'.

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State law trumps local law, but federal law and state law are theoretically equal. Of course, when the Feds wield the "power of the purse", or when interstate issues come into play (like interstate railroads), federal laws reign.

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On specific issues, like interstate commerce, interactions with foreign nations (and recognized Indian tribes), etc., federal law prevails over state law -- due to specific Constitutional provisions.

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I just wanted to say "Not quite...."

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Okay, this is a response to Kerpan, but I wanted the symmetry.

Yes, things that are expressly spelled out in the Constitution (interstate commerce, patents, foreign relations and whatnot) are very much spheres where the Feds rule. That said, Washington technically cannot create a national speed limit or dictate bathroom policies in public schools, but they can withhold funding based in federal laws or regulations.

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... a national speed limit (directly). Bathroom policies? Depends on whether the Supreme Court might ultimately rule that certain bathroom policies are discriminatory in a way that violates the Constitution. I own no crystal ball, so I make no prediction on this point.

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I'm not putting words in your mouth. I'm just saying that speed limits and school policies are by and large immune from direct dictates from the federal government except that the feds offer funding for things like transportation and education, just as examples that people would know. Of course, all the other things are spelled out in the Constitution, possibly subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court.

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doesn't the federal government mandate paid sick leave?

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exempts itself and quasi-federal agencies from some labor laws. Congress likewise exempts itself from some laws it enforces, including criminal prosecution and imprisonment, on The Plebs.

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