WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday afternoon that would help avert a freight railroad strike that the White House says could cripple the U.S. economy — 30 years after Congress last intervened. in an impending rail closure.
Lawmakers also passed a related measure that would grant an additional seven days of paid sick leave to railroad workers.
The bipartisan vote to avert the strike was 290 to 137 while the paid sick leave amendment passed 221 to 207 along party lines. Both measures now head to the Senate.
After the vote, President Joe Biden thanked Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House for “taking urgent action” and urged the Senate to act quickly.
“Without action this week, disruptions to our automotive supply chains, our ability to get food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “The Senate must act quickly and immediately send a bill to my office for my signature.”
At Biden’s urging, the House passed the legislation that would adopt a tentative agreement reached in September between union leaders and freight operators. Four of the 12 unions representing railway workers have since rejected the deal, prompting the impending work stoppage.
As the Dec. 9 deadline approaches, lawmakers have inserted themselves into the middle of a labor dispute they said they would rather not touch. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday the House was acting with “great reluctance,” but said the prospect of a strike that would cost the economy $2 billion a day made action necessary.
“President Biden called on Congress to act without delay to avert what would be a catastrophic shutdown and that’s exactly what we’re doing here today,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass, said. . The debate began, “The passage … would be a victory for workers across the country.”
Responding to demands from unions, House leaders passed a separate measure that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the deal — a provision that was not part of the original deal and that Republican lawmakers have called a too generous and unnecessary.
“We believe the middle class is the backbone of our democracy and we believe the middle class wears a union label,” Pelosi said Wednesday.
Despite the deal, four of the 12 unions representing railway workers rejected the deal, setting up the imminent possibility of a system shutdown over the holiday period. Pelosi, who counts unions among her staunchest supporters, said she was opposed to congressional intervention but said the alternative would be devastating.
“We must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that would affect the lives of almost every family: cut hundreds of thousands of jobs, including unionized jobs; keep food and medicine off the shelves; and stop small businesses from ‘get their wares to market,’ she wrote in a letter to fellow House members Tuesday night.
After:‘He’s not intervening’: Union workers feel let down by ‘pro-union’ Joe Biden amid rail dispute
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed the issue needed to be addressed “as soon as possible, although it is unclear if there are enough votes to pass it.
Pelosi stressed Wednesday morning the importance of passing a separate amendment to the bill that would grant paid sick leave to railroad workers.
“It is outrageous that every developed country in the world has paid sick leave except the United States of America,” she said. “No one should risk losing their job by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor or undergoing life-saving surgery.”
While Republican Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, a member of the rules committee, said she supports legislation to prevent a railroad strike, she opposes the inclusion of additional paid sick leave in the ‘OK.
“This goes far beyond the limits of the president’s own request and designated recommendation to the point where Congress not only intervenes in collective bargaining, but now effectively negotiates on behalf of either party,” said she declared.
Arkansas Republican Rep. Rick Crawford, who sits on the House Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee overseeing railroads, chastised Biden for not doing more to avert the strike despite his labor ties.
“We are here today because of the colossal failure of Joe ‘Union’ Biden, the president who has, by his own declaration, been the most union-friendly president in history,” he said. he declares.
The agreement first reached in September includes a 24% wage increase over five years, $5,000 bonuses, voluntary days off, but only one paid day off. Currently, railway workers do not benefit from any paid leave.
“It’s not an easy decision, but I think we have to do it,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday. “The economy is in danger.”
In 1992, the last time Congress intervened to stop a railroad strike, then a senator. Biden was one of six senators who voted against ending the strike.
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