House Passes Bill Requiring Rail Labor Settlement: It looks that the plan will face additional opposition in the Senate. To prevent a strike that might have disrupted travel, supply chains, and the crucial holiday shopping season, the House voted on Wednesday to compel an agreement between freight train carriers and unions.
The House Has Passed Legislation Mandating a Labor Settlement in the Rail Industry
The House voted Wednesday to force a freight train carrier-union settlement, avoiding a strike that might affect travel, supply chains, and holiday shopping. Although leaders of both parties have vowed to act quickly, the Senate may be harder for the bill.
Unions are ready to strike on Dec. 9 without a deal. Four of 12 unions rejected a White House-brokered deal without paid sick days or changes to an attendance requirement train workers find harsh. According to the rail carriers trade organization, a railway shutdown might cost the economy $2 billion a day.
The White House rail agreement bill passed the House 290-137 with bipartisan support. However, the house narrowly approved a different rail pact, 221-207, to provide train workers seven paid sick days, a proposal supported by leftist House Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“Today we are here to safeguard the financial stability of America’s households, to defend the American economy as it continues to recover and avert a catastrophic nationwide rail shutdown,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at the start of the floor discussion. The Senate votes on both motions at an uncertain time. President Biden urged the Senate to act quickly to avert a rail strike after the House action.
Biden warned that trains will cease delivering essential goods like water-purifying chemicals this weekend without a final vote to avert a shutdown. “Let me repeat: Without action this week, delays to our auto supply chains, food delivery, and hazardous waste removal from fuel refineries will begin.”
The strange politics of the train strike—with a pro-union Democratic president pressing a solution despite some union members’ objections—makes the bill’s Senate future harder to predict. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged the arrangement to include paid sick days, but moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) was undecided. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will discuss the arrangement with Democrats on Thursday.
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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a centrist who often casts politically unpopular bipartisan votes, urged Biden to “convene both sides” to the White House to reach another deal instead of letting Congress do so. “Overturning workers’ rejection of the proposal, especially when it involves sick leave, is troubling,” she added.
Despite their reservations about the pact, some Republicans worried about a strike damaging the economy. Sen. Mike Braun remarked, “I don’t think the country can take a train strike” (Ind.). “The supply chain and other issues have hampered the economy for two years.”
Democrats debated the future. 12 liberal senators demanded the Senate “modify” the deal. Sanders declined to say on Wednesday if he would support the main deal if he could vote on paid leave separately. Four of 12 train unions rejected the White House-brokered draft pact in recent weeks. Union members receive $1,000 annually, a healthcare price cap, and a 24% raise by 2024. Carriers have agreed to provide conductors and engineers one extra paid day off and increased freedom to take off three times a year for routine health checks without penalty.
However, many employees say these developments do not address chronic understaffing, which prevents them from going to the doctor and handling crises, and the lack of paid sick days. Rail operators say they must meet staffing criteria. They think sick workers can take leave. Ian Jefferies, AAR president, opposed adding paid sick days to the pact.
Jefferies said the House’s latest measure incorrectly assumes railway workers don’t get paid sick leave. “Approval would discourage freight railroad voluntary agreements.” One of the four unions that voted against the pact, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen’s Michael Baldwin, said his members were dissatisfied with Biden’s call for Congress to enforce the arrangement. He hopes to negotiate paid sick days. Baldwin continued, “We’re extremely delighted with the House voting results today on the motion to get sick days.
We’re gaining Senate support.” Matt Weaver, a train maintenance workers union carpenter who voted against the compromise, hopes Senate Republicans will join Democrats to approve the sick day bill. Weaver said Republicans would look bad voting against sick days. Politicians fear. Lawmakers must pass a resolution and deliver it to Biden by Saturday to minimize supply interruptions before the Dec. 9 strike deadline.
“He is quite clear about that,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. Biden supports paid sick leave for all Americans, including train workers, but he opposes any amendment that delays putting this bill to his desk by Saturday.