In order to prevent a looming U.S. rail workers’ strike, Congress is moving very swiftly and reluctantly intervening in a labor dispute to stop the disruption of the transportation of fuel, food, and other critical goods, which would surely be a devastating blow to the nation’s economy. A bill was approved recently by the House, that would impose a compromise labor agreement that was brokered by the Biden administration but rejected by four of 12 rail unions.
If an agreement can’t be reached before a December 9 deadline, the unions have threatened to strike, and now Congress was urged by the President to intervene. With 79 Republicans joining 211 Democrats in voting to approve the measure, the House vote to impose the contract finished 290 to 137, while 8 Democrats and 129 Republicans voted against the legislation.
The House also approved a separate resolution in a 221 to 207 vote, in order to provide seven days of paid sick leave in the contract instead of one. The paid sick leave is rail workers’ main disagreement with the current agreement, and both measures now head to the Senate, reported CBS News.
Here is what the President said in a statement: “I am grateful to Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats and Republicans for taking urgent action to prevent a rail shutdown.” “This overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives makes clear that Democrats and Republicans agree that a rail shutdown would be devastating to our economy and families across the country. The Senate must now act urgently,” Biden added.
It was announced by a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders, that he would object to fast-tracking the president’s proposal until he can get a roll-call vote on the amendment that would guarantee seven paid sick days for rail workers.
Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York, who are some of the more liberal lawmakers in the House, tweeted that they couldn’t support the measure. Sen. Josh Hawley said: “I’m not going to vote to impose this on them against their will with the force of law.”
But when the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate met with Mr. Biden at the White House recently, the show of support began, and the bill still received a significant bipartisan vote in the House. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as he returned to the Capitol that “we all agreed that we should try to avoid this rail shutdown as soon as possible.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to Democratic colleagues reflecting the consternation she was hearing from members. Pelosi’s letter read: “It is with great reluctance that we must now move to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement. However, we must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that would touch the lives of nearly every family: erasing hundreds of thousands of jobs, including union jobs; keeping food and medicine off the shelves; and stopping small businesses from getting their goods to market.”
The compromise agreement provides for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020 along with one additional paid leave day, and it was supported by the railroads and a majority of the unions. As for their health insurance costs, workers would have to pay a larger share, but their premiums would be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. And these raises would be the biggest rail workers have received in more than four decades.
The one thing the agreement did not resolve is the concern about demanding schedules that make it hard to take a day off and the lack of paid sick time. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts said: “The bottom line is we are now forced with this kind of terrible situation where we have to choose between an imperfect deal that has already been negotiated or an economic catastrophe.”
GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said: “This has got to be tough for Democrats in that they generally kowtow to unions.” Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said: “At this late hour, it’s clear that there is little we can do other than to support the measure.”
A stoppage of rail service for any duration would represent a $2 billion per day hit to the economy, as said by business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Conductor Gabe Christenson, the co-chairman of the Railroad Workers United coalition that includes workers from all the rail unions, said: “The ‘most labor-friendly president in history’ has proven that he and the Democratic Party are not the friends of labor they have touted themselves to be.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is being slammed by blue collar union workers for his views on the situation.