Senate passes railroad bill to prevent strike : NPR
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The Senate has approved a measure designed to avoid a strike by railroad workers in eight days – without the paid sick days that railroad workers are demanding.
Senators passed the bill to force unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year between railroad managers and their workers and outlaw an impending strike — without making changes — by a vote of 80 to 15. They rejected a measure to provide paid sick leave, 52-43. Both measures required 60 votes to clear the Senate.
Both bills had been approved by the House on Wednesday.
The sick leave effort was intended to allay concerns from unions and some lawmakers, despite Biden’s request not to alter the carefully negotiated underlying deal.
Advocates have been asking for months that a paid sick leave policy be written into the contract. The deal brokered by the Biden administration did not include it, prompting some unions to reject it, creating the threat of a railroad strike as early as Dec. 9.
Some senators like GOP Sens. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz have come out strongly against any measure that doesn’t include more paid sick days for workers.
“I think the union bosses and the Biden administration screwed over the workers, making a deal they don’t support,” Rubio said. “I don’t think Congress should be in a position to have to negotiate labor agreements, but, if we have to, then I’ll only support one that at least nods toward workers’ priorities, so we’ll see how it goes.”
They were joined by progressives.
In a joint statement released after the House vote, a dozen Democratic senators urged Senate leadership to take up both bills passed by the House to support workers.
“Congress can and should improve this deal,” they said in the statement. “For nearly three years, our country’s railroad workers have fought on the frontlines of the pandemic. They have kept our trains on track even in the face of unprecedented challenges.”
Senate Democrats were joined Thursday by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Walsh told reporters that the final deal is up to the Senate and that more time between the railroads and the unions isn’t going to help. Lawmakers had considered a third option: extending the cooling-off period to 90 days to give railroad managers and workers more time to bargain at the bargaining table. But that effort fell through 26-69.
All legislative efforts require 60 votes.
White House and Pelosi skepticism looms
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on the possibility of getting 60 votes in the Senate to support seven days of paid sick leave.
“If we had 60 votes in the Senate, it could possibly happen, but we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,” Pelosi said. “Maybe they’ll surprise us the next day and vote for sick leave. But that’s a hindrance.”
During a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden was asked about the impending railroad strike in the United States.
Biden defended the deal — even though it doesn’t include additional paid sick leave for railroad workers.
“What was negotiated was so much better than anything they had ever had,” Biden said, adding that a strike would cost 750,000 jobs and send the United States into a recession.
He insisted the White House will renew its push for paid leave for all workers in all industries after Congress passes the draft deal. Biden requested the bill by Saturday, according to the White House.
Railroads handle the transportation of 30-40% of all goods, but take the lion’s share of products like ethanol, fertilizers and grain. Railroad managers warn that with a strike there are few other options given ongoing trucking shortages and the risk of backlogs at ports.
“For us, the strike effectively begins this weekend,” Corey Rosenbusch, president of the Fertilizer Institute, said in a call with reporters. “Rail carriers have already advised that ammonia shipments will have to be removed from the network starting approximately five days prior, which is December 4. Many fertilizer companies are already preparing for this reality.”
With the help of Juma Sei and Katherine Swartz