Congress prepares to take up bill to avoid rail strike

Unions have threatened to go on strike if an agreement cannot be reached by the December 9 deadline.

WASHINGTON — Congress is acting quickly to stave off an impending strike by U.S. railroad workers, reluctant to intervene in the labor dispute to avert what is certain to be a devastating blow to the economy. national economy if the transportation of fuel, food and other vital goods is disrupted.

The House of Representatives is expected to act first on Wednesday after President Joe Biden asked Congress to intervene. The bill, which lawmakers are considering, that would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by his administration, was ultimately voted on by four of 12 unions representing more than 100,000 employees. rejected. at major railway carriers. Unions have threatened to go on strike if an agreement cannot be reached by the December 9 deadline.

Lawmakers on both sides expressed reservations, but intervening has been particularly difficult for some Democratic lawmakers, who have traditionally sought to align themselves with empowered labor unions political force.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who is in closed-door meetings with Democrats, announced that he would oppose fast-tracking on the president’s proposal until he can get an election. roll-call vote on an amendment that guarantees seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers. Some of the more liberal lawmakers in the House, such as Representatives Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri, tweeted that they could not support the measure.

However, the bill is expected to receive a substantial bipartisan vote. That backing began when Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate met with Biden on Tuesday at the White House.

“We all agree that we should try to avoid this railroad closure as soon as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said as he returned to the Capitol.

A letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her Democratic colleagues promised two votes, reflecting the astonishment she heard from members. The first vote will be on the proposed labor agreement. The second would be a measure that adds seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers to the deal.

“It is with great reluctance that we have to move to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement,” Pelosi wrote. However, we must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that could affect the lives of nearly every family: erase hundreds of people thousands of jobs, including union work; not display food and medicine; and prevent small businesses from bringing their goods to market.”

The compromise agreement backed by railroads and most unions stipulates a 24% increase and $5,000 in bonuses effective from 2020 along with an additional day of paid leave. The pay increase will be the biggest raise railroad workers have received in more than four decades. Workers will have to pay a larger portion of the cost of health insurance, but their premiums will be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. But the agreement failed to address workers’ concerns about tight work schedules that make it difficult for them to take a day off and get no paid sick leave.

Lawmakers on both sides complain about intervening in the dispute, but they also say they have little choice.

“The bottom line is that we are now forced to confront this terrible situation where we have to choose between a negotiated imperfect deal or an economic disaster”.

“It’s a matter of whether we shut down America’s railroads, which will have implications,” said Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives. extremely negative for our economy. We should have a bipartisan vote.”

Republicans need the Biden administration and Democrats for Congress are asked to intervene now to avert an economic crisis. But many said they were ready to do so.

“This becomes difficult for Democrats because they often succumb to unions,” said Senator Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Representative Tom Cole, R-Okla said: “At this late hour, it is clear that there is nothing we can do but support this measure.

Business groups including the American Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of American Agriculture Bureaus said earlier this week in a letter to congressional leaders that they must prepare to intervene and suspend rail service. over any period of time would cost the economy $2 billion a day. economy.

On several previous occasions, Congress has intervened in labor disputes by enacting legislation to delay or ban rail and airline strikes.

Rail unions on Tuesday criticized Biden’s call for Congress to intervene in their contract dispute, saying it undermines their efforts to address quality concerns quality of life of workers.

Conductor Gabe Christenson, co-chair of the Railroad Workers Solidarity union that includes workers from all railroad unions, said Biden and the Democrats are siding with the railroads over the workers.

“The ‘most worker-friendly president in history’ has proven that he and the Democrats are not the workers’ friends they advertise,” Christenson said. Congress prepares to take up bill to avoid rail strike

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