WASHINGTON (TBEN) — Moving swiftly to stave off an impending strike by railroad workers in the U.S., Congress reluctantly intervenes in a labor dispute to end what is sure to be a devastating blow to the economy of the country would be if the transportation of fuel, food and other critical goods were disrupted.
The House was expected to act first on Wednesday after President Joe Biden asked Congress to intervene. The bill lawmakers are considering would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by his administration, which was eventually voted down by four of the 12 unions representing more than 100,000 workers. by major freight carriers. The unions have threatened strikes if an agreement cannot be reached by the December 9 TBEN.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed reservations, but the intervention was particularly difficult for some Democratic lawmakers who have traditionally sought to join the politically powerful labor unions.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who works with the Democrats, announced he would object to speeding up the president’s proposal until he can get a roll call vote on an amendment that would guarantee seven paid sick days for railroad workers. Some of the more liberal lawmakers in the House, such as New York’s Jamaal Bowman and Missouri’s Cori Bush, tweeted that they could not support the measure.
Still, the bill was expected to receive a significant bipartisan vote. That show of support began when Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate met with Biden at the White House on Tuesday.
“We all agreed that we should try to prevent this rail closure as quickly as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., as he returned to the Capitol.
A letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Democratic colleagues promised two votes, mirroring the consternation she heard from members. The first vote will take place on the adoption of the provisional collective labor agreement. The second will be a measure to add seven days of paid sick leave for railway employees to the agreement.
“It is with great reluctance that we must now bypass the standard ratification process for the Preliminary Agreement,” Pelosi wrote. “However, we must act to prevent a catastrophic attack that would affect the lives of almost every family: hundreds of thousands of jobs, including union jobs; keeping food and medicines off the shelves; and stopping small businesses from getting their goods to market .”
The compromise deal that was supported by the railroad and a majority of unions provides for 24% increases and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020, along with one additional paid day off. The raises would be the largest railroad workers have received in more than four decades. Employees would have to pay a larger portion of their health insurance, but their premiums would be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. But the agreement didn’t resolve workers’ concerns about demanding schedules that make it difficult to take a day off and the lack of paid sick leave.
Lawmakers from both sides grumbled about getting into the dispute, but they also said they had little choice.
“The bottom line is that we are now forced into these dire situations where we have to choose between an imperfect deal that has already been negotiated or an economic catastrophe,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
“This is about whether we close America’s railroads, which will have extremely negative impacts on our economy,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number 2 Democrat in the House. “We should have a bipartisan vote.”
Republicans picked up on the Biden administration and Democrats asked Congress to act now to avert an economic crisis. But many indicated they were ready.
“This must be hard for Democrats because they generally give in to unions,” said Senator Mike Braun, R-Ind.
“At this late hour it is clear there is little we can do but support the measure,” said Representative Tom Cole, R-Okla.
Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this week that they must be prepared to intervene and that a halt to train service for any duration could cost a $2 billion a year. day would mean for the economy.
On several previous occasions, Congress has intervened in labor disputes by enacting legislation to delay or prohibit railroad and airline strikes.
Railroad unions on Tuesday rejected Biden’s call for Congress to intervene in their contract dispute, saying it undermines their efforts to address concerns about workers’ quality of life.
Conductor Gabe Christenson, who co-chairs the Railroad Workers United coalition that includes workers from all railroad unions, said Biden and the Democrats are siding with the railroads over workers.
“The ‘most labor-friendly president in history’ has proven that he and the Democratic Party are not the workers’ friends they themselves claimed to be,” Christenson said.