House votes to block rail strike

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday voted in favor of legislation to avoid a national rail strike as the deadline to reach an agreement between railroad workers and railways looms.

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The House voted in favor of two bills, one that would bind railway workers and companies to a tentative agreement reached earlier this year and a second that would give workers seven days of paid sick leave.

The bills will next go to the Senate.

Update 1:50 p.m. EST Nov. 30: The House passed a bill that would grant workers with seven days of paid sick leave, according to The Washington Post.

Three Republicans voted in favor of the added paid leave, far lower than the 79 Republicans who earlier joined Democrats to vote in favor of adopting the tentative agreement reached in negotiations earlier this year, The Huffington Post reported.

Update 1:15 p.m. EST Nov. 30: The House approved of a bill to adopt a tentative agreement reached earlier this year, The Washington Post reported. The legislation would bind companies and workers to the deal despite objections from some workers who rejected the deal for its lack of paid sick leave, according to The Associated Press.

The bill passed by a 290-137 vote, the AP reported. It will next go to the Senate.

The House is expected to vote later Wednesday on a bill that would add seven sick days for railroad workers, according to the Post.

Original report: In a letter sent Tuesday to colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the chamber would consider legislation to adopt a tentative agreement reached in September and legislation to add seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement.

“It is with great reluctance that we must now move to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement,” she said. “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 legislation will next go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have signaled that they will prioritize avoiding a strike, The Washington Post reported.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns over the terms of the tentative agreement. In a statement posted Tuesday on Twitter, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., vowed to block consideration of the rail legislation unless senators held a vote on adding paid sick leave to the contract.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement that he would not vote to adopt the tentative agreement and urged a return to the negotiating table.

“Just because Congress has the authority to impose a heavy-handed solution does not mean we should,” he said. “I will not vote for any deal that does not have the support of rail workers.”

President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene to prevent a railroad worker strike, saying that such a shutdown “would devastate our economy.”

“Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down,” he said in a statement. “My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans — many union workers themselves — could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”

Officials reached a deal on a tentative contract with railway workers in September. Under the deal, railroad workers would see a 24% pay raise from 2020 to 2024 and a cap on the cost of health care.

Eight of the 12 unions involved in strike negotiations have accepted the tentative agreement. Amid a dispute over sick leave pay, four of the unions have not accepted the deal.

Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, told NPR that pressure to negotiate has been wrongly placed on railroad workers who were hailed as heroes for working through the pandemic and not on the railroad companies that “have taken advantage of these employees.”

“Our last negotiation that we had, we proffered four days of paid sick time in a single year, and that was the lowest we were willing to go,” he said. “They were unwilling to negotiate even a single day.”

The deadline to avoid a strike is Dec. 9.

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