WASHINGTON — House lawmakers are poised to pass legislation Wednesday to stave off a catastrophic railroad strike that President Joe Biden warned could threaten the U.S. economy just weeks before Christmas.
After meeting with Biden and other top congressional leaders, D-Calif. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she is confident there will be enough votes to pass the resolution in the House. It would then go to the Senate, where both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said lawmakers should intervene this week.
“Leader McConnell and I both want to get through this quickly,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol. “We understand the deadlines and we will work together to find the best way to get it done quickly.”
But senators have just days to act — railroad workers vow to strike before December 9 if a new deal cannot be reached — and some lawmakers are threatening to set up roadblocks that could delay the process. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a union ally, said Tuesday the bill doesn’t go far enough and he will delay it until the Senate votes on his amendment to ensure workers get paid sick leave.
“In a time of record-breaking railroad industry profits, it is unacceptable for railroad workers to have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days,” Sanders said. tweeted. “It is my intention to block consideration of the railroad legislation until a roll call vote is taken on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days for railroad workers in America.”
Other progressives would also not commit to supporting the rail proposal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also said she wanted to include paid sick leave in the final bill: “There’s enough money for these railroad companies to provide a few sick days for the people who actually do the work.”
And while he touted Biden as “the most pro-union president of our lives,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he hasn’t yet decided how he will vote.
House Democratic leaders have come up with a creative solution to address the concerns of progressives in their caucus. Pelosi said Tuesday night that the House will vote on the railroad legislation, which will pass a preliminary agreement negotiated by the White House in September between the railroad companies and union leaders.
But the House will also vote separately on a bill that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the deal. Both bills are expected to be sent to the Senate, which can decide how to proceed.
It is not only liberals who disapprove of the legislative solution. Conservative Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he wants Congress to get out of the way and workers and operators to go back to the negotiating table.
“Just because Congress has the authority to impose a heavy-handed solution doesn’t mean we should,” Rubio said in a statement. deal that the workers themselves rejected.”
Rubio said he will not vote for “any deal that doesn’t have the support of the railroad workers”.
Another conservative, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also suggested voting against it, citing union opposition. Workers “said no and then Congress is going to shove it down their throats on behalf of this administration?” he asked.
Four of the 12 railroad unions rejected the White House-brokered deal this year, and Biden on Monday called on Congress to intervene after talks between workers and their employers seemed to stall. Although the December 9 deadline is more than a week away, if a strike is planned, the railways must notify shipping companies a week early, by next Friday at the latest.
The economic consequences of a strike can be significant. Biden said up to 765,000 people could become “unemployed” in the first two weeks.
Congress has the power to block a strike and impose a labor contract on the workers under a Act of 1926the Railway Labor Act, designed to prevent the interruption of interstate commerce in labor disputes.
Biden “is very confident that we will not have a railroad strike. He is very confident in that,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said aboard Air Force One on Tuesday. “He is confident that we will find a solution on this.”
Shannon Pettypiece, Frank Thorp v, Hayley Talbot and Kate Santalis contributed.