House passes bill to avert looming railroad strike, sending it to Senate ahead of crucial deadline | Main stories

WASHINGTON (NBC) — The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a potential prevention bill a disastrous railroad strike what President Joe Biden warned could threaten the US economy in the weeks before Christmas.

The bill, which passed 290-137 with broad bipartisan support, now heads to the Senate, where both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said lawmakers should act on it weeks.

“Leader McConnell and I want to move quickly on this,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol after meeting with Biden and other top congressional leaders on Tuesday. “We understand the timeline and we will work together to find the best way to get this done quickly.”

But senators have just days to act — railroad workers have vowed to strike until Dec. 9 if a new deal can’t be reached — and some lawmakers are threatening roadblocks that could slow the process. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a labor ally, said Tuesday that the bill doesn’t go far enough and that he would hold it up until the Senate votes on an amendment to ensure workers get paid sick leave.

“At a time of record profits in the railroad industry, it is unacceptable that railroad workers should not have ZERO guaranteed sick days,” Sanders said. tweeted. “I intend to block railroad legislation until there is a roll-call vote on the 7-day paid sick leave guarantee for America’s railroad workers.”

Other progressives also haven’t committed to supporting the rail proposal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, R-Massachusetts, also said she wanted paid sick leave to be included in the final bill: “These railroad companies have a lot of money to provide sick days for people who are actually doing the work.”

And while he touted Biden as “the most pro-union president in our lifetime,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, R-Ohio, said he had not yet decided how he would vote.

House Democratic leaders have come up with a creative solution to address the concerns of progressive members of their caucus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Tuesday that the House would vote on rail legislation that would adopt a preliminary agreement negotiated by the White House between railroad companies and labor leaders in September.

But the House will also vote separately Wednesday on a bill that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the deal. Both bills are expected to head to the Senate, which can decide how to proceed.

Liberals are not the only ones criticizing the legislative decision. Conservative Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he wants Congress out of the way and workers and operators back to the bargaining table.

“Just because Congress has the power to impose a tough solution doesn’t mean we have to,” Rubio said in a statement. “It is wrong of the Biden administration, which has failed to fight for workers, to ask Congress to impose a deal that workers themselves have rejected.”

Rubio said he won’t vote for “any deal that doesn’t have the support of railroad workers.”

Another conservative, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, also suggested he would vote against it, citing union opposition. The workers “said no, and then Congress is going to shove it down their throats at the behest of this administration?” he asked.

Four of the 12 railroad unions rejected a deal brokered by the White House this year, and Biden on Monday called on Congress to step in after talks between workers and their employers appeared to have reached an impasse. While the Dec. 9 deadline is more than a week away, the railroad must notify trucking companies a week in advance, by next Friday, when the strike is planned.

The economic consequences of a strike can be dire. Biden said up to 765,000 people could be “out of a job” in the first two weeks.

Congress has the power to block a strike and impose a labor agreement on workers under a Act of 1926Railroad Labor Act, designed to prevent interruption of interstate commerce by labor disputes.

Biden “is confident that we will not have a rail strike. That is what he is confident of,” White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Tuesday aboard Air Force One. “He is confident that we will reach a solution on this issue.”

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