WASHINGTON — House lawmakers are poised to pass legislation Wednesday to prevent a catastrophic rail strike that President Joe Biden has warned could threaten the US economy just weeks before Christmas.
After a meeting with Biden and other top congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday she is confident there will be enough votes to pass the resolution in the House. She would then head to the Senate, where both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said lawmakers must intervene this week.
“Leader McConnell and I want to pass it quickly,” Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We understand the timelines and will work together to find the best way to do it quickly.”
But senators have only days to act: rail workers vow to go on strike by December 9 if a new deal cannot be reached, and some lawmakers threaten to block roads that could delay the process. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a labor ally, said Tuesday the bill doesn’t go far enough and he will keep it until the Senate votes on his amendment to ensure workers receive paid sick leave. .
“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it is unacceptable for rail workers to be guaranteed ZERO paid sick days,” Sanders tweeted. “It is my intent to block consideration of rail legislation until a roll call vote is taken to guarantee 7 paid sick days to rail workers in the United States.”
Other progressives would also not commit to backing the rail proposal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, also said she wanted paid sick leave included in the final bill: “There is a lot of money for these rail companies to give some sick days to people who are actually doing the worked”.
And while he touted Biden as “the most pro-union president of our lifetimes,” 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 late Tuesday that the House will vote on the rail legislation, which would adopt a tentative agreement the White House brokered between rail companies and union leaders in September.
But the House will also separately vote on a bill that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the deal. Both bills are expected to go to the Senate, which can decide how to proceed.
It is not only the liberals who criticize the legislative solution. Conservative Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he wants Congress to get out of the way and get workers and operators back to the bargaining table.
“Just because Congress has the authority to impose a heavy-handed solution doesn’t mean we should,” Rubio said in a statement. “It is wrong for the Biden Administration, which has not fought for workers, to ask Congress to impose a deal that workers themselves have rejected.”
Rubio said he will not vote for “any agreement that does not have the support of the railway workers.”
Another conservative, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, also suggested he will vote no, citing union opposition. Did the workers “say no and then Congress will force them to swallow at the behest of this administration?” he asked him.
Four of the 12 rail unions rejected the deal brokered by the White House this year, and Biden on Monday called on Congress to intervene after talks between workers and their employers appeared to have stalled. While the Dec. 9 deadline is more than a week away, railways must notify shipping companies a week in advance, by next Friday, if a strike is planned.
The economic consequences of a strike could be dire. Biden said that up to 765,000 people could be “out of a job” in the first two weeks.
Congress has the authority to block a strike and impose a labor agreement on workers under a 1926 lawthe Railroad Labor Act, designed to prevent disruption of interstate commerce in labor disputes.
Biden “is confident that we will not have a rail strike. That’s what he’s confident about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday aboard Air Force One. “He’s confident that we’re going to come to a resolution on this.”
shannon pettypiece, frank thorp, haley talbot Y kate santaliz contributed.