The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill to prevent a nationwide railway strike that could have brought the American economy to a screeching halt.
In a 290-137 vote, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be sending the bill to the U.S. Senate. President Joe Biden has committed to signing the bill into law.
After the White House intervened during negotiations between the rail companies and workers’ unions to broker a deal, it fell apart at the midnight hour – making a strike imminent.
The potential work stoppage threatened to disrupt an already struggling supply chain still recovering from the crippling impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But President Biden stepped into action, meeting with four top congressional leaders on Tuesday to formulate a plan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took the President’s concerns under advisement.
The Railway Labor Act, enacted in 1926, gives Congress the power to inject itself into railway labor disputes to mitigate interstate commerce disruptions.
Speaker Pelosi said:
“Let me be clear: a nationwide rail shutdown would be catastrophic. A shutdown would grind our economy to a halt, and every family would feel the strain. Time is of the essence. We must act now.
Several members of the Democratic progressive caucus were skeptical about the deal — with the lack of sick leave being a major factor.
Union leaders originally asked for 15 days of sick leave, but Congresses’ bill only allowed for one additional personal day. A separate bill guaranteeing seven days of paid sick leave was introduced and ultimately approved by the chambers’ majority Democratic legislature – nearly all Republican members of Congress voted against the measure.
“Every worker deserves paid sick leave. I am proud of our efforts to negotiate a deal that guarantees seven days of paid sick leave for our rail workers,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement Wednesday morning. “I now urge all my colleagues to stand by workers and vote yes for paid sick leave.”
Not everyone is happy with the legislation, but President Biden stands by the decision.
“Let me say that again: without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” he said in a statement, according to The Hill.
Both President Biden and the railroad companies have urged the Senate to approve the bill when it heads to the chamber.
There are 115,000 rail workers who were poised to walk off the job in protest if a deal wasn’t reached before the December 9th deadline — costing upwards of $2 billion a day in economic losses.
A point of contention in the negotiations has been sick leave. While the unions were pushing for it, the railroads were adamantly against it, stubbornly holding out on providing the benefit.
Out of 12 rail unions, eight have finalized contracts with the train companies. A third of U.S. freight is transported by rail – including food, fuel, and fertilizer – making coming to a deal even more crucial to infrastructure and the domestic supply chain.
With the Christmas holidays approaching, a strike could spell disaster.
President of the American Petroleum Insitute, Mike Sommers, told reporters, “Shutting down our rail system, even for one day, would have a significant impact on U.S. gasoline supply and could lead to higher prices for American consumers and businesses ahead of the holiday.”
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