Senate passes bill to avoid rail strike

Senators voted Thursday to pass legislation to prevent railroad workers from striking amid a dispute over paid sick leave.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier on the chamber’s floor that Republicans and Democrats had “come together so that we can avoid this shutdown, which would be extremely damaging to the country.”

Update 4 p.m. EST Dec. 1: The bill to bind workers and railroads to a tentative agreement reached earlier this year passed in an 80-15 vote in the Senate on Thursday. Sixty votes were needed to pass the legislation.

The bill will next go to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign the legislation.

Update 3:40 p.m. EST Dec. 1: The Senate voted against a resolution offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would have given workers paid sick leave.

The bill required 60 votes to pass. It failed in a 52-43 vote.

The Senate is expected to vote soon on legislation to bind workers and railroads to a tentative agreement that would avoid a worker strike next week.

Original report: Earlier, he said it was imperative that senators pass legislation to avoid a rail shutdown.

“The Senate cannot leave until we get the job done and Democrats will keep working with Republicans to find a path forward that everyone can support,” he said.

The House voted on Wednesday to pass legislation to resolve the dispute between railroads and workers. In a separate vote, representatives also approved a bill that would grant workers seven days of paid sick leave.

President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene to prevent a railroad worker strike, saying that such a shutdown “would hurt millions of other working people and families.” Officials estimate that as many as 765,000 Americans could lose work in the first two years of a railroad strike.

“Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down,” Biden said in a statement. “Congress has the power to adopt the agreement and prevent a shutdown. It should set aside politics and partisan division and deliver for the American people.”

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.

Four of the 12 unions involved in strike negotiations have not accepted the tentative agreement amid a dispute over sick leave pay. On Monday, Biden said that he understood the concerns: “But at this critical moment for our economy, in the holiday season, we cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached, and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown.”

Officials with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, one of the unions that voted not to accept the tentative agreement, on Wednesday praised legislators who voted to include paid sick leave in the agreement.

“The additional legislation needs to pass so that Railroad Workers will have basic protections against illness, and protection from punishment from the railroads when Workers are most vulnerable,” the group said in a statement. “This should not be a political issue; this is an issue about protecting our Workers who ensure the nation’s rail infrastructure and supply chain function as best as possible.”

In a letter sent Thursday to senators, union president Tony Cardwell urged lawmakers to end the threat of a strike and vote in favor for both House-passed bills.

“Railroad Workers need and deserve paid sick days, and the railroads and their Wall St. backed hedge funds can afford one penny of every dollar of their record profits to provide these paid sick days,” he wrote. “It is time for the Senate to do the right thing. Vote to pass the two bills that are before you today. Do not delay any longer.”

The deadline to avoid a strike is Dec. 9.