The Senate passed legislation Thursday to avert rail shutdowns after President Joe Biden issued dire warnings about the economic dangers posed by strikes.
The House of Representatives passed the tentative railroad deal on Wednesday. The measure can now go to the president to sign into law. The vote came after lawmakers were under pressure to act quickly. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier Thursday that the Senate “cannot leave until we get the job done.” The final vote in the Senate was 80 to 15.
If Congress does not act, a rail strike could materialize as early as Dec. 9, leading to shortages, price spikes and factory shutdowns. It could also disrupt commuter rail service that carries as many as 7 million passengers a day, as well as the 6,300 daily truckloads of items such as food and produce, according to some business groups.
A potential complication in trying to pass the bill is a push by progressives to add provisions related to paid sick leave to the agreement.
On Thursday, the Senate failed to pass a progressive-backed paid sick leave measure passed by the House.
On Thursday, President Biden defended his administration’s efforts to avert a railroad strike, even as union leaders criticized the White House-brokered deal for not meeting workers’ demands for paid time off.
“I negotiated a contract that no one else could — the only thing that was left out was paid time off,” Biden told reporters in the East Room of the White House. “You know, I’ve been fighting for paid time off, not only Not just railroad workers, but everyone.”
“Now, under this agreement, we’re going to avoid a rail strike, keep the rail running, keep things going, we’re going to go back, we’re going to get paid leave — not just rail workers, but all workers,” he said .
The House of Representatives voted 290 to 137 to approve a tentative railroad deal to prevent rail strikes. The vote was largely bipartisan, with 79 Republicans voting in favor of the bill along with Democrats. Eight Democrats voted against the bill.
In a separate vote, the House also voted 221 to 207 to add progressive-backed paid sick leave to the railroad deal.
Freight rail strikes could cost the U.S. economy $1 billion in the first week alone, according to a new analysis by Anderson Economics.
Therefore, Biden urged Congress to pass legislation “immediately” to avoid a government shutdown.
Biden called himself a “proud pro-Labour president” in Monday’s statement, “I hate to overturn the ratification process and the views of those who voted against the deal. But in this case — the economic impact of the shutdown will hurt Millions of other workers and families — I think Congress has to use its power to pass this deal.”
Biden warned that rail shutdowns would “destroy the economy.”
This story and title have been updated with additional developments.