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Parliament votes to stop rail strike amid dire warnings

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill aimed at preventing what could be an economically damaging railroad strike won final approval in Congress on Thursday as lawmakers responded quickly. with President Joe Bidencalled for federal intervention in a protracted labor dispute.

The Senate passed a bill that binds railroad companies and workers to a proposed settlement reached between railroad companies and union leaders in September. That deal was rejected by four of the 12 unions involved, creating the possibility of a strike starting December 9.

The Senate vote is 80-15. It came a day after the House voted to impose an agreement. The measure is now forwarded to Biden’s desk for his signature.

“Communities will maintain access to clean drinking water. Farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to bring food to market and feed their livestock. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in some industries will keep their jobs,” Biden said after the vote. “I will sign it into law as soon as Congress sends it to my desk.”

The Senate voted shortly after Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and Secretary of Transportation Pete butt stressed to Democratic senators at a meeting on Capitol Hill that railroads would begin shutting down before a potential strike begins. The administration wants the bill on Biden’s desk by the end of the week.

Just before Thursday’s vote, Biden defended the contract that four of the unions rejected, noting the pay hike in it.

“I negotiated a contract that no one else could negotiate,” Biden said at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. “What was negotiated was a lot better than anything they’ve ever had.”

Critics argue that the contract does not receive enough support from union members, resulting in a lack of paid sick leave for railway workers. Biden said he wants “everyone” to get paid time off so they don’t have to negotiate their employment contract, but Republican lawmakers have blocked measures that require time off work for medical and family reasons. family. The president said Congress should impose the contract now to avoid a strike that he said could cause 750,000 job losses and an economic downturn.

Railroad said the suspension of rail service would cause heavy losses of $2 billion a day to the economy. A freight rail strike would also have a potentially major impact on passenger rail, with Amtrak and many commuter rails relying on tracks owned by freighter rail lines. Freight.

Railroad companies and unions have entered into high-stakes negotiations. Biden administration helped with brokerage transactions between the railroads and union leaders in September, but four of the unions rejected the deals. Eight others have approved five-year agreements and are getting their workers’ wages back for a 24% increase in effect retroactively to 2020.

With a strike imminent, Biden has called on Congress to impose the deal expected to be reached in September. Congress has authority to do so and has enacted legislation in the past to delay or ban rail and airline strikes. But most lawmakers want the parties to resolve their differences on their own.

The Senate took a series of three votes. The first is about a measure by Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that could bring both sides back to the negotiating table. But union groups oppose the extension, as does the Biden administration. The proposal was flatly rejected, with 25 senators in favor and 70 against.

“The extension simply allows railroads to maintain their status quo while prolonging workforce distress,” said the head of the AFL-CIO’s Chamber of Commerce and Transport.

The second vote the Senate takes will follow the path that the House narrowly passed the previous day, adding seven days of paid sick leave to the tentative deal. But that measure fell eight votes short of the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

The final vote is a binding measure for both parties to the September agreement. It passed with broad bipartisan support, just as it had in the House. While lawmakers expressed astonishment at the deliberation, the economic benefits outweighed those concerns.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va said: “A strike of this magnitude would have a massive impact on our economy and that is an unacceptable scenario as inflation continues. continues to squeeze West Virginians and Americans as they head into the holiday season.

Democrats traditionally affiliated with politically powerful labor unions criticized Biden’s move to intervene and prevent a strike. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic colleagues that Congress’ need to bypass the standard approval process for union contracts was “very reluctant.”

However, she held an additional vote that would have added seven days of paid sick leave that union workers wanted. That gave Democratic lawmakers in both chambers the ability to show their support for paid sick leave for railroad workers while avoiding a crippling strike.

The call for paid sick leave was a key sticking point in the negotiations, along with other quality-of-life concerns. Railroad companies say unions have agreed in negotiations over decades to forgo sick leave for higher pay and robust short-term disability benefits.

Unions argue that rail companies can easily pay for extra sick leave as they are recording record profits. Several major rail companies involved in these contract negotiations reported profits of more than $1 billion in the third quarter.

The American Railroad Association trade group hailed the Senate vote to impose a compromise deal that included the biggest increases in more than four decades. However, CEO Ian Jefferies admits that many workers are still unhappy with working conditions. Jefferies said: “There is no doubt more work needs to be done to address further concerns about our employees’ work-life balance, but it is clear that this agreement has maintained its position. of railroads among the best jobs in our nation,” said Jefferies.

Union groups were not satisfied with the end result.

“The Senate just failed to pass seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers. We are grateful to the 52 Senators who voted YES and in favor of railroad workers,” the Commerce Department’s labor union Transport wrote on Twitter. “Shame on the 43 elected leaders who abandoned the working class. We won’t forget it.”

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