Biden: Congress averted “Christmas disaster” on railroad

Biden: Congress averted "Christmas disaster" on railroad

The U.S. Congress finally approved a bill blocking a nationwide strike by railroad workers that could have severely damaged the U.S. economy, but rejected a provision providing for paid sick leave for railroad workers.

The Senate voted 80 votes Thursday to mandate a tentative bargaining agreement reached in September with unions representing 115,000 workers who could go on strike Dec. 9. Fifteen senators voted against it.

The bill has been referred to President Joe Biden, who will sign it. Once the bill becomes law, any strike would be illegal and striking workers could be fired.

Eight of the 12 unions have ratified the agreement. But some union leaders criticized Biden, who calls himself a “friend of the workers,” for asking Congress to enforce a contract that workers in four unions rejected because of a lack of paid sick leave.

“We saved this country from a Christmas disaster in our grocery stores, in our workplaces and in our communities,” Biden said in a statement praising Congress for its actions to prevent devastating economic consequences for the nation’s working families.

A strike by railroad workers could have frozen nearly 30 percent of all U.S. freight traffic, triggered already rising inflation, cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day and stranded millions of rail passengers.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill banning the strike and voted separately to impose seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers.

Sick leave pay was one of the unresolved issues in the negotiations. Under the tentative agreement, paid short-term sick leave was not included in the terms of the contract. The unions demanded 15 days of paid sick leave, and railroad management agreed to one such day.

Sean O’Brien, president of the Teamsters union, sharply criticized the Senate’s decision on sick leave.

“Railroad carriers are making record profits. Railroad workers don’t get paid sick days. Is that OK? Paid sick leave is a basic human right. This system is failing,” O’Brien wrote on Twitter.

The proposal for seven paid sick days did not receive the required 60-vote qualified majority in the Senate and was not approved by the White House.

A total of 52 senators, including 44 Democrats, two independents and six Republicans, voted in favor of mandatory sick leave for railroad workers, while 42 Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin voted against it. Manchin said he sympathized with the workers’ concerns, but Congress, the Democratic senator said, should not “renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement already in place.”

Senator Bernie Sanders and others condemned the railroad companies for refusing to offer paid sick leave.

“This may be the worst example of corporate greed I’ve ever seen,” Sanders said. – It really is barbaric in 2022 America.”

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