Congress leaders say they will act to prevent railroad strike

Congress leaders say they will act to prevent railroad strike

WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican congressional leaders pledged on Tuesday to pass legislation averting a nationwide railroad strike, saying they agree with President Biden that a holiday work stoppage winter weather would disrupt navigation and deal a devastating blow to the national economy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said after a meeting at the White House with Mr Biden and their Republican counterparts that they would act quickly to push the legislation through the chambers before a strike on December 9. deadline.

“Tomorrow morning we’ll have a bill on the floor,” Ms Pelosi said. “I don’t like going against the ability of unions to strike, but in weighing equity, we need to avoid a strike. Jobs will be lost. Even unionized jobs will be lost.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Minority Leader, told reporters after the meeting that “we’re going to have to pass a bill” to avoid a railroad strike, suggesting Republicans didn’t have the intention to try to block such a decision.

Meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday morning, Biden acknowledged it was “not an easy call” for Congress to intervene, but he said it was necessary because the economy was “in danger” in the labor dispute.

Mr Biden’s demand that Congress intervene underscores recognition that a railroad strike could have a devastating effect on the fragile economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The frozen rail lines would sever supply chains for products like lumber, coal and chemicals and delay deliveries of automobiles and other consumer goods, driving up prices even further.

The last time Congress intervened to settle a national rail dispute was in 1992, when the International Association of Machinists called a nationwide strike. Congress intervened to end the strike two days later, passing legislation that was signed by President George Bush the same day.

Congress has the power to intervene in a variety of ways, including enacting a deal directly through legislation — whether it’s the deal some unions have already rejected or something less generous than a presidential council. issued during the summer.

Ms. Pelosi said House members would vote on the tentative agreement that Mr. Biden’s administration helped broker between railroads and unions earlier this year. Eight unions voted in favor of this agreement, but four did not, maintaining the threat of a strike.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Minority Leader, said after Tuesday’s meeting that “I think this will pass.”

Mr Schumer said he was optimistic the Senate would vote soon to do the same.

Mr Biden met with lawmakers to discuss a range of issues they will face in the coming days, including government funding, support for Ukraine and protecting same-sex marriage.

Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are hoping to make the most of the coming weeks as the party still controls both houses of Congress. When the new Congress begins early next year, Republicans will have a slim majority in the House, giving them control of the agenda.

The president is a strong union supporter who has previously opposed congressional intervention in railroad labor disputes, arguing that it unfairly interferes with union bargaining efforts. In 1992 he was one of six senators vote against a law that ended another fierce strike by railway workers.

The decision to adopt congressional action as the solution to the labor dispute is a gamble that threatens to anger some of its biggest supporters in the labor community.

While many union members are likely to be upset at the prospect of Congressional intervention, some union leaders might quietly prefer that intervention to come in December rather than January, when the House comes under Republican control and may be -be more likely to support a more sketchy deal. .

The deal rejected by several railway unions earlier this year would raise wages by nearly 25% between 2020, when the last contract expired, and 2024. But it has proven controversial among rail workers who support that it doesn’t go far enough to address what they say are punitive schedules that are disrupting their personal lives and their health.

The American Trucking Associations, an industry group, recently estimated that relying on trucks to bypass a rail stop would require more than 450,000 additional vehicles – a practical impossibility given the shortage of equipment and drivers.

The rail industry immediately threw its support behind Mr Biden’s call for legislation.

“No one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not railroad workers, not the American economy,” said Ian Jefferies, chief executive of the Association of American Railroads, which represents major carriers, in a press release. “Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation.”

Four of 12 unions representing more than 100,000 workers at major freight rail carriers have rejected the tentative agreement that the Biden administration helped broker in September.

Some workers have long suspected that Congress would intervene rather than allow them to strike, a suspicion Mr. Biden’s Labor Secretary, Martin J. Walsh, reinforced in an interview with CNN this month, when He said Congress should take action if the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on their own. It was unclear whether Mr. Walsh was speaking hypothetically or calling for intervention.

Later Tuesday, the Senate is due to vote on legislation to provide federal protections for same-sex marriages. If the bill passes, the House will still have to vote on it before the end of the current Congress and send it to Mr. Biden’s office for his signature.

Additionally, lawmakers face a mid-December deadline to fund the federal government. A failure to agree on a temporary spending package could shut down parts of the federal government.

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