Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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U.S. House votes to avert railroad strike

On Wednesday, the U.S. House took steps to avert an economically ruinous statewide rail strike by voting to formalize a deal that members of certain unions had already rejected and separately adding paid sick leave that employees had wanted.

Democrats can avoid a strike that might cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion a day thanks to this two-pronged strategy, and they can also show solidarity with union members by agreeing to their demand for more sick leave.

Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont and a progressive icon, and other members of the Democratic caucus have urged that sick leave be included to any arrangement enforced by Congress, but the Senate’s chances of granting this request were unclear Wednesday.

Sanders was on the Senate floor Wednesday night, as the House votes were wrapping up, pleading for approval of the sick leave bill.

He hoped that “in a bipartisan fashion we can do the right thing” and reassure the train employees and other American workers that Congress will support them, not just the wealthy few.

Adding sick leave has also been supported by several Republicans, however, whether or not the required 10 Republican votes can be found remains to be seen.

After President Joe Biden assembled a team of arbitrators in September to negotiate a settlement between railroads and union leaders, Congress moved on with its own plan. Rail employees saw a 24% boost in their overall remuneration as a result of the agreement, but union-requested changes to sick leave laws were not included.

Despite the agreement being supported by eight of the twelve rail unions, four of them have chosen not to ratify it. They have the right to go on strike on December 9th, and if a work stoppage is not averted by the weekend, train service might be disrupted. It would have an effect on thousands of companies in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Although Vice President Joe Biden has always considered himself “a proud pro-labor president,” he said this week that he would have wanted to stay out of the conflict if it weren’t for the economic fallout.

He stated his reluctance to go against the ratification processes and the opinions of those who voted against the deal. However, I think Congress should use its rights to embrace this compromise in this particular circumstance when the economic effect of a shutdown will damage millions of other working people and families.

This week, Democrats in the House seemed to take a similar stance, showing reluctance to endorse an agreement that unions had rejected but doing it nonetheless to avert economic disaster.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington and a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said on Wednesday, “Congress has the ability to act.” We don’t want to, but we have to prevent a strike. We also have to admit that the proposed deal doesn’t go nearly far enough to guarantee trained employees paid time off.

During this time, Republicans were able to criticize Biden for his failure to prevent the train closure via negotiations in September. They argued that Congress shouldn’t have to get involved.

Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst has suggested that going to Congress should be a last choice. And this government, including Vice President Biden, has to become more involved. It’s none of our concern. Union contracts are not something we should be discussing.

On Wednesday, the House voted 290-137 to accept the preliminary deal without additional sick time. The vote had support from members of both parties; just eight Democrats voted against it, while more than a third of Republicans supported it.

All House Democrats and three Republicans (Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and John Katko of New York) voted in favor of adding the sick leave provision, which passed with a 221-207 majority.

Ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Sam Graves of Missouri said that avoiding a shutdown of the train system should take precedence over appeasing union members.

He argued that future collective bargaining will be harmed by Congress’s decision to ignore private discussions and the proposal of an impartial mediation board.

Graves referred to it as a “political stunt” and I agree with him. “It’s a cheap trick… My coworkers today are behaving very irresponsibly, which will have dire consequences.

U.S. Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ), who leads the panel’s rail subcommittee, stated that the measure would merely fix the problem of inadequate paid sick leave for train personnel.

Payne rebutted, “This is not pandering.” That, my friend, is what we call “recognizing the issue and doing something about it.”

After the bill passes the House, it will go to the Senate where its fate is uncertain depending on whether the compromise deal, the resolution with more sick leave, or neither will be approved.

The chamber will vote on Thursday or Friday, most likely.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper joined Sanders and other Senate Democrats in advocating for an increase in sick leave to seven days, the same amount mandated for federal contractors.

Hickenlooper claimed in a statement that the railroad industry was holding the American economy hostage with over 56 hours of sick leave each year. “In only a week. It is possible to maintain a healthy economy, continue operating our supply chains, and treat employees with respect.

The seven days of sick leave that train employees have requested should be included in any law.

Numerous Republican lawmakers voiced cautious optimism about the possibility of including paid sick leave in a measure. If every Democrat supported the measure, it would only require ten votes to pass. As of yet, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, widely regarded as the caucus’ most conservative member, has not said how he would vote on the paid sick leave legislation.

Ernst said that “heavy debate” was taking on inside her party.

But because of the involvement of Congress, she stated she would vote based on the opinions of the union’s members rather than the leaders. The September deal, negotiated by union officials, did not include the sick leave that members had hoped for.

A pair of Republican senators from Florida. Workers’ opposition to the proposed agreement led Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to announce that they would not support the deal in the Senate.

On Wednesday morning before the vote, the plan to add seven days of sick leave was approved by leaders of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, a major transportation union.

“Right now, every Member of Congress has a chance to be a champion of the working class,” said TTD President Greg Regan and Secretary-Treasurer Shari Semelsberger in a statement.

We strongly urge our elected officials to support the important employees that make up the backbone of the United States’s supply chain. We strongly recommend that the House and Senate approve legislation to ensure that train employees get seven days of paid sick leave.

Vice President Biden released a statement in which he expressed gratitude to the House for adopting its measure and urged the Senate to do the same “soon.”

Disruptions to “auto supply chains,” “our capacity to get food to tables,” and “our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries” will start “without action this week,” he warned. The Senate must act swiftly to get a measure on the president’s desk for his signature.

A daily closure would cost the U.S. economy $2 billion, according to estimates by the Association of American Railroads, the lobbying arm of the nation’s major train service providers.

According to a survey published by the AAR in September, the railroad industry is vital to the daily operations of tens of thousands of enterprises, which rely on the daily shipment of 75,000 carloads.

According to the analysis, other sectors cannot meet the need for rail transportation. There would need to be 467,000 more long-haul vehicles to replace rail carriers.

Every Washington politician agreed that a government shutdown would be disastrous.

To prevent “a potentially devastating national rail shutdown,” Biden urged congressional approval of the deal on Monday.

At a news conference on Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre remarked, “A shutdown is unacceptable.” It will have a negative impact on families and communities all around the United States. Employment prospects will worsen. It’s bad news for the farming industry. It’s bad news for the economy and for business.

Monday night, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined the chorus of voices urging Congress to approve the accord to avert “a rail shutdown that would have terrible repercussions on our economy.”

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House have voiced concerns that a shutdown will aggravate inflation by increasing the price of oil and other necessities.

Ed Mortimer, a former vice president for transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that any disruption in service might take considerably longer to unfold due to the intricacy of the supply chain.

To return to “normal,” he added, “might take a month or two.” “Any form of disturbance” could only last a week.

Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper is a global reporter for TheOptic, focusing on bringing insights and developments for global and local breaking news daily. With almost seven years of experience covering topics from all over the world, Brian strives to make sure you stay up-to-date with what's going on in the world.
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