WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday signed legislation to force a labor agreement between railroads and workers who had been locked in a bitter dispute, averting a strike that could have upended the economy just before the holidays.
“Without rail freight, many American industries would literally shut down,” Biden said before signing the bill, adding that many communities would not have received crucial resources during the strike. “Thanks to the bill passed by Congress and which I am about to sign, we have spared the country this catastrophe.”
Mr. Biden had called on Congress earlier this week to intervene in the impasse and avoid the work stoppage that could have cost the economy $2 billion a day. It was a significant move for Mr. Biden, a staunch union supporter who previously opposed congressional intervention in railroad labor disputes, arguing that it unfairly interfered with union bargaining efforts. unions.
But he called for an exception in this case because a railway strike could have devastated the economy, severing supply chains for products like timber, coal and chemicals and delaying deliveries of automobiles and other goods.
The measure binds companies and their workers to a tentative agreement reached in September, which Biden helped negotiate. This agreement includes a 24% increase in wages over five years, greater flexibility in hours and an additional paid day off. Several railroad unions had rejected it because it lacked paid sick leave.
Understanding Railroad Labor Talks
Avoid a stop. The House and Senate voted to force through a labor agreement between freight railroads and their workers who have been locked in a stalemate, moving quickly to avert a railroad strike over the holiday season that would jeopardize the navigation across the country. Here’s what you need to know:
“I know this vote was difficult for members of both parties,” Mr. Biden said. “It was hard for me. But it was the right thing to do at the moment. To save jobs.
Senate Democrats, under pressure from progressives to insist on extra compensatory leave for workers, tried unsuccessfully to push through a House-passed measure to add seven days of paid sick leave to the deal. It was defeated 52 to 43, failing to get the 60 votes needed to pass and prompting several Liberal senators to completely oppose the deal.
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department criticized members of Congress who did not vote for the House’s paid leave measure.
“Because of them, President Biden is unable to sign a resolution today guaranteeing seven days of paid sick leave to all railroad workers,” said Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger, President and Secretary-Treasurer. of the transport union group, in a joint press release. statement. “Although we are disappointed, we are not defeated.”
Congress acted under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which allows it to regulate interstate commerce.
After signing the bill, Mr Biden said he would push for paid sick leave for American workers “before it’s all over”. Asked when railway workers can expect medical leave, Mr Biden replied: “as soon as I can convince our Republicans to see the light”.
On Thursday, Mr Biden scoffed at a question about why he helped negotiate a deal without paid sick leave, saying he had ‘negotiated a contract that no one else can negotiate’. Last year, an early social spending package that failed to pass included a proposal to provide up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave.
The tension over the deal has been reflected in Congress on both sides. For Democrats, the failure to add seven days of paid vacation for workers has hurt. Senate Republicans tried to avoid intervening in the dispute altogether by implementing a 60-day cooling-off period, but that proposal failed in a 70-25 vote.
“I know this bill doesn’t have the paid sick leave that these railroad workers and frankly all working Americans deserve,” Biden said. “But this fight is not over.”
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