Just days before the deadline for an agreement to have been reached and amid concerns that such a halt in railroad operations would destroy the U.S. economy, Joe Biden signed a bill on Friday that will prevent a rail strike. The legislation puts into effect the labor pact that Biden supported in September between unionized workers and freight rail operators. At the time, his administration received a lot of credit for its role in mediating a settlement.
Thursday’s Senate vote on the House-passed legislation was 80 to 15, with numerous Democrats voting against it because it lacked a sick leave provision. Increased paid leave benefits for train workers are something that Vice President Joe Biden, who campaigns as the most pro-labor president in American history, supports, but he believes they should be addressed separately from the measure.
After the bill was approved on Thursday, he added that while he understands why some Democrats and unions are reluctant to override the union ratification process, he repeated that the effects of a rail strike on the American economy would be too serious.
He said in a statement that lawmakers “spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” adding that their “decisive action ensures that we will avoid the impending, devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country.”
With the Dec. 9 deadline to negotiate an agreement looming, Biden on Monday urged Congress to promptly embrace the initial accord, without any revisions.
The agreement makes it easier for employees to quit work for medical visits and gives train workers raises of 24 percent over five years, but it was criticized for only include one day of paid sick leave.
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Following a tight House vote on Wednesday, the Senate rejected a measure to grant train workers more sick time on Thursday.
The Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had been in constant contact with labor leaders and management since the agreement was reached in September, but they saw no way to address the matter at the negotiating table. The secretaries advised the administration to approach Congress to find a solution.
Before the bill was passed, Walsh and Buttigieg went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief Democrats.