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Congress Has Backed Biden’s Strike Proposal, but It May Take Some Time

With only a few days remaining before a projected shutdown may begin to impair supplies of essential commodities like drinking water, Democratic and Republican leaders backed President Joe Biden’s plea for Congress to prevent a potential freight rail strike on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer both stated on Tuesday that Congress needs to take action right away — well before the deadline of December 9 — given that some industries will start halting freight shipments as early as this weekend in anticipation of a shutdown.

The House is moving quickly. After some Democrats threatened to vote against a bill that did not include additional sick leave, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday night that the chamber will vote on legislation Wednesday to adopt the tentative agreement and then have a separate vote to add seven days of paid sick leave to it. The Senate will thereafter get the package.

Fast approval in the Senate is more difficult because of dissenters from both parties who have vowed to stall the process because they believe it gives short shrift to rail workers who have been requesting sick leave, which was not included in the accord.

According to a person familiar with the secretary’s intentions who was granted anonymity to speak openly about the subject, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is anticipated to address Senate Democrats on Thursday about preventing a rail strike.

Despite admitting that Congress will “need to enact a bill,” McConnell said that his fellow Senate Republicans’ opinions were “divided.” According to McConnell, “I think some may be inclined to vote against it.” Others contend that doing so would be too expensive economically.

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In a press conference, Schumer stated that “Leader McConnell and I both want to pass it fast,” but he did not provide a time frame. Due to the way the Senate operates, one senator can still stymie progress and force leadership to convene a string of drawn-out procedural votes. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, declared he would oppose any agreement that the workers did not approve of.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a strong opponent of the time-off policy adopted by freight railways and opposed by many of their rank-and-file employees, announced on Tuesday that he would attempt to have a vote that would increase paid sick leave for train workers.

“If your question is, would I demand a vote to ensure that rail industry employees have the same guaranteed paid sick leave that tens of millions of Americans do? “The answer is yes,” Sanders affirmed, describing railways’ contract-related actions as “a horrendous example of obscene corporate greed.”

He declared, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that these railroads treat these workers with respect and dignity. Even though the cutoff date for strikes and lockouts by railroads isn’t until Dec. 9, the effects will be felt as early as this weekend.

Without congressional intervention, a strike “essentially starts this weekend,” according to Corey Rosenbusch, president and CEO of The Fertilizer Institute. This is because fertilizer companies need around five days to prepare for a work stoppage.

Biden encouraged Congress to enact legislation mandating the implementation of the tentative accord on Monday. It reflects a huge divide between labor and Biden, who has battled the proposal for months and identified himself as a “proud pro-labor President” in a statement released on Monday.

However, he said that the financial implications would be too high to bear, including the loss of up to 765,000 employment, access to chemicals for clean drinking water, and farmers’ and ranchers’ inability to feed their animals.

One of the three unions that voted against the tentative agreement, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, issued a statement expressing its disagreement with Biden’s suggested course of action. The union claimed in its statement that a proposal for Congress to approve legislation right away adopting tentative agreements without paid sick leave overlooks the interests of train workers. “It simultaneously denies railroad workers their right to strike and the gain they would probably otherwise obtain if their right to strike was not rejected.”

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