By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday on an agreement between rail companies and workers to prevent a strike that could have major economic consequences.
Lawmakers voted 290 to 137 to back a deal between unions and rail companies that includes pay increases. Now, the Senate must consider the issue.
In a separate more partisan vote, House Democrats and a few Republicans narrowly voted to increase the number of sick days for employees to seven.
The deal came in response to a threatened Dec. 9 strike.
“I’m grateful to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and bipartisan House members for acting to prevent a rail shutdown, making clear it would devastate our economy and families everywhere,” President Joe Biden said. “But without more action, supply chain disruptions will begin. The Senate must urgently send a bill to my desk.”
Some Republicans blamed President Biden for his role in those negotiations.
“I’m relieved that we are a step closer to preventing a rail strike,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., ranking member on the House Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials subcommittee. “We were forced to act because the Biden Administration, despite its claims to the contrary, couldn’t get buy-in from its Big Labor allies to avoid a strike that would cripple large parts of the economy. A rail strike would worsen our continuing supply chain woes, hammering our agriculture industry and giving us empty store shelves. It would also fuel further inflation at a time when American families can least afford it.”
The bill comes after months of negotiations between labor unions and rail companies with President Biden often mediating between the two. President Biden brokered a deal in September, but four out of the 12 labor unions involved were not willing to back the deal.
As The Center Square previously reported, a shutdown of U.S. rail would have huge consequences for the economy. A report from the Association of American Railroads said that the shutdown would cost $2 billion per day and “would immediately harm every economic sector served by rail.” The group said 7,000 trains per day would be affected and would “trigger retail product shortages, widespread manufacturing shutdowns, job losses and disruptions to hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers.” Rail moves about 28% of U.S. freight.
House Democrats also voted Wednesday to elect U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. to replace Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who recently announced she was stepping down from her leadership role.
One union group praised the deal after its passage Wednesday.
“The [Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters] applauds the representatives in Congress and any Senators that will stand in support of Railroad Workers receiving paid sick leave. The additional legislation needs to pass so that Railroad Workers will have basic protections against illness, and protection from punishment from the railroads when Workers are most vulnerable,” the group said on its website. “This should not be a political issue; this is an issue about protecting our Workers who ensure the nation’s rail infrastructure and supply chain function as best as possible.”