Biden Signs Bill That Imposes Agreement on Rail Unions, Averting Strike

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President Joe Biden on Dec. 2 signed legislation that forces rail unions to adopt an agreement, averting a strike by rail workers.

“I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties, it was tough for me,” Biden said before signing the bill. But, he added, he believed it was the right thing to do at the moment.

Bipartisan majorities in both chambers approved the bill this week.

The legislation requires unions representing rail workers to accept tentative agreements that were reached in the fall but were later rejected by workers with multiple unions.

Absent the bill or a fresh deal, the workers could have begun striking on Dec. 9, with some effects beginning to be felt before then as companies prepared for the disruption.

A strike would have “devastated our economy,” Biden said.

Congress is empowered through the Railway Labor Act to investigate disputes between operators and workers and to resolve such disputes. Options include forcing the parties to accept an unratified agreement and extending the “cooling-off period,” which was set to expire.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) attempted to amend the legislation so as to extend the cooling-off period and not impose an agreement on workers, but the amendment was rejected.

Senators also turned down the proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to add seven paid sick days to the agreement. The House of Representatives had approved the provision.

Biden said he was aware the bill did not include paid sick leave “but that fight isn’t over.” Asked when workers should expect paid sick leave, he said, “as soon as I can convince Republicans to see the light.”

Republicans helped pass the paid sick leave provision in the House and six voted for it in the Senate, but that wasn’t enough to meet the 60-vote threshold. Five senators missed the vote, including Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

By Zachary Stieber

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