WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday the chamber “cannot leave” until lawmakers agree on a bill to impose a collective bargaining agreement preventing a scheduled rail strike next week.
After the House approved legislation Wednesday forcing a tentative deal reached in September on rail companies and workers nationwide, it’s now up to the Senate to quash the standoff that would cost the US to lose an estimated $2 billion a day in economic activity and further jam supply chains during the holiday season.
“Senators are working morning, noon and night to reach an agreement for us to act on this measure ASAP,” Schumer said Thursday. “The Senate cannot leave until we get the job done. “
The deal would offer 115,000 members of 12 rail unions 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020. It also would make workers pay a larger share of their health insurance costs, but their premiums would be capped at 15% of the total cost of the plan.
Since the White House first announced the deal, four unions have backed out because it did not include key benefits like paid sick leave.
The House responded to their concerns, adding seven sick days per year for union members to the agreement in a resolution that passed in a separate 221-207 vote.
“It’s outrageous that every developed country in the world has paid sick leave except the United States of America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday.
Senate Democrats also want to take up the provision adding sick days to the agreement, Schumer said, noting that “forcing workers to choose between their health and their livelihoods is unacceptable.”
“One of my top priorities is holding a vote to provide rail workers with the paid sick leave many of them have asked for,” he said. “My Democratic colleagues support paid sick leave and we want to see it included in the package. We hope some of our Republican colleagues will join us.”
Democrats need 10 GOP votes to pass the bill. Some Republicans have criticized forcing an agreement against union members’ wills, though Congress has the power to do so under the federal Railway Labor Act of 1926.
“Mr. ‘Pro-worker’ Joe Biden wants to use the federal government to force railroad workers in Missouri & around the nation to accept contract terms they rejected,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said on Twitter Wednesday. “Not with my support.”
Hawley later said he may vote for a bill that met unions’ demands, noting in a Wednesday interview on NPR he would support adding sick days to the agreement .
While the strike is not scheduled to begin until next Friday, Schumer said Congress must resolve the impasse “well in advance” to prevent economic fallout.
“Suppliers and businesses across the nation are going to begin shutting down operations soon if they think a strike is imminent — they’re not going to wait till Dec. 9,” he said. “They’re not going to put something on a rail car in Seattle on Dec. 7 that may be stuck in Peoria on Dec. 9 because there’s a rail strike.”
The Brooklyn Democrat further warned that there will be “painful disruptions to the economy” and to American families if the Senate does not act soon.
“The consequences of inaction would be severe: Unsafe drinking water, unusable gasoline, shuttered power plants and a crippling shutdown of passenger rail across the country,” Schumer said. “And those are just a few of the myriad of serious problems that would occur if there’s a rail shutdown.”
Biden Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were on Capitol Hill Thursday to sell reluctant Democrats on the deal.
“The responsible thing to do here is to move forward and do everything we can to include paid sick leave,” Schumer said. “Again, we must keep working until the task is complete.”