WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to force a tentative agreement on rail workers nationwide — a step toward avoiding a strike that would worsen already-tangled supply chains ahead of the holiday season and cost the US economy billions of dollars a day.
By a bipartisan vote of 290-137, the legislators approved a bill codifying a White House-negotiated September deal that offered 115,000 members of 12 rail unions 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020.
The House bill also added an additional day of paid leave each year and unpaid sick time.
While President Biden’s bargain averted a strike that would have begun Sept. 16, four of the unions backed out of the agreement over its lack of paid sick leave, putting the planned Dec. 9 strike back on the table.
Congress has the power to force the agreement under the federal Railway Labor Act of 1926, which allows the government to take train workers off the picket line by passing legislation enshrining terms of a provisional agreement.
But some Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Eric Crawford of Missouri, said they resented the White House putting Congress in the position to decide the matter after the Biden-arranged deal did not go far enough for the four unions who declined the offer.
“We are here today because of the colossal failure of Joe ‘Union’ Biden, the president who has by his own declaration been the most union-friendly president in history,” Crawford said on the House floor Wednesday morning. “‘Joe Amtrak,’ ‘Joe Lunchbox,’ whatever you want to call him – he has punted this to us to deal with his colossal mistake.”
It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether the deal should be enforced. Bipartisan support is also expected there as both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday urging Congress to act soon to avoid a log-jam of freight shipments ahead of the Dec. 9 strike date.