WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A potentially devastating economic shutdown was narrowly averted after Congress passed a measure forcing rail companies and unions to agree to a new labor contract.
While Congress was able to avert a rail strike, the labor contract lawmakers are forcing the unions to ratify leaves workers without paid sick time off.
Congress approved a measure to prevent a rail strike that could have brought the economy to a crippling halt, pausing the shipment of fuel, food and goods.
“The two sides have come together so we can avoid the shutdown, which would be extremely damaging to the country,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.
The bill forces rail companies and unions to sign a new labor contract that the Biden administration helped negotiate months ago.
“That was urgent and necessary to avert a catastrophic National Rail shutdown,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said.
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg added, “nobody got everything they wanted in this negotiation. The companies moved. The unions moved.”
Some unions were opposing the contract over the issue of paid sick days for rail workers.
The U.S. House passed a separate bill to add paid sick leave to the contract, but that measure failed in the Senate.
“People who are working at dangerous jobs in inclement weather have zero paid sick leave. That is outrageous,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said.
However, President Biden says this contract isn’t the end of negotiations.
“Avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving and we’re going to go back and we’re going to get paid leave. Not just for rail workers, but for all workers,” Biden said.
While workers were asking for seven paid sick days, the rail companies say the reason they don’t get them is because the unions agreed to unpaid sick days in favor of higher wages and better short- and long-term disability benefits.