In Congress

House Passes Bill Forcing Rail Unions Into Deal With Railroads

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday requiring railroad unions and companies adopt the provisions of an administration-brokered contract.

President Joe Biden called on Congress Monday to use its power under the Railway Labor Act to force railway unions and companies to adopt the provisions of a White House-sponsored deal, which grants workers a 24% raise from 2020 to 2024. Although eight of the 12 major rail unions have ratified the deal, members from the other four, including the roughly 28,000 engineers and train servicemen in the SMART Transport Division (SMART-TD), voted to reject it, with workers citing insufficient sick leave and frustration with attendance policies.

The bill now heads to the Senate after passing the House 290 to 137, with 211 Democrats and 79 Republicans voting in favor, and comes just 10 days before a negotiations deadline of Dec. 9, after which unions could strike.

Matthew A. Weaver, a carpenter working for a rail union and former union official, criticized the president’s call to Congress, which he said seemed “to cater to the oligarchs,” according to The New York Times Monday.

“There is a sentiment among some railroad workers that they thought the president was going to absolutely battle all the way to the end to get them exactly what they wanted,” a former Department of Labor official told Politico Monday. “He’s going to have some unhappy people.”

The so-called Tentative Agreement, brokered at the White House less than 24 hours before a strike was set to begin in September, was hailed by Biden as a major win for workers.

The House also passed a concurrent resolution, brought by Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, which mandates that railway companies provide employees with seven days of paid sick leave. The measured passed 221 to 207, with just three Republicans voting in favor.

All eyes are now on the Senate, where some D.C. insiders are concerned that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont might object to the proceedings on the bill in a bid to secure greater sick leave for workers, stalling proceedings past the Dec. 9 strike deadline.

While sufficient Republicans are expected to join Democrats to cross the 60-vote minimum threshold to pass the legislation, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was vocal in his opposition, calling the choice to invoke the Railway Labor Act “heavy-handed.”

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John Hugh DeMastri

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John Hugh DeMastri

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