But an amendment to guarantee paid sick leave for railroad workers fell short of the 60-vote threshold of the U.S. Senate.
The United States Senate passed a bill forcing railroad unions to accept a deal that would raise wages to avoid a nationwide strike expected to have devastating economic consequences.
The legislation passed by an 80-15 vote on Thursday and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. Railway workers were due to start their strike on December 9 if no agreement was reached.
The deal builds on an earlier, tentative agreement negotiated in September with the help of the Biden administration, which includes higher pay but no paid sick leave.
Shortly before the vote, the Senate rejected a separate amendment that would have given railroad workers seven days of paid sick leave a year, a key demand.
By a vote of 52 to 43, the amendment received majority support, with six Republican lawmakers joining Democrats in voting yes. But that number fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in Thursday’s proceedings.
Pro-labor groups have criticized Congressional intervention as an attack on workers’ rights to bargain collectively and a concession to railroad companies that have refused to budge on the issue of sick leave.
The government has defended the move by citing the cost a railway strike would have to the economy at a time of high inflation. A strike could upend the US supply chain, affecting up to 30 percent of the country’s shipments by weight. In a speech on Thursday, Biden warned that this could lead to the loss of 750,000 jobs and a recession.
Several unions had already approved the preliminary agreement, which the Biden administration helped broker, and which was hailed as a “major victory” in September.
“I negotiated a contract that no one else could negotiate,” Biden said during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday. “What was negotiated was so much better than anything they ever had.”
The deal offered railroad workers a 24 percent pay increase and a $5,000 bonus over five years and comes as railroad companies have cut their workforce by more than 30 percent over the past six years. During the same period, railway companies bought back shares and saw their profits increase.
All 12 unions involved in the negotiations had to approve the contract to avoid a strike. The majority did, but members of the country’s largest railway union cited unmet quality-of-life issues, including demanding schedules, as reasons for rejecting it.
In the US, labor activity has increased in recent years as workers push for higher compensation and better working conditions.
Here’s my message to Republican senators who claim to be working-class supporters: Shut up or shut up. pic.twitter.com/LadouLTLg9
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 1, 2022
Congress can resolve disputes between railroads and labor unions as part of its power to regulate trade. Some lawmakers, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have pushed for paid sick leave to be included in Thursday’s legislation.
“If you are a working-class supporter, how are you going to vote against a proposal that would provide paid sick leave to workers who currently have none?” Sanders said in an interview earlier this week pushing for the rejected sick leave amendment.