U.S. President Joe Biden meets with congressional leaders including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Nov 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives was set to vote Wednesday to block a rail strike that could potentially happen as early as Dec. 9, after President Joe Biden warned of dire economic consequences and massive job losses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers will vote Wednesday to impose a tentative contract deal struck in September on a dozen unions representing 115,000 workers.
Pelosi said the House would vote separately on Wednesday on a proposal to give seven days of paid sick leave to railroad employees.
“I don’t like going against the ability of unions to strike but weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike,” she said Tuesday after a meeting with Biden.
Biden had warned Monday of a catastrophic economic impact if railroad service ground to a halt, saying up to 765,000 Americans could lose their jobs in the first two weeks of a strike.
“Congress, I think, has to act to prevent it. It’s not an easy call, but I think we have to do it. The economy is at risk,” Biden said.
Despite the close ties between unions and the Democratic Party, several labor leaders criticized Biden asking Congress to impose a contract that workers in four out of 12 unions rejected over its lack of paid sick leave.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, one of four unions that voted against the contract, objected to Biden’s call to Congress to intervene, saying “the railroad is not a place to work while you’re sick. It’s dangerous…. it is unreasonable and unjust to insist a person perform critical work when they are unwell.”
There are no paid sick days under the tentative deal after unions asked for 15 and railroads settled on one personal day.
The union push for paid sick time won support on Capitol Hill, where Senator Bernie Sanders threatened to delay the railroad bill unless he got a vote on the sick time issue.
Regulators and shippers have accused railroads of cutting staff to improve profitability. The railroads oppose giving their workers paid sick time because they would have to hire more staff. The carriers involved include Union Pacific Corp (UNP.N), Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s (BRKa.N) BNSF, CSX Corp (CSX.O), Norfolk Southern Corp (NSC.N) and Kansas City Southern.