The House voted (290-137) on Wednesday to avert a national rail strike with devastating consequences for Ag and the rest of the economy, but added controversial paid sick leave benefits in a separate bill.
There was bipartisan support for the president’s request to impose a tentative September deal the White House brokered but was rejected by four of 12 rail unions. Speaker Nancy Pelosi; “Today, we are here to safeguard the financial security of America’s families, to protect (the) American economy, as it continues to recover, and avert a devastating nationwide rail shutdown.”
Missouri Republican Sam Graves warned without action, the railroads would sideline hazardous chemicals a week before the December 9 strike deadline. Graves; “Anhydrous ammonia’s one of those things, and if you live in a rural state or you live in a very agriculture-dependent district, right now is the time when anhydrous is being applied.”
But the debate grew testy after Speaker Pelosi added a second bill giving rail workers, seven paid sick leave days they couldn’t get at the bargaining table. Pelosi; “It is outrageous, that every developed country in the world has paid sick leave, except the United States of America. No one should be at risk of losing his or her job, by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor, or getting life-saving surgery.”
But Republicans pounced, accusing Pelosi of last-minute pandering to the unions to win votes in her caucus. Graves; “This last-second, desperate move to add paid sick leave, it’s unprecedented Congressional intervention, and it goes far beyond what the freight railroads and the unions originally agreed to.”
Graves argued the freight rail workers already get 3 to 5-weeks of paid leave, while the tentative deal gives them a 24-percent pay raise plus insurance benefits. The paid leave bill passed 221-207 with all but 3 Republicans voting ‘no.’
The Senate plans to act quickly and could send the strike-averting bill to the president even if it doesn’t pass the extra days of paid sick leave.