Senate passes legislation to avert economically devastating nationwide rail strike

President Biden meets with Congressional leaders to discuss legislative priorities on Nov. 29. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation to avert a national rail strike that threatened to pose a major economic disruption.

Driving the news: The legislation now heads to President Biden, who is expected to sign it swiftly into law after urging Congress to take it up.

  • The Senate also on Thursday rejected a separate measure to include seven days of paid sick leave for workers as part of the tentative agreement to avert the national rail strike.
  • The failure to pass paid sick leave provisions is a loss for many union members and progressive lawmakers who've been vocal on the issue.
  • The Senate vote came days before Dec. 9, the date railway workers could strike if an agreement between freight rail companies and their unions was not reached.

The big picture: The House earlier this week voted 290-137 to force rail workers to agree to a Biden-brokered labor deal.

  • The House also passed legislation to agree to seven paid days of sick leave, the fate of which remained uncertain heading into the Senate vote.
  • Congressional leaders met with President Biden at the White House earlier this week, where he warned that a nationwide strike "would hurt millions of other working people and families."

Between the lines: Some lawmakers, including progressives, had previously signaled their opposition to the tentative deal to avert the rail strike in the absence of a deal on paid sick leave.

  • "At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it's unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt wrote in a tweet.

What they're saying: Union leaders had urged the Senate to pass the legislation — including the paid sick bill.

  • "If Congress feels it has the duty and obligation to take away railroad workers' right to strike, then Congress also has the duty and obligation to provide these workers a very basic protection against economic harm … by also legislating paid sick leave for all railroad workers," Peter Kennedy, director of strategic coordination research at BMWED, the third-largest union, which voted down the contract in October, said before the vote.

What's next: Biden on Thursday said he would continue to fight for paid leave, but it's unclear what the legislative path forward will look like.

  • Meanwhile, advocates say that the attention the issue got in this fight has breathed some new life into the issue.

Editor's note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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