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Schumer pledges to keep senators in Washington to pass rail strike bill

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) addresses reporters following the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, November 29, 2022.

Democratic US senators are desperately trying to pass a bill to stave off a strike by railway workers that could potentially devastate the economy.

US Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) claimed on Thursday that he will not allow senators to leave Washington, DC until they pass the legislation.

“The Senate cannot leave until we get the job done and Democrats will keep working with Republicans to find a path forward that everyone can support,” he announced on the Senate floor. 

The legislation was passed 290 to 137 in the House of Representatives on Wednesday ahead of a December 9 deadline, sending it to the Senate for consideration. Seventy-nine House Republicans voted for the bill and eight Democrats voted against it. 

The bill binds companies and workers to a September agreement brokered by the Biden administration.  It will impose a labor deal on freight rail carriers and workers that would keep the rail lines running ahead of Christmas.

The House also approved a separate bill to mandate paid sick leave for workers.

Schumer began the so-called Rule 14 process on Wednesday evening to put a House-passed bill to avert the rail strike on the Senate calendar. 

US President Joe Biden this week called on the US Congress to take measures to step in and prevent the railroad strike, warning that "the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families.”

Biden urged congressional leaders to impose the labor deal on railroad companies and workers after four of 12 unions voted down a tentative deal brokered by Biden’s emergency board. 

The Democratic leader only put the bill averting the potential strike on the calendar, not the legislation adding more sick days to the deal. 

“Senators are working morning, noon and night to enact this measure ASAP,” Schumer said. 

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were both expected to speak to Senate Democrats about the issue on Thursday.

"We know much more needs to be done for railroad workers," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during remarks on the House floor. "No one should be at risk of losing his or her job by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor, or getting lifesaving surgery."

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) wrote a letter to their Senate colleagues on Thursday asking them to pass the bill.

“Members from four of those twelve unions rejected the deal their own leadership agreed to, again gambling that they would secure a better deal from Congress,” Lummis and Cramer wrote.

“If we were to intervene while granting additional paid leave, a precedent would be set,” the letter continues. “Other unionized employees of regulated industries would likely make that same gamble in the future, rendering Congress the arbiter of these types of labor disputes instead of the National Mediation Board. It is in the best interest of all parties that the railroads, not Congress, work through issues such as paid leave directly with their employees.”

But Lummis and Cramer still voiced support for the Senate to pass the first measure approved by the House.

They called the ramifications “catastrophic,” estimating that a strike could cost the national economy $2 billion per day.

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