By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The House of Representatives approved with a strong bipartisan majority on Wednesday legislation that seeks to avert a looming nationwide rail shutdown, which would have dire effects for the US economy.
The bill, which cleared the chamber 290-137, would force rail unions to accept a tentative agreement brokered by the Biden administration over the summer. Four of the 12 labor unions involved have rejected the agreement over its lack of paid sick leave for workers. Unions have threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached by a Dec. 9 deadline.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration, and is all but certain to be signed into law by US President Joe Biden in the likely event that it reaches his desk.
The president has implored lawmakers to quickly approve the bill, saying that if the strike were allowed to take hold it would result in up to 765,000 Americans losing their jobs in the first two weeks alone.
Shortly after the House vote, Biden said the "overwhelming bipartisan" support for the bill "makes clear that Democrats and Republicans agree that a rail shutdown would be devastating to our economy and families across the country."
"The Senate must now act urgently. Without the certainty of a final vote to avoid a shutdown this week, railroads will begin to halt the movement of critical materials like chemicals to clean our drinking water as soon as this weekend," he said in a statement.
Despite winning widespread support in the House, the bill sought by the president has faced strong pushback from Democrats and Republicans alike, including Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a longtime political ally of labor unions.
Sanders is seeking an amendment to have the agreement include seven days of paid sick leave, and said on Twitter that "at a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days."
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged the opposition within some segments of the Democratic Party, saying Democrats "know much more needs to be done for railroad workers."
"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 lifesaving surgery," she said on the House floor.
The House, she said, will now turn to a vote on the seven days of paid sick leave sought by labor unions.