Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will keep senators working in Washington until they pass legislation to avoid a nationwide rail strike, which he warned could begin disrupting the nation’s supply chain as soon as next week.
“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 Democratic leader 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.
The legislation passed the House earlier in the day 290-137 to impose a labor deal on freight rail carriers and workers that would keep the rail lines running ahead of Christmas. Seventy-nine House Republicans voted for the bill, and eight Democrats voted against it.
President Biden called on 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 that would have given workers a 24 percent raise by 2024 but little flexibility on taking sick days.
A companion House bill giving workers seven sick days passed the chamber by a much narrower margin, 221 to 207, with only three Democrats voting for it.
Schumer only put the bill averting the potential strike on the calendar, not the legislation adding sick days to the deal — indicating that legislation imposing a contract on the industry with sick leave will be voted on separately.
A Senate aide familiar with the matter noted the seven days of additional sick leave will be considered as a stand-alone “engrossment correction” to the labor contract. Therefore it would require that Congress also approve both House-passed bills for the additional sick leave to take effect.
“Senators are working morning, noon and night to enact this measure ASAP,” Schumer said.
Republicans want to pass an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) that would postpone a strike for 60 days, giving freight rail carriers and unions more time to negotiate a settlement.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said leaders are negotiating whether to allow the competing proposals on sick leave and more time for negotiations at 51- or 60-vote thresholds. If the sick leave or the 60-day cooling off period need 60 votes to pass, then neither one is likely to be adopted.
“Right now they’re working out the path forward on amendments,” Thune said. “The question … is going to be what is the threshold for amendment votes. That affects both sides.”
Thune said Sullivan’s proposal to postpone a strike for two months and send the parties back to the negotiating table has broad support in the GOP conference.
“There is a lot of support on the GOP side. Whether there’s full support is another issue,” he said.
Updated at 1:35 p.m.