House votes to prevent railroad strike

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to end a possible railroad strike that could shut down fertilizer shipments as early as this weekend and potentially devastate the economy as a whole.

In a bipartisan vote of 290-137, the House easily approved a measure to impose an industry contract that had been recommended by the president’s panel but rejected by four of the 12 railroad unions.

“This overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives shows that Democrats and Republicans agree that shutting down rail would be devastating to our economy and families across the country,” said President Joe Biden.

The House held a separate vote on a Democratic measure that would add seven days of sick leave to the contract, a key demand of dissenting unions. It was unclear how the measure would play out in the Senate; the bill passed the House, 221-207, on a nearly party-line vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., added the sick leave vote to address concerns about the issue in her party. She said the railroad strike would paralyze the economy.

“Families won’t be able to buy food or life-saving medicine because it would be even more expensive, and perishable goods would spoil before reaching the shelves,” she said. “Farmers also won’t be able to get their crops to market, and cities could run out of the chlorine they need to keep their drinking water clean.”

Republicans, however, said President Joe Biden should have intervened in the dispute earlier and condemned Pelosi’s decision to hold a separate vote on paid sick leave. Biden urged Congress to approve the contract without amendment.

“We are here because of the Biden administration’s failure to prevent the railroad strike, and it is unfortunate that we need Congress to act quickly to avoid an obvious catastrophic economic disaster or the consequences of it,” said Rep. Sam. Graves, R-M.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., called the sick leave measure a “poison pill” that Pelosi had to bring to the floor because she otherwise couldn’t muster enough votes for a key bill needed to enact a railroad contract.

The sick leave measure isn’t exactly a poison pill, as it requires separate Senate approval. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., expressed confidence Wednesday that the sick pay issue will at least be voted on.

Farm and agribusiness groups sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Wednesday urging passage of a bill that would enact the new contract.

“A strike or lockout, combined with existing problems in the rail system, at our ports, with freight traffic and with record low water levels in the Mississippi River affecting many barge shipments, will have detrimental effects on the US agricultural and broader economy,” – says the letter. .

“We urge Congress to put a bipartisan bill on the president’s desk well before December 9 at 12:01 a.m., when a strike or lockout could occur. As of September, it is expected that rail services will begin to be suspended approximately one week prior to December 9.”

The letter did not mention sick days.

The threat of rail disruption was particularly acute for the fertilizer industry because supplies of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer were due to be taken off the grid five days before the strike began, according to the Fertilizer Institute.

National Grain and Feed Association President and CEO Mike Seifert said the strike will also affect ranchers who ship feed exclusively by rail.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack played a leading role in the administration’s handling of the labor dispute because of its implications for the agricultural sector.

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