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GOP congressman slams Biden effort to avoid railroad strike as 'hostage situation'

Progressive lawmakers pushed for legislation to increase the amount of paid sick leave for rail workers, which passed out of the House on Wednesday .

Published: November 30, 2022 4:15pm

Updated: December 1, 2022 6:37pm

Republican lawmakers expressed frustration with the Biden administration Wednesday for turning to Congress to avoid a national railroad strike, with one calling it a "hostage situation."

"These unions put a gun to the head of the American people and say, 'This is what we want, and we're not going to play ball,' so the president's PEB, the Presidential Emergency Board, makes this recommendation, we go ahead and put legislation in place to support that, and at the 11th hour here we are,” said Arkansas Republican Rep. Rick Crawford on the House floor.

"What a colossal failure on the part of the president and on the part of the speaker," he continued, "that we have to be here at all wasting valuable time of this body that we could be doing so many more important things for our people in this country than having to deal with this hostage situation at a time when our economy cannot sustain it. A $2 billion a day hit that is about ready to hit us right in the face,” he added.

Texas GOP Rep. Troy Nehls made a similar argument on the floor.

"President Biden took two victory laps before this election," Nehls said. "One was an illegal bribe to college graduates that the courts struck down, and the second was this unsuccessful rail labor agreement, and they both failed. They were both lies to win an election.

"Now it falls on Congress to clean up his mess and avoid a rail strike, which will be catastrophic for our economy. It is estimated that a rail strike will cost the economy roughly $2 billion — with a "b" — $2 billion a day."

Nehls said inflation would get worse if the nation's railroads go offline, so he ultimately voted in favor of the bill.

"Our businesses and workers need certainty to operate in the environment," he said.

Crawford also criticized House Democratic leaders for rolling out the final bill "late in the evening" on Tuesday, the day before the floor vote.

He referred to the Democrats' effort to vote on provisions to provide rail workers with additional paid sick days as a "poison pill" because it was not part of the tentative agreement Biden asked Congress to pass.

The membership of four out of 12 railroad labor unions had opposed the tentative agreement, which the Biden administration reached with railroad companies and labor leaders, prompting President Biden to call for Congress to get involved.

Biden said on Monday that he was "reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against" the September agreement.

"But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal," he said.

Biden also addressed lawmakers who wanted to "modify the deal to either improve it for labor or for management," cautioning against such a move.

"However well-intentioned, any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown. The agreement was reached in good faith by both sides," he said.

Progressive lawmakers pushed for the House to pass legislation that would increase paid sick leave for rail workers from one to seven days.

"Listen, I can't in good conscience vote for a bill that doesn't give rail workers the paid leave they deserve," Rep. Jamaal Bowman wrote on Twitter. "We fumbled this in Build Back Better, we can't do that again."

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for Congress to pass legislation that provides more sick days for railroad employees.

"Railroad workers grind themselves to the bone for this country as their labor produces billions for Wall St.," she tweeted. "They demand the basic dignity of paid sick days. I stand with them. If Congress intervenes, it should be to have workers' backs and secure their demands in legislation."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, released a formal statement on behalf of the caucus formally calling for sick days legislation prior to congressional action on avoiding a rail strike.

"In 2022, major rail companies have spent more than $10 BILLION on stock buybacks," she said. "But we're supposed to believe they can't afford to give workers 7 days of paid sick leave a year?"

The bill to avert a railroad strike ultimately passed out of the House with a bipartisan vote.

The separate sick leave bill passed with 221 votes, overwhelmingly from Democrats.

Progressive independent Sen. Bernie Sanders called on the Senate to pass the sick leave legislation along with a bill to address the potential railroad strike.

“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. It’s my intention to block consideration of the rail legislation until a roll call vote occurs on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers in America,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Senate has not yet passed legislation related to avoiding a railroad strike. 

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