President Joe Biden signed a bill Friday imposing union contracts on rail workers in order to avoid a work stoppage that could have hit the rail system early this month.
Biden defended his decision to have Congress override negotiations between unions and the rail carriers before workers could strike for a better deal. Many rail workers had hoped to secure paid sick leave in the final agreement, but Congress voted to impose the deal without it at Biden’s urging.
“I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “It was a tough vote for me, but it was the right thing to do at the moment.”
Biden said that allowing a work stoppage to happen “without a doubt would have been an economic catastrophe,” shutting down industries, raising prices and jeopardizing clean drinking water.
Four out of twelve unions representing rail workers rejected a tentative agreement reached with the nation’s major carriers, including CSX, BNSF and Union Pacific. Paid leave was one of the main sticking points, since rail workers do not get dedicated sick days.
“It was a tough vote for me, but it was the right thing to do at the moment.”
With a strike deadline of Dec. 9, Biden asked congressional leaders to impose the tentative agreement before a work stoppage could hurt the economy.
Many Democrats pushed to add paid leave to the deal through legislation, and the House passed a measure attaching a week of paid leave.
But the votes were structured in a way that ultimately allowed the Senate to impose the deal without the paid leave provision. All Democrats, save for Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and a handful of Republicans voted in favor of adding sick days, but it was not enough to reach 60 votes and surmount a filibuster.
Paid leave has been a policy priority for Democrats for years. Biden acknowledged the vote may have disappointed his supporters, but said the fight for sick leave wasn’t finished.
“Look, I know this bill doesn’t have paid sick leave that these rail workers and frankly every worker in America deserves,” Biden said. “But that fight isn’t over. ... I supported paid sick leave for a long time and I’m going to continue that fight until we succeed.”