WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation Thursday to avoid an economically catastrophic rail strike, one day after the House approved the measure.
The bill now goes to President Joe Biden, who had pleaded with Congress to act swiftly, warning of major harm to supply chains that could disrupt clean drinking water and the movement of gasoline in an already fragile economy. He is expected to sign the bill.
The agreement, which required 60 votes, passed 80 to 15 with one senator voting present.
The chamber held three votes in succession, each requiring 60 votes for approval.
It rejected an amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to extend the “cooling off period” giving the relevant parties an extra 60 days beyond the Dec. 8 deadline to keep negotiating an agreement between unions and rail operators.
The Senate also rejected an amendment championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Democrats to add seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers to the agreement.
After that, the Senate voted to impose the agreement brokered by the Biden administration in September, approving legislation that already been passed by the House. While the deal was brokered by the White House and championed as a compromise, it was rejected by some of the unions.
At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House, Biden defended the deal despite its lack of paid leave coverage that some Democrats were demanding, blaming Republicans for voting against it.
The president said he’ll continue to fight for paid leave after the agreement is approved by Congress and a rail strike is averted.
“I think we’re gonna get it done, but not within this agreement,” he said. “We’re going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and we’re gonna go back and we’re gonna get paid leave not just for rail workers, but for all workers.”