Washington, Dec 2 (EFE).- President Joe Biden signed into law on Friday a measure imposing a settlement on railroads and unions to avert a nationwide rail strike in the United States ahead of the Christmas holidays.
Biden, who styles himself as the most pro-labor president in US history, praised Congress for passing the legislation, while acknowledging that it was “tough vote for members of both parties.”
“It was tough for me,” he said during a signing ceremony at the White House. “But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs, to protect millions of families from harm and disruption and to keep supply chains stable through the holidays.”
Some of Biden’s fellow Democrats, as well as a few Republicans, voted against the bill imposing a contract that the rank and file members of four of the 12 rail workers unions have rejected.
The four unions that declined to ratify the tentative agreement account for around 60 percent of the 100,000 unionized rail workers.
The accord, reached in September by railway executives and union leaders with participation of the Biden administration, provides employees with a 24 percent increase after years without a raise, but it provides only one paid sick day per year, far short of the 15 demanded by the workers.
With the looming prospect of a strike as early as Dec. 9, the White House urged Congress to use its authority under the 1926 Railway Labor Act to dictate terms to the railroads and the workers.
While the House of Representatives passed a bill in parallel with the strike/lockout ban to require the companies to give workers seven sick days per year, a similar measure in the Senate fell short of the needed 60 votes.
Labor leaders such as Sean O’Brien, president of the powerful Teamsters union, blasted Biden and Congress.
“Rail carriers make record profits. Rail workers get zero paid sick days. Is this OK? Paid sick leave is a basic human right. This system is failing,” O’Brien said on Twitter. “The fact that there are not 60 senators willing to stand up to Big Business and fight for basic rights for US rail workers is horrific.”
In response to critics, Biden pledged to continue working to ensure that all US workers have paid sick leave.
“Look, I know this bill doesn’t have paid sick leave that these rail workers and frankly every worker in America deserves. But that fight isn’t over,” he said. “I’ve supported paid sick leave for a long time and I’m going to continue that fight until we succeed.”