President Joe Biden is expected to sign legislation Friday to avoid a potentially catastrophic rail strike after Congress approved the measure this week.
Biden had pleaded with congressional lawmakers to act swiftly, warning of significant damage to supply chains that could threaten the U.S. economy just weeks before Christmas.
The Senate, which required 60 votes, passed the bill 80 to 15 on Thursday, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. voting present. The Senate acted quickly only one day after it was approved in the House with broad bipartisan support. Biden had pressed lawmakers to pass the measure after railway workers vowed to strike by Dec. 9 if an agreement couldn’t be reached.
“Without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” he said.
The Senate voted down an amendment 52 to 43, championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would have added seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers to the deal.
“Let me be clear: This struggle is not over,” Sanders said after the sick leave amendment failed. “At a time of record-breaking profits for the rail industry, it is disgraceful that railroad workers do not have a single day of paid sick leave.”
Some progressives and even multiple conservatives opposed the legislative fix, brokered by the Biden administration in September, with some citing union opposition. Four of 12 railway unions rejected the deal and Biden called on Congress to intervene after talks between workers and their employers appeared to stall.
“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” Biden said in a statement after the Senate passed the measure. “I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country.”
Christina Zhao is a politics editor for NBC News, based in New York.