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Congress races to avert looming rail workers strike

Congress races to avert looming rail workers strike
Congress races to avert looming rail workers strike 01:56

CHICAGO (CBS) – The U.S. House of Representatives took up a bill on Wednesday to prevent a possible railroad strike on Dec. 9.

The development came after President Joe Biden met with lawmakers urging them to step in. CBS 2's Joe Donlon had the latest developments from Capitol Hill. Biden warned a rail strike could cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion a day.

With the clock ticking, House lawmakers voted to adopt a tentative agreement to block a potentially crippling national rail workers strike.

"A shutdown would grind our economy to a halt and every family would feel the strain," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The move imposes a contract, brokered by the Biden Administration back in September, that includes a 24% raise over five years, despite opposition from several negotiating unions.

One GOP congressman said, "It's unthinkable that the four railroad unions are holding the nation economically hostage."

Lawmakers also passed a second piece of legislation that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement.

"Most Americans do not get these generous leave policies," said another Republican. "This is blatant political pandering."

Economist Jonathan Wright said a strike would put a strain on shipments of coal, lumber, grain and some holiday gifts.

"If one piece of that, if the financing piece, if the transportation piece gets disrupted, that would be a very big threat," Wright said.

The emergency measure will go to the Senate for approval, though with some opposition.

"The key issue is the working conditions in the rail industry, which are absolutely unacceptable," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

If a bill doesn't get to the president to sign, a strike could begin next Friday.

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