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House sends bill to avoid rail strike to Senate as Biden urges swift action

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly cleared a bill that would enact a labor agreement between rail companies and their workers in hopes of avoiding an expensive and economically-devastating strike just before the holidays. 

The legislation, which passed 290 to 137, forces the companies and their staff to follow the tentative agreement the White House helped broker back in September, when workers were striking over pay and scheduling, The New York Times reports. In addition to raises, that deal allowed workers to take unpaid days for doctors appointments without penalty, a change conductor and engineer unions had been advocating for. The agreement was ultimately rejected, however, and unions have threatened to strike unless a new deal is reached by Dec. 9.

To appease some Democrats, as well as address bipartisan concerns surrounding congressional intervention, the House also on Wednesday approved a separate provision adding seven days of compensated sick time to the deal; that measure passed "largely on party lines," per the Times.

The bill will now move to the Senate, "where leaders in both parties have indicated they would move quickly to avoid a disruption to the nation's rail service," the Times writes. That said, it's unclear whether the upper chamber will support the additional paid sick leave, which The Associated Press describes as a "major sticking point" in the negotiations between railroads and unions.

For his part, President Biden has implored the Senate to "act urgently" and send him the bill ASAP.  "[W]ithout 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 in a statement