What you need to know about the threat of a rail strike and Congress

A strike could start as soon as Dec. 9 if not averted

Activists in support of unionized rail workers protest outside the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday in Washington. President Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation averting a railroad shutdown ahead of the Dec. 9 strike date. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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The Senate voted Thursday to force a contract between rail workers and carriers, a controversial move that lawmakers in both chambers adopted to avert a rail strike.

The bill passed the House on Wednesday, and it will now go to President Biden’s desk. The House also passed a separate bill that would give rail workers seven paid sick days, but the Senate did not pass the measure.

A walkout would have caused major economic disruption during the busy holiday season.

Freight railroad companies and their affiliated unions had been locked in a dispute over pay and working conditions for months, but the threat of a strike eased in September after President Biden announced a “tentative” deal had been reached. But then several rail unions rejected the White House-brokered contract offer in recent weeks, bringing the fear of a strike to the forefront.

Biden called on Congress on Monday to impose the tentative deal to avoid the strike. This plan faced pushback from some rail workers, who are pushing for a contract to include paid sick days.

“From a timing standpoint, what we need to do right now is avoid the strike,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday after meeting with Biden and congressional leaders.

A strike would affect not only commuters who rely on the railway to get to work but also the nation’s energy supply and drinking water.

Here’s what you need to know about the dispute.