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Transcript of Pelosi Floor Speech on Legislation to Avert National Rail Shutdown

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of legislation to avert a national rail shutdown.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Madam Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding.  I thank him for his leadership on the very important subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rails, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, the subcommittee of jurisdiction for the legislation that we’re considering today.  

And I thank the Chairman of the full Committee, Chairman Peter DeFazio of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, for his just outstanding leadership for over 30 years in the Congress of the United States.  He’s been a champion for America’s working families.  He’s been a person about the future.  We are – we have been blessed by his leadership.

And I want to commend Chairman Jim McGovern of the Rules Committee for steering this urgent and necessary legislation to the Floor in such an expeditious and effective manner.  

Madam Speaker, under President Joe Biden, we’ve had the most pro-union Administration in history.  Indeed, he chose a Labor Secretary in Secretary Marty Walsh, who has deep personal roots in organized labor: joining Laborers’ Union Local 223 at age 21 and eventually rising to serve as the head of the Boston Building Trades before he became Mayor of Boston.  

Together, the White House – the Administration and the Congress, we have proudly stood with working people.  Under President Biden and our pro-union Democratic Majority, we’re able to protect pensions, promote the PRO Act for collective bargaining and create good-paying Davis Bacon jobs in the Infrastructure Bill, in the CHIPS and Science Law and additional legislation.  Because we believe that the middle class is the backbone of our Democracy.  And we believe that the middle class has a union label on it.  

Madam Speaker, today we are here to safeguard the financial security of America’s families, to protect [the] American economy as it continues to recover and avert a devastating nationwide rail shutdown.  We all know that, for too long, the railroads’ ownership have made obscene profits on the backs of workers.  Selling out to Wall Street and its outrageous precision scheduled railroading, they have slashed jobs, increased hours and cut corners on safety, while demanding more and more from the workers.  And rather than reinvesting their profits into the workers, over the past decade they have given $150 billion in handouts to their corporate executives and wealthiest investors.  It’s just not right.

That is why relentless labor leaders like Dennis Pierce and Jeremy Ferguson – whom I saw close up and watched them fight for their union members, among others – alongside our pro-union President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, as I referenced, fought furiously to negotiate a fairer deal for railroad workers.  And thanks to their months of determined leadership, the Tentative Agreement that was reached has secured important advances.  A 24 percent pay raise and $5,000 bonus.  No changes in co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance costs.  And protecting the two-man crew – protecting the two-man crew, very important.  

But we know much more needs to be done for railroad workers.  It is outrageous that every developed country in the world has paid sick leave, except the United States of America.  No one should be at risk of losing his or her job by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor or getting lifesaving surgery.

So it is progress that the Agreement provides some time off for routine, preventive and emergency medical care, but what we need is paid sick leave for railroad workers and for every American.  I hear this every place I go, not just with the railroads.  But these railroad workers, they are very skilled, their work is challenging, has some danger, they need to have these very talented workers.  And yet they are willing to let them go if they miss a few days of work because – having to get a checkup or something.  Going to see a proctologist is not a reason why people would take a day off.  They do that because they have to.  

So today, the House will take two important actions.  First, we will pass shutdown-averting legislation to adopt the Tentative Agreement as negotiated by the railroad companies and labor leaders – and, again, with the Administration at the table.  Then we will have a separate up-or-down vote to add seven days of paid sick leave to the Tentative Agreement.  That’s always been our intention to do.  We are doing it on the same day because of the end of session.  Doing so fulfills our authority and responsibility under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to ensure that the uninterrupted operation of critical transportation services and fight for fair – that’s our responsibility as we fight for a fairer future for our workers.  

Let me be clear: a nationwide rail shutdown would be catastrophic.  A shutdown would grind our economy to a halt, and every family would feel the strain.  As many as 765,000 workers, including many union members, would lose their jobs in just the first two weeks.  Experts project it would cost the economy up to $2 billion a day and raise prices on consumers’ products.  Families wouldn’t be able to buy groceries or life-saving medications because it would be even more expensive, and perishable goods would spoil before reaching shelves.  That’s why so many Members were saying we’ve got to avert a shutdown: because we’ve got to get produce to market in our farm communities.  Communities wouldn’t be able to get chlorine to keep their water safe and clean.  And small businesses wouldn’t be able to get their products to market.  Many of them, as I say, farmers.  

Time is of the essence.  We must act now.  I urge a strong bipartisan ‘yes’ vote on both adopting the Tentative Agreement and securing additional paid sick leave.  In doing so, we will give our families and businesses confidence that the American economy will remain resilient and strong.  And we’ll move to enhance the dignity and economic security of many hardworking Americans who keep our nation on the move.  Our nation’s hopes, really, are riding on this vote.  I urge a very strong ‘yes’ on both bills, on both votes, and yield back the balance of my time.  Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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