CHICAGO (WLS) -- Six Metra lines could be impacted by a freight rail strike, and riders are carefully watching negotiations and actions by Congress.
With so many of the nation's economy dependent on freight transportation, by some estimates $2 billion a day, a rail strike has the potential to be incredibly disruptive. Congressional action to block a work stoppage is needed to avoid the December 9 deadline.
"A shutdown would grind our economy to a halt, and every family would feel the strain," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.
House lawmakers used their authority under the commerce clause of the constitution to intervene in the labor dispute between railroad operators and their workers unions.
"We're watching things closely, we're hopeful that there's going to be a resolution and that we won't even have to communicate with our customers and warn them about the possibility. It looks like it might be averted in time for us to even, you know have to do that," said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
Riders, like Katherine Prejzner, rely depend on Metra every day to come downtown for work, school or, in her case, occupational therapy classes.
"I really do need to take the Metra to school every day and if there were a strike I would not be able to go to school I know it would impact a lot of my classmates as well because they also take the train downtown," Prejzner said.
But with unions representing more than half of all railway workers rejecting the tentative agreement brokered in September by the Biden Administration, the House voted Wednesday to force the implementation of the deal on workers has outraged some unions.
"I think it's the most un-democratic thing, most anti-union thing that has occurred in this country in some years. I think that the Biden administration has no business calling themselves pro-labor," said Marilee Taylor, Railroad Workers Union spokeswoman.
In a separate vote Wednesday, the House approved a measure to provide seven paid sick days for rail employees, mostly along party lines, but only three Republicans supported it. It could face roadblocks in the Senate.
"Why should the federal government force a contract on workers that they have explicitly rejected forced this on them and they don't have any say in it. That just seems wrong to me," said
Four out of the twelve railroad unions also rejected that deal, saying there was not enough paid sick leave.
"I think some guys are upset that Congress isn't letting this process play out," said Jakob Forsgren.
Forsgren is a member of one of the unions that didn't sign on to the deal. He's home sick and says if his manager doesn't approve his vacation time he doesn't get a paycheck.
"We absolutely do not have sick leave right now," Forsgren added.
Both bills now head to the Senate.
Train travelers, while perhaps sympathetic to workers, are hopeful a strike will be averted.
"I don't think there will be a strike, but you never know what can happen in today's world," said Amtrak passenger Christopher Johnson.
If the strike happens, it could affect about 35,000 passengers a day.