The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 80-15 to impose the tentative agreement brokered in September by the White House between the nation’s railroad companies and the industry’s various unions, essentially spiking a railroad strike that was set to take place next Friday.
Two other measures introduced Thursday failed; giving the unions and rail companies 60 additional days beyond the Dec. 8 deadline to continue negotiating; and an amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders to guarantee workers seven days sick leave. A measure to guarantee seven days sick time narrowly passed the House Wednesday but faced long odds in the Senate, and it fell eight votes short of passing.
Having passed the House Wednesday, the bill enforce the tentative agreement now it heads to President Joe Biden for signature.
“Trains move critical goods like hazardous materials and fuel – including diesel which is already in short supply in numerous parts of the country,” American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said, applauding the bill’s passage. “Any disruption to these critical supply chains would have been catastrophic for the economy and our industry. Hospitals, businesses and ordinary Americans depend on freight rail and trucking for daily necessities, and the trucking industry has neither the equipment nor the manpower to replace a single day of lost freight rail service. Truck transportation and railroads are much more complements than substitutes. There is no way the trucking industry can replace all the rail freight.”
Eight rail industry unions agreed in September to the terms in tentative agreement, which included a phased in 24% pay raise and other measures, and ended the threat of a late September strike. However, four of the 12 rail worker unions – including two of the largest – rejected the deal, setting the stage for a potential work stoppage Dec. 9. Rail unions have what is generally referred to as a “me too” agreement where the terms agreed to by the last holdout will trickle down to all the others, and if all 12 unions don’t agree, then all 12 could potentially strike.
Congress is authorized by the nearly century-old Railway Labor Act to block a strike and impose a labor agreement on the workers to prevent the interruption of interstate commerce in labor disputes.
Operating over a nearly 140,000-mile network in 49 states, the Association of American Railroads projects lost economic output due to a national rail shutdown could be more than $2 billion per day.