By Zachary Stieber of the Epoch Times
The U.S. Senate on Dec. 1 approved legislation aimed at heading off a nationwide rail strike, a day after the House passed the measure.
Senators voted 80–15 to pass the bill, which would impose a tentative agreement on rail workers and prohibit a potentially costly strike. Congress is allowed to take such action under the Railway Labor Act; it last took action to prevent a shutdown in 1994.
President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill.
A dozen unions representing more than 100,000 workers hammered out the agreement in the fall, but four of the unions later voted against ratifying it.
Workers had been preparing to strike on Dec. 9 absent the legislation or a new deal being reached.
Operators have warned that lost economic output resulting from a shutdown could reach or even eclipse $2 billion a day, while business groups have said a strike would disrupt the transport of crucial items, including food and chemicals.
“A rail shutdown would’ve killed our supply chain, hurt workers and small businesses, and sent consumer prices through the roof. Passing legislation to avoid one was the right move to protect American jobs and keep our economy moving,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said after the vote.
The Senate is split 50–50. To pass the filibuster, a measure needs at least 60 votes. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was among the Republicans pledging to vote against the bill, which would impose a tentative agreement on rail workers.
The House of Representatives on Nov. 30 passed the bill in a 290–137 bipartisan vote, and separately approved seven days of paid sick leave, which wasn’t part of the original agreement.
The agreement includes a 24 percent pay increase over five years and five $1,000 payments.
The Association of American Railroads, which includes major operators, hailed the Senate vote.
“The Senate acted with leadership and urgency with today’s vote to avert an economically devastating rail work stoppage,” Ian Jefferies, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
“As we close out this long, challenging process, none of the parties achieved everything they advocated for. The product of these agreements is a compromise by nature, but the result is one of substantial gains for rail employees. More broadly, all rail stakeholders and the economy writ large now have certainty about the path forward,” he added.
The industry thanked the Biden administration for pressuring Congress to act, even as many unions had urged Congress not to intervene.
Some spoke out against the Dec. 1 vote.
“What took place in the United States Senate today is a symptom, and further illustration, of a larger issue in our country. Almost every elected member of Congress campaigns on being ‘for the working class’; the actions of many today demonstrated they are for the corporate class,” the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen said in a statement.
“The dereliction of duty and inability to hold corporations accountable for a lack of good faith to their employees will not be forgotten. Those who spoke against us provided no basis and resorted to their only skill set: passing blame and avoiding the issues.”
Before taking up the bill itself, the Senate voted on amendments.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) offered an amendment that would have implemented a 60-day “cooling-off period” during which a strike couldn’t be initiated.
“My amendment would certainly avoid a strike. We all agree on that,” Sullivan said on the floor. “It will give negotiators more time to get to an agreement, and it will not make Congress the entity of last resort in these kinds of negotiations where the knowledge of the issues that are very complicated have not been thoroughly studied and have not received the due diligence that I believe every American, every union member wants us to have.”
The proposal was defeated 26–69.
Another amendment, offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would have added seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement, as the House did. It was rejected in a 52–43 vote—it needed 60—despite support from some Republicans, including Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted against the amendment.
“I am proud that the House of Representatives passed legislation to guarantee seven days of paid sick leave for all rail workers. While I’m disappointed that we were unable to get the 60 votes we needed in the Senate, we did receive the votes of every Senate Democrat, but one, as well as six Republicans,” Sanders said in a statement after the vote.
He said that he would do everything he could “to make sure that rail workers in America are treated with dignity and respect.