Congress swiftly acted in response to President Joe Biden’s appeal for federal action in a protracted labor dispute, passing legislation on Thursday that prevented what could have been an economically crippling freight train strike.
The tentative settlement negotiated between the rail corporations and union leaders in September was made legally binding by a law that the Senate enacted.
Four of the 12 involved unions had rejected the settlement, which raised the potential of a walkout on December 9.
The Senate voted 80 to 15 times.
The House had voted to impose the deal the day before. The bill is now ready for Biden’s signature at his desk.
In a statement following the vote, Biden said, “Congress’ bold action assures that we will escape the impending, terrible economic implications for workers, families, and communities around the country.”
“Clean drinking water will continue to be available to communities.
Farmers and ranchers will still be able to feed their animals and bring goods to market.
And thousands of Americans will continue to work in various sectors, according to Biden.
“As soon as Congress gets the measure to my desk, I will sign it into law.”
In discussion with Democratic senators at the Capitol, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg highlighted that rail companies would start shutting down operations well before a hypothetical strike would begin.
Soon after, the Senate voted. By the weekend, the administration wanted the law on Biden’s desk.
Biden defended the deal that four of the unions had rejected just before the votes on Thursday, pointing out the wage increases it provides.
During a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden claimed, “I negotiated a contract no one else could negotiate.”
What was agreed upon was far superior to what they had previously.
Critics assert that the contract did not gain support from enough union members and did not provide adequate paid leave for rail employees.
To avoid negotiating paid leave provisions in employment agreements, Biden stated that he wants to pay leave to be available to “everyone.”
However, Republican senators have obstructed legislation requiring time off for personal and family obligations.
To prevent a strike that, according to the president, may result in the loss of 750,000 jobs and a recession, he added that Congress should implement the contract right away.
According to railways, the economy would suffer a catastrophic $2 billion per day hit if rail service were to be stopped.
Given both Amtrak and many commuter railroads rely on tracks that belong to the freight railroads, a strike on the freight rail industry might also have a significant effect on the passenger rail industry.
High-stakes negotiations have been going on between the rail companies and 12 unions.
In September, the Biden administration mediated deals between railways and union officials, but four of the unions rejected the agreements.
Eight other companies approved five-year contracts and are paying their employees back for the 24% raises that are retroactive to 2020.
In light of the impending strike, Biden urged Congress to enact the provisional agreement agreed upon in September.
Congress has the power to do this and has already passed laws to postpone or outlaw railway and airline strikes.
However, most parliamentarians would rather see the parties resolve their issues amicably.
The Senate cast three votes. The first was on a proposal by a Republican senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan, that would have brought the two sides back to the negotiation table.
However, union organizations and the Biden administration were against an extension.
The measure was soundly defeated, with only 25 senators in favor and 70 against.
Before the vote, representatives of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO stated that an extension “would merely allow the railways to preserve their status quo operations while prolonging the workforce’s pain.”
The Senate’s second vote would have added seven days of paid sick leave to the tentative accord, which is the course the House narrowly adopted the day before.
However, the 60 votes required for adopting that measure were not reached by eight votes.
The last vote was the proposal to commit the two parties to the September accord.
Similar to how it did the day before in the House, it was approved with strong bipartisan support.
Even while lawmakers complained about having to participate in contract discussions, the financial stakes were higher.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, stated, “A strike of that magnitude would have a severe impact on our economy, and it is an unacceptable scenario as inflation continues to pinch West Virginians and Americans moving into the holiday season.”
Democrats have always sided with the politically influential labor unions that opposed Biden’s decision to step in and intervene in the contract dispute and prevent a strike.
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, reminded her Democratic counterparts that Congress had to forego the usual ratification procedure for labor agreements “with considerable reluctance.”