With the US Senate late yesterday approving bipartisan legislation already endorsed by the House of Representatives, a crippling rail shutdown has been averted – to the immense relief of shippers. The 80-15 vote ended the threat of a country-wide strike that could have started on December 9.
A tentative contract agreement had been brokered by the Biden Administration in September. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law very rapidly.
“I want to thank Congressional leadership who supported the bill and the overwhelming majority of Senators and Representatives in both parties who voted to avert a rail shutdown. Congress’ decisive action ensures that we will avoid the impending, devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country,” Biden said in a statement after the bill passed.
“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities.
I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country. And, the agreement will raise workers’ wages by 24 percent, increase health care benefits, and preserve two person crews.”
Four out of the 12 unions had rejected the tentative deal, but it will be fully implemented under a binding contract based on a 1926 law that allows the intervention of Congress when conflicts between unions and carriers threaten commercial activity.
Business circles had urged the US government to step in to avert a strike that could cost an estimated US$2 billion a day.
“The freight and commuter rail systems are essential partners to America’s retailers, moving goods throughout the country every day. A nationwide rail strike at this juncture would have had devastating consequences for our economy, and exacerbated inflation for American families,” said National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay, in a statement. “We are grateful for the swift action in Congress this week to implement the Tentative Agreement, and we look forward to President Biden’s immediate signature to safeguard smooth and stable rail operations.”
Among other groups praising the swift congressional action were the Association of American Railroads and the American Chemistry Council. (Dreamstime photo)