Railroad worker unions have threatened a massive strike and work stoppage amid stalled negotiations on a new labor agreement — a potentially devastating move that risks paralyzing an already overstressed economy.
A pair of Republican senators put forward a resolution on Wednesday to force a settlement in the labor dispute and avert the potential strike, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blocked passage of that effort, The Hill reported.
Sanders, who sided with the union workers against the railroad companies, refused to agree to the proposed settlement from a non-partisan advisory board since it didn’t meet all of the workers’ demands and instead attacked the profits and high salaries for top executives of the companies.
“The rail industry has seen huge profits in recent years and last year alone made a record-breaking $20 billion in profit,” the self-proclaimed socialist senator said during a Senate floor speech. “Last year, the CEO of CSX made over $20 million in total compensation, while the CEOs of Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern made over $14 million each in total compensation.”
Railroad strike would substantially harm nation, economy
ABC News reported that Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) had introduced a resolution on Wednesday and called for unanimous consent to impose on the railroad companies and labor unions a non-binding settlement recommendation from a nonpartisan Presidential Emergency Board and avoid the threatened strike and work stoppage.
That recommendation provided for a substantial 24 percent raise for workers retroactive to 2020 plus an annual $1,000 bonus, among other things, but did not include the paid sick leave allowances that workers had demanded. That said, all but two of the several major railroad worker unions accepted the proposal in principle, though workers themselves had yet to vote on the deal.
“If the trains stop running, our economy grinds to a halt,” Sen. Wicker said in a floor speech. “The last thing we need is a shutdown of the nation’s rail service, both passenger and freight, and yet that is what we are facing in less than a day and a half from this moment: a massive rail strike that will virtually shut down our economy.”
Sen. Burr, in a speech of his own, cited assessments that a strike could cost the economy upwards of $2 billion per day and warned of the widespread reach and ripple-effect consequences of a rail stoppage.
“If we do not force this issue, at 12:01 tomorrow night, railroads will shut down and the economic impact on the American people is $2 billion a day,” Burr explained, according to Roll Call. “This is the president’s bipartisan emergency board that came back with its recommendation to the Biden administration.”
Sanders blocks solution to avoid strike
Sen. Sanders was unmoved, though, and said, “We’re talking about an industry that has seen its profit margins nearly tripled over the past 20 years. What Congress should be doing is not passing the Burr-Wicker resolution and forcing railroad workers back to work under horrendous working conditions. What we should be doing is telling the CEOs in the rail industry, ‘Treat your workers with dignity and respect, not contempt.’”
“It’s time for Congress to stand on the side of workers for a change and not just the head [sic] of large multinational corporations,” Sanders continued. “Rail workers have a right to strike for reliable schedules. They have a right to strike for paid sick delays. They have a right to strike for safe working conditions. Rail workers have a right to strike for decent benefits. The Burr-Wicker resolution would take the fundamental rights away for workers.”
“I don’t think anyone wants a strike or a lockout,” Sanders said at another point, according to Business Insider. “We hope that a settlement will be reached in the next day. In my view, if we reach a settlement, I would hope that the railroads — which are making huge profits — treat their workers with the respect they deserve.”