Senate joins House in passage of bill to impose labor agreement on rail workers and avoid strike

The Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that would impose the terms of a negotiated labor agreement on railroad companies and union workers in order to avert a potentially economically devastating freight rail strike set to begin on Dec. 9, the Washington Examiner reported.

The measure, which passed by a vote of 80-15, grants workers a 24 percent pay raise, increased benefits and bonuses, and improved safety provisions, but did not include paid sick leave, which had been the key sticking point demanded by some of the labor unions.

Congress to force rail workers to accept negotiated deal

Politico reported that the vote on the labor agreement was held after Senate Democrats had a lunch meeting with Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg and Labor Sec. Marty Walsh, who had helped negotiate the tentative deal in September in order to avoid a rail strike before the elections that undoubtedly would have politically damaged Democrats on top of the economic harm such a strike would cause.

After that meeting, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters, “I’m very glad that the two sides got together to avoid a shutdown which would be devastating for the American people, the American economy and so many workers across the country.”

The House on Wednesday had passed a resolution of its own to force both sides of the labor dispute to accept the terms of the negotiated agreement and also voted to pass a standalone measure alongside it that would have added additional paid sick leave to the deal.

That separate sick leave measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate, 52-43, as did another separate measure put forward by Republicans that would not have imposed the terms of the labor agreement but instead would prohibit a strike for another 60 days to allow more time for negotiations, which was voted down 25-70.

Biden praises passage of labor agreement bill

“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday. “Congress’ decisive action ensures that we will avoid the impending, devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country.”

“I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures,” the famously pro-union president continued. “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.”

“I have long been a supporter of paid sick leave for workers in all industries — not just the rail industry — and my fight for that critical benefit continues,” Biden added.

Biden signs the bill into law

President Biden had vowed to sign the bill into law as soon as it reached his desk, and the Associated Press reported that he did exactly that on Friday morning, saying it was the “right thing to do” for the country.

He reiterated his understanding of the unhappiness of the labor unions in not getting the paid sick leave they had demanded and vowed to continue fighting to help achieve that goal for them and workers in other industries in the future.