The US Senate passed legislation on December 1, binding railways and unions to the contract negotiated earlier this year.
Senators passed the resolution by a margin of 80 to 15. It now heads to president Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.
“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.”
The legislation affects employees in unions working for Class I rail operators BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, CN, CP, Union Pacific, and KCS. Of the 12 unions that have participated in the negotiations, eight have approved contracts while four unions representing 60,000 rail workers have voted down the tentative agreement that had been negotiated in September with the participation of a White House appointed mediation panel. The dispute is over wages, attendance policies and paid time off.
The four unions rejecting the current offer include SMART TD, BMWED-IBT, BRS, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. If even one of the railroad unions were to go on strike, the other 11 says they will honour the picket lines, effectively shutting down the national railroad network. Friday, December 9th at 12:01 am EST marks the end of a cooling off period, giving rail union workers the option of striking.
Business groups have urged the US government to step in to avert a strike. The railways estimate a rail shutdown could cost 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.”