President Joe Biden has officially signed a bill into law to avoid a nationwide strike of railroad workers.
Biden signed the legislation on Friday, Dec. 2, one day after the Senate passed the bill 80-15.
“This week’s bipartisan action pulls our economy back from the brink of a devastating shutdown that would have hurt millions of families and union workers in countless industries,” Biden said in a statement. “Our economy is growing and inflation is moderating, and this rail agreement will continue our progress to build an economy from the bottom up and middle out.”
A rail strike would overwhelm trucking. Shippers would be looking for motor carriers to handle more than 38,000 rail intermodal containers a day. That doesn’t include the bulk commodities that move almost exclusively by rail.
Issues between railroads and unions are not new
Drawn-out negotiations between railroad companies and unions had sputtered on from 2020 until July of this year, when the unions finally voted to strike. Then, with some muscular persuasion by the Biden administration, an agreement was reached. A strike was averted. But four of the 12 unions involved failed to ratify the agreement. The lack of paid sick leave was a sticking point.
Biden then stepped in asking Congress to intervene. Lawmakers acted quickly. The House passed the bill 290-137 earlier this week before the Senate followed on Thursday.
“I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures,” Biden said. “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%, 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.”
The Association of American Railroads lauded the action
“The Senate acted with leadership and urgency with (Thursday’s) vote to avert an economically devastating rail work stoppage,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said. “As we close out this long, challenging process, none of the parties achieved everything they advocated for. The product of these agreements is a compromise by nature, but the result is one of substantial gains for rail employees. More broadly, all rail stakeholders and the economy writ large now have certainty about the path forward.”
Jefferies added that more work needs to be done.
“Let’s be clear railroading is tough, essential work that keeps our nation moving, and our employees deserve our gratitude for moving America’s freight and doing so safely every day,” he said. “The gains in this agreement are significant, including historic wage increases, best-in-class healthcare, and meaningful progress in creating more predictable, scheduled work shifts. Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address our employees’ work-life balance concerns, but it is clear this agreement maintains rail’s place among the best jobs in our nation.” LL
Land Line’s John Bendel contributed to this report