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Senate Votes to Impose Contract on Railroad Union Members

After a vote to add sick leave days to the railroad workers' contract garnered a majority, but didn't reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, the Senate voted 81-15 to impose the previously negotiated contract on the 12 railroad unions. Four of those unions, including the largest one, had been threatening a strike on Dec. 9, which would have disrupted 40% of cargo transport. The other unions would have honored the picket lines.

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The unions and their advocates complain that "precision scheduling," and the attending job cuts, have caused workers to have to be on call for weeks on end. Although the workers have paid time off in their contracts, they are required to schedule so far ahead of time to ask for days that they cannot be used for sick days.

President Joe Biden had asked Congress to act this week, as hazardous materials would have stopped moving five to seven days ahead of the deadline, so that those tanks weren't stranded on Dec. 9.

He issued a statement after the vote noting the bipartisan tally in both chambers.

"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%, 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."

Many shippers applauded Congress for averting the strike.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association hailed the vote, as it said a strike would have cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day, fueled already high inflation and could have pushed the country into a recession.

"At a time of U.S. economic fragility, it is critical for the U.S. government to help America’s supply chains re-stabilize. We thank President Biden and House and Senate leaders for their leadership and we applaud every Representative and Senator who voted this week to stop a rail strike and save the U.S. economy. We urge President Biden to sign H.J. Res 100 into law as soon as possible," AAFA CEO Steve Lamar said.

The American Chemistry Council noted U.S. chemical manufacturers are one of the largest users of freight rail -- shipping more than 33,000 carloads per week worth $2.8 billion. The industry is also one of the most significant exporters, accounting for 10% of all exports by value, it said.