U.S. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday that would prevent a rail worker strike if contract negotiations fail on Friday.
The Senate resolution would adopt the recommendations made by President Joe Biden’s appointees to the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), including significant wage rate increases for workers retroactive to 2020. Despite a consensus on the PEB’s recommendations, contract negotiations continue, and America faces a potential rail worker strike. The congressmen said a strike could cost the country an estimated $2 billion per day.
“A rail worker strike would be catastrophic for America’s transportation system and our already-stressed supply chain,” Burr said. “The Presidential Emergency Board recommendations are a fair and appropriate solution to a years-long negotiation process, but labor unions are continuing to hold the entire nation’s rail system hostage as they demand more. This resolution would provide certainty for Americans who have a right to travel and work freely across state lines.”
Rail unions and the railroad industry have been engaged in negotiations for a new contract since 2019. In July 2022, following the process established by the Railway Labor Act, President Biden appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to investigate the dispute and make recommendations. Last month, the PEB released its recommendations, which were endorsed by the White House, including a 24 percent wage increase, as well as $1,000 annual bonuses to be applied retroactively, and increased healthcare and other benefits. Eight of the 12 unions have agreed to the recommendations. If an agreement is not reached by midnight Thursday, Sept. 15, rail workers have said they would strike.
On Wednesday, a local unit of the International Association of Machinists announced its membership had approved a strike no sooner than Sept. 29 to allow other unions time to continue negotiating. According to reports, unions and carriers met throughout the day on Wednesday in all-day, closed-door meetings at the U.S. Department of Labor’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The main area of disagreement is in sick leave policies and other time off, said U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Train conductors and engineers are arguing the current proposal isn’t good enough and are fighting for more time off and better terms regarding other work rules.
Wicker said the PEB proposal should be put in place to end the dispute.
“A rail strike would be counterproductive for everyone involved and would have devastating impacts on our entire economy,” Wicker said. “While there is still time for the remaining parties to reach voluntary agreements to end this dispute, it is time to bring this matter to a close. This resolution would implement the recommendations as issued by the Presidential Emergency Board. They are balanced, comprehensive, and would ensure rail service is not disrupted further.”