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Bill to Avert Rail Strike Passes House, On to Senate

The House took up President Biden’s call to intervene in the national rail labor dispute, swiftly passing a joint resolution Wednesday that would force workers to accept a contract some had voted against. 

The bill passed 290 to 137 and now goes to the Senate. 

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said it was “encouraged” by the House vote. 

NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay hailed the bill as a “critical piece of legislation.” 

“It is imperative that the Senate now acts immediately to approve the measure and send it to President Biden’s desk,” Shay said. “Until the tentative agreement is in place, U.S. economic security remains in jeopardy.”

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) applauded the House vote, while taking up a similar sentiment toward the Senate. 

“The Senate must now take this up immediately so the President can speedily sign it into law,” AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar said. “At a time of U.S. economic fragility, even a couple days of strike preparation or a single day of a strike would upend supply chains across product categories and take weeks to mend.”  

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NRF and AAFA made a final push for House passage of the joint resolution in the early afternoon Wednesday before voting commenced. 

“We need all retailers to keep the pressure on Congress and tell it to step in and prevent a rail strike,” NRF told members Wednesday as it called on them to write to lawmakers. 

Lamar cited companies’ still “too fragile” supply chains in the need for legislation to “avert a disastrous and devastating rail strike.” 

“Already, we are seeing companies scrambling to divert cargo to other distressed logistics modes, such as trucking, exacerbating those strained links in our supply chains,” Lamar said. “When a full strike starts in earnest in a little over 200 hours from now, the economy could suffer losses of up to $2 billion a day, see an additional spike in inflation and experience more job losses.” 

President Biden on Monday called for Congress to step in on the nearly three-year long contract negotiations and pass a law that would stop the four unions whose members rejected tentative deals with employers from striking as early as Dec. 9. Biden’s message drew the ire of some workers and unions that had hoped to go back to the negotiating table, particularly on the issue of paid sick time off. 

The railroads had remained firm in their stance they would not reach agreements outside the scope of what Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) had recommended back in August, which was aimed at helping the two sides resolve their dispute and stave off threats of a strike at that time.  

House lawmakers took up the sick time issue with concurrent legislation that was also quickly passed Wednesday in a vote of 221 to 207. The bill allows for seven days of paid sick leave and will also now go before the Senate. 

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART-TD), one of the larger unions to see its members vote against the tentative labor deal voiced its support on Wednesday for passage of the resolution granting paid sick time off, but remained critical of lawmaker involvement in contract talks. 

“The SMART Transportation Division does not support the notion of Congress intervening in our collecting bargaining negotiations to prevent a strike,” the union said Wednesday. “We firmly believe in the workers’ right to fight for their own best interests, as well as the best interest of their families. Unfortunately, threats to the economy have caused this Congress to believe that a strike aversion is the best course for this nation.”