WASHINGTON – First Congress and then the U.S. Senate urgently passed a bill to avert a nationwide rail strike …
that binds companies and workers to the agreement reached in September but rejected by some of the 12 unions representing railroad workers. The bill will avert a nationwide strike that could have taken place starting Dec. 9, with devastating consequences for the U.S. economy. Thanks to the senators’ bipartisan vote, the text of the proposal will now pass for signature to President Joe Biden, who has already thanked Democrats and Republicans in Congress for quickly passing the bill.
Indeed, the entire U.S. political class is desperately trying to avert a strike by American railroad workers that, if implemented starting next week, could cause devastating damage to an economy already in serious trouble. Indeed, Biden had called for exceptional legislative action by Congress to overcome opposition from some labor unions to the ratification of a new contract with private rail transportation companies brokered by the White House itself.
After years of fruitless bargaining, the two sides had managed to converge in September on a draft contract that accommodated only part of the workers’ demands. The understanding had been facilitated precisely by the intervention of government representatives under the supervision of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The agreement had then been submitted to a vote of the membership, and three of the 12 major organizations had ended up rejecting it. Without full approval, the contract cannot be ratified, and, according to the unions themselves, in the absence of new developments a strike will be called on December 9 in which the unions that had expressed a positive opinion will also take part.
The official U.S. press invariably stresses the economic benefits that the railroaders would secure from the negotiations, beginning with one-time bonuses and a 24 percent wage adjustment within the next five years. Instead, the point on which agreement could not be reached is the granting of a set number of paid sick days, as well as the reorganization of shifts with more sustainable hours for workers.
The unions demanded 15 paid sick days per year, but the railroad companies were adamant, and in the final version of the contract the latter’s position prevailed. According to a Reuters article, the companies have “cut jobs and other costs” in recent years in order to “maximize profits” and are therefore now opposed to granting paid sick time because they would be forced to hire more staff to replace absentees.
The prospect of a strike represents a nightmare for the government, transportation companies and the U.S. economy in general. Should the approximately 115,000 affected workers cross arms starting late next week, losses are estimated at $2 billion a day. The U.S. rail system carries 30 percent to 40 percent of the goods traded in the country, including many crucial goods such as fertilizers and chemicals used in various industries. Thus, the consequences for the supply chain in the United States would be very heavy, taking into account the difficulties already accumulated over the past two years, pushing the level of inflation even higher.