by Kevin Bessler
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed legislation to avert a nationwide railroad workers’ strike, but an Illinois congressman says the government should not be negotiating private sector labor deals.
The legislation, which was approved by the U.S. House on Wednesday, enacts new contracts providing railroad workers with 24% pay increases over five years, immediate payouts averaging $11,000, and an extra day off.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the U.S. House version of the agreement, but rejected a “cooling off” period for 60 days to let the two sides negotiate, and also voted down a 7-day paid sick leave measure.
The action came after talks had stalled between railways and four unions, which had previously rejected the agreement.
“While I am disappointed that not enough of my Republican colleagues would support legislation to increase paid sick leave for union rail workers, I’m relieved that we could come together to quickly pass the labor agreement in order to prevent a rail strike,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said Congress shouldn’t be negotiating labor deals. He said the Biden administration, which intervened to try and broker an agreement, couldn’t finish the deal and handed off the responsibility to lawmakers.
“This was thrown on us by the administration,” Davis said during a House Executive committee hearing. “We’re doing this in kind of an emergency situation to avoid a nationwide shutdown of our economy.”
Some lobbied for Congress to intervene, including Illinois Manufacturers Association President Mark Denzler, who said given the sheer impact a strike would have on the economy, the harm would be horrible for the country.
Illinois is heavily impacted by rail travel, as it is the only state with all seven Class 1 railroads in the country.
Davis said the government should not be negotiating with labor unions.
“This is exactly what we are being asked to do on the back end, but rest assured, this precedent being set by the Biden administration’s failures will lead to many of our colleagues wanting to address things on the front end of the labor agreements,” Davis said.
The approved bill, passed by a vote of 80 to 15, now goes to President Joe Biden, who had urged Congress to act quickly ahead of this month’s strike deadline and “send a bill to my desk for my signature immediately.”
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Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.
Photo “Railroad Workers” by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York. CC BY 2.0.