On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blocked a resolution offered by Republicans to resolve the stalemate that could lead to a crippling railroad strike that could savage the U.S. economy.
The resolution, introduced by GOP Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, would force unions and freight railroads to accept the recommendations of President Biden’s presidential emergency board, including a 24% wage increase over a few years and an annual bonus of $1,000. But Sanders fought the resolution, saying it did not give workers enough sick time.
“Senate Democrats just blocked our bill that would have given railway workers a big raise and prevented a crippling strike and supply chain crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) charged.
Senate Democrats just blocked our bill that would have given railway workers a big raise and prevented a crippling strike and supply chain crisis.
If a strike occurs and paralyzes food, fertilizer, and energy shipments nationwide, it will be because Democrats blocked this bill.
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) September 14, 2022
“Bernie wants a strike,” one Republican aide said, The Hill reported. Burr had stated on the Senate floor, “Congress has intervened 18 times in the past, imposing PEB recommendations in whole or in part four times. If we don’t do it, if we do not force this issue, at 12:01 tomorrow night, the railroads will shut down, and the economic impact on the American people is $2 billion a day.”
Last week, railroads started to prepare for a possible strike by securing “hazardous and security-sensitive materials” just in case a strike occurs and the materials are left unsecured on a train.
Ed Elkins, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Norfolk Southern, said last Friday that 10 out of 12 unions negotiating with the railroads had reached an agreement, adding, “We asked the two holdout unions for a commitment not to strike so we could continue normal operations, but they have declined,” Trains.com reported.
On Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned, “A national rail strike would be an economic disaster – freezing the flow of goods, emptying shelves, shuttering workplaces, and raising prices for families and businesses alike, but that is exactly what is likely to happen in less than four days.”
The Chamber delineated three options for resolving negotiations: the recalcitrant unions would join those who had successfully reached an agreement; an extension of the current “cooling off” period would be implemented, or Congress would make its presence felt by using the power granted in the Railway Labor Act, Congress to order striking railroad workers back to work.
The same day, Amtrak tweeted, “The shutdown could have an impact on all Long Distance and most of our State-Supported routes as Amtrak operates almost all of our 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on track owned, maintained and dispatched by freight railroads.”
The shutdown could have an impact all Long Distance and most of our State-Supported routes as Amtrak operates almost all of our 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on track owned, maintained and dispatched by freight railroads.
— Amtrak (@Amtrak) September 12, 2022
An amalgam of 30 groups sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees last week on which they contended, “A complete stoppage of the rail system would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in devastating consequences to our national and global food security.”