US Senate adopts resolution to avert strike from rail workers

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US Senate voted on Thursday to adopt a resolution that averts a potential railroad strike.

The vote on House Joint Resolution (HJR) 100 was 80-15, with one member voting present.

The vote follows passage of the resolution by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday and the legislation is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden.

The Senate rejected a proposed amendment that would have guaranteed rail workers seven days of paid sick leave. The House passed a resolution in support, but it is not included in the bill to be signed by the president.

The passage through both houses of Congress means the tentative agreement reached by the labour unions and the railroad companies in September will take effect.

The Congressional action was needed after the membership of some of the 12 labour unions rejected the tentative agreement, setting up the possibility of a strike as early as 9 December.

Industry trade groups lauded the passage as a rail strike would be detrimental to the economy which is already on the brink of a recession.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) said a strike would have had economic consequences felt by businesses and consumers across the country.

“As one of the largest customers of freight rail in both volume and revenue, the chemical industry – including many NACD members – rely heavily on rail to ensure the timely shipment of products essential to the everyday lives of Americans,” said NACD President and CEO Eric Byer.

“While NACD was disappointed that the Senate did not pass an amendment led by Senators Sanders and Gillibrand to provide paid sick leave to rail workers, we are pleased that Congress worked in a bipartisan way to avert a strike,” Byer said.

The American Chemistry Council also supported the passage, thanking both the House and Senate, but noted that the chemical industry still has concerns with performance of Class 1 railroads.

“This legislation puts one major problem to rest, but we are certainly not out of the woods yet when it comes to fixing the breakdown of the freight rail network,” Chris Jahn, ACC president and CEO, said. “To get to the heart of the matter and prevent the next crisis, Congress and the Surface Transportation Board must address the root causes of rail service problems that continue to put the brakes on US manufacturing.”

The Association of American Railroads, a trade group that represents the major freight railroads in North America, said the action represents compromise from all parties involved.

“The Senate acted with leadership and urgency with today’s vote to avert an economically devastating rail work stoppage,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said. “As we close out this long, challenging process, none of the parties achieved everything they advocated for. The product of these agreements is a compromise by nature, but the result is one of substantial gains for rail employees. More broadly, all rail stakeholders and the economy at large now have certainty about the path forward.”

The National Retail Federation said it was grateful for the swift action by Congress as a rail strike would have had devastating consequences for the economy, and exacerbated inflation for American families.

US chemical manufacturers are one of largest users of freight rail as the industry ships more than 33,000 carloads per week worth $2.8bn.

In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest.

Many chemical facilities would be forced to curtail production or shut down within the first week of a rail service embargo.

The following shows the votes among the unions.

Union Vote
American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) Ratified 4 Oct
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Ratified 20 Nov
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) REJECTED 26 Oct
International Association of Machinists (IAM) Ratified 5 Nov
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) REJECTED 14 Nov
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (NCFO) Ratified 13 Oct
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Ratified 28 Sept
Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) Ratified*
Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU) Ratified 26 Oct
SMART-TD SPLIT decision 20 Nov
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) REJECTED 10 Oct
SMART Mechanical Ratified 12 Oct

*Ratification implied by statements from AAR, BLET and SMART-TD

Additional reporting by Al Greenwood

Recasts adding comments from ACC and AAR in paragraphs 11-14.

Thumbnail shows railroad track. Image by Shutterstock.


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