Retailers applaud Congressional action to avert rail strike

Marianne Wilson
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railroad union  strike
The House has approved legislation to avert a nationwide freight rail strike.

The U.S. House on Wednesday afternoon approved a bill to avert a nationwide freight rail strike by imposing a labor agreement between rail companies and their employees.

The bill, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 290 to 137, would force the rail companies and employees to abide by a tentative agreement that the Biden administration helped to broker earlier this year. It increased pay and allowed for more flexible schedules for workers.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.  The rail companies and labor unions had until Dec. 9 to reach an agreement before workers had said they would strike.

The House also passed a separate measure to add seven days of paid leave, which was a key demand of the railway employees.

It was the first time since the 1990s that Congress has used its power under the Railway Labor Act to intervene in a national rail labor dispute, reported the New York TimesBut the threat of economic damage as the holidays approach, along with President Biden’s personal appeal for Congress to act, appeared to have provided the momentum necessary to propel the measure with “unusual speed,” the report said.

According to a report from the Association of American Railroads, which represents major carriers, a nationwide rail shutdown could halt nearly 7,000 freight trains and cost more than $2 billion a day. Freight railroads are responsible for carrying 40% of the nation's long-haul freight.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation both applauded the move by Congress.

“Action by the House today to ensure the U.S. rail system remains up and running is a welcome sigh of relief to the retail industry and all of those that rely on this key component of our nation’s supply chain,” said RILA VP of government affairs Sarah Gilmore. “Any disruption and the uncertainty that surrounds a potential strike of this magnitude is one our economy can ill-afford.”

“We thank House lawmakers for recognizing the urgency of the situation and acting quickly,” Gilmore added. “We urge the Senate to do their part to get this legislation to President Biden’s desk as soon as possible.”

Earlier this month, the NRF said that a nationwide rail strike during the peak holiday season would bedevastating” for American businesses, consumers and the U.S. economy.

“We commend the swift action of the House to approve this critical piece of legislation and prevent a potential catastrophic freight rail shutdown,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO, NRF. “It is imperative that the Senate now acts immediately to approve the measure and send it to President Biden’s desk. Until the Tentative Agreement is in place, U.S. economic security remains in jeopardy.”  

Last week, NRF relaunched a grassroots campaign where more than 500 advocates have contacted lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent a rail strike.