North Dakota, Wyoming Republicans urge Senate colleagues to pass rail strike bill

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) penned a letter to their Senate colleagues on Thursday urging them to pass a bill to avert the impending rail strike without adding paid sick leave to the agreement.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to avert the rail strike ahead of a Dec. 9 deadline, sending it to the Senate for consideration, and House lawmakers later in the day passed a separate measure that would add seven days of paid sick leave to the contract agreement.

The first vote mimicked a tentative agreement negotiated by the two largest rail unions in September, which includes a 24 percent pay raise over five years, but the second vote sought to aid the multiple other unions that rejected the plan over sick leave provisions.

“Members from four of those twelve unions rejected the deal their own leadership agreed to, again gambling that they would secure a better deal from Congress,” Lummis and Cramer wrote. 

“If we were to intervene while granting additional paid leave, a precedent would be set,” the letter continues. “Other unionized employees of regulated industries would likely make that same gamble in the future, rendering Congress the arbiter of these types of labor disputes instead of the National Mediation Board. It is in the best interest of all parties that the railroads, not Congress, work through issues such as paid leave directly with their employees.”

But Lummis and Cramer still voiced support for the Senate to pass the first measure approved by the House, which would avert a strike that would have drastic effects on the U.S. economy. 

The nearly century-old Railway Labor Act provides Congress with the authority to intervene in rail labor disputes, a law aimed at preventing disturbances in interstate commerce.

Lummis and Cramer called the ramifications “catastrophic,” noting estimates that a strike could cost the national economy $2 billion per day.

“The ramifications of Congress failing to act would be swift and significant,” they wrote. “Baseload power production would be jeopardized when coal shipments stop, shelves at grocery stores would begin to dwindle once grain and other commodities are unable to reach producers, and nearly every local water system would be in jeopardy of not being able to sanitize our drinking water.”

Most Senate Democrats are expected to support the bill averting the strike, but progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have urged the Senate to pass additional sick leave for rail workers.

Sanders has said he will insist upon a vote for adding sick leave, but it remains to be seen how such a vote will be set up or if the progressives would reject the deal without the change.

The bill to avert the strike will need 60 votes in the Senate to overcome the legislative filibuster, meaning Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) would need at least 10 Republican votes but perhaps more if some in the Democratic conference defect.

Tags Cynthia Lummis Cynthia Lummis Economy Kevin Cramer Kevin Cramer rail strike Senate
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