Government leaders took steps to avoid a nationwide freight railroad strike Wednesday, but the issue is far from settled and supply chain leaders continue to lobby for action in Washington.
The House of Representatives passed a bill that would impose an earlier agreement brokered by the Biden administration but that was rejected by four of the 12 labor unions involved. The legislation passed by a vote of 290-137, and it now moves to the Senate, where industry leaders hope a vote is reached before the unions’ December 8 strike deadline.
The House also passed a separate piece of legislation Wednesday that would mandate paid sick leave for railroad workers, a sticking point during the negotiations. That measure passed by a vote of 221-207.
The National Railway Act allows congress to intervene in labor disputes related to national railroads because of their potential effects on the economy. President Biden called on Congress to intervene earlier this week, just after the fourth labor group voted to reject the tentative deal reached in September. The President cited the potential crippling effects of a rail shutdown on supply chains and the broader economy.
Industry groups had called on government leaders to intervene as well, citing potential slowdowns in delivering food, fuel, and raw materials, as well as ripple effects on other modes of transportation, especially trucking. In a statement Wednesday, the National Retail Federation praised the passage of the House bill and urged the Senate to approve the measure and avoid a potential strike on December 9.
“America’s railroads serve nearly every sector of our economy and provide access to global markets. The freight rail system is a lifeline for many industries, ensuring the transport of not only retail goods, but also essential food and energy supplies,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the statement. “We commend the swift action of the House to approve this critical piece of legislation and prevent a potential catastrophic freight rail shutdown that could cost the economy $2 billion a day. 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.”
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) released a similar statement.
“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,” RILA’s Director of Government Affairs Sarah Gilmore said in the statement. “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. We urge the Senate to do their part to get this legislation to President Biden’s desk as soon as possible.”
Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.