Senate Republicans want Congress to step in and prevent a nationwide rail strike that could hammer the economy
- Two Senate Republicans want Congress to step in and avert a shutdown of the nation's railroads.
- Sen. Roger Wicker and Richard Burr want to force the railways and unions into a deal after Friday.
As rail workers head towards a potential strike over working conditions within days, some Republicans are aiming to force them into a deal.
Currently, unionized railroad workers are in negotiations with carriers for a new contract with an emphasis on better sick leave, with workers prepared to strike on Friday if they do not reach an agreement. A strike could prove expensive, with the business-friendly US Chamber of Commerce estimating a shutdown would cost the economy $2 billion a day.
On Wednesday, Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi introduced a resolution that would enact recommendations from a presidentially appointed panel aiming to resolve the labor dispute. They want Congress to intervene if the unions do not voluntarily agree to the contract by the end of this week, and pave the way for wage increases — which, as the Washington Post reports, does not touch on workers' demands to stop being penalized for illness or family absences.
"There are mechanisms that have been in the law for a long time to allow Congress to step in and prevent the economic disaster that would ensue," Wicker said on Wednesday. "I think it's time to invoke that provisional law."
Wicker said he was opposed to extending the Friday deadline for a deal. "This has been going on for three years," he said.
John Drake, VP of transportation, infrastructure and supply chain policy at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement to Insider that the Chamber "welcomes" the resolution. "We need action immediately to avoid a rail shutdown and the economic impacts that would fall on businesses and consumers," Drake said.
The White House has been attempting to avert a strike, with the president reportedly calling both unions and management and the administration getting ready for potential fallout from a shutdown. Meanwhile, Amtrak has canceled some cross country routes to head off potential strike disruptions.
"The workers are angry," a labor union spokesperson told CNBC. "They want movement on attendance policies and not be afraid to take a sick day or vacation day without the fear of termination. There will be no ratification unless this is addressed."
In a tweet, AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler wrote that "railroading is a demanding, tireless career," and that workers deserve dignity, respect, and quality of life.
"It's time to put an end to the corporate greed that's come at the expense of workers' livelihoods for too long," Shuler said.
The tides may be shifting toward a strike, with several of the 12 unions involved in bargaining voting down the tentative agreement.
A Department of Labor spokesperson said that negotiations will continue to avoid a strike. "Secretary Walsh continues to lead discussions at the Department of Labor between the rail companies and unions. The parties are negotiating in good faith and have committed to staying at the table today," the spokesperson told Insider.
The White House seems determined to broker a deal. "This is an issue that can and should be worked out between the rail companies and the unions, not by Congress. In fact, parties are at the table right now," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One earlier on Wednesday.
For now, at least one key Democrat wanted to avoid a Congressional intervention. "I've been reaching out to the unions. I think there's gotta be something on sick days and the railroads have to come to the table," Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told Insider.
Brown declined to say whether he'd oppose Wicker's measure, but added the White House is in the driver's seat in negotiations.
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