WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (AFP): The US Congress passed legislation Thursday to avert a freight rail strike that could have been devastating for the economy, intervening to break an impasse between workers and management as the holiday season approaches.
The bill, overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Thursday after passing with a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives a day earlier, effectively forces hold-out unions to accept a deal on higher wages, to which a majority of unions already agreed.
After the 80-15 Senate vote, the measure now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Under a 1926 law, Congress is empowered to resolve disputes between railroads and labor unions as part of its power to regulate commerce. "Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities," said Biden in a statement after the vote.
While he expressed "reluctance" to override union ratification procedures, "in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great," he added.
A strike would have seen almost 7,000 freight trains come to a halt, costing more than $2 billion a day, according to the American Association of Railroads.
Biden's administration had taken a hands-on approach to the long-running deadlock over a contract between organized labor and railroads, with cabinet secretaries in September taking part in all-night negotiations alongside union leaders and rail executives.
After the lengthy session, leaders from both sides announced a tentative agreement. But since then, members of eight of the 12 rail unions approved the deal, while four voted it down.
While the House earlier backed a separate measure to add mandated paid sick time to the agreement, addressing a major sticking point identified by unions, this did not pass in the Senate Thursday.
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