December 2nd – Both chambers of Congress have passed a resolution to codify the terms of a September railway labor agreement. It now goes to President Biden for his signature.

This binding measure was passed under authority provided to Congress by the Railway Labor Act (RLA) of 1926 and therefore has the force of law. This marks the 19th time that Congress has intervened using the RLA to prevent railway labor disputes from upending the economy, and the first time it has taken such an action since 1991. By passing this legislation it appears the U.S. will avoid a potentially catastrophic rail strike that could have significantly harmed MEMA members and devastated the broader U.S. economy.

The resolution (H.J. Res. 100) passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 290-137. It was then swiftly approved by the Senate by a vote of 80-15.

The risk of strike was due largely to disputes over sick leave. The September agreement includes only one personal day. Rail workers were seeking a pool of dedicated sick leave, as they currently have to use PTO for illness and request this time off in advance. Progressive lawmakers, led by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), pushed to address this through a separate resolution to add seven days of sick leave to the agreement (H.Con.Res. 119). That resolution passed the House by a vote of 221-207 but failed to secure enough Republican support for in the Senate, where it was rejected 52-43 (60 votes needed for passage).

A vote offered by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) to establish a 60-day “cooling off” period for more negotiations also failed by a 25-70 vote.

These two amendments were offered as “face saving” votes for Senators who felt uncomfortable with the underlying agreement. Progressives can say they tried to add sick leave, while other members can say they tried to allow more time to work out a deal. In the end, many of them still supported the broader agreement.