U.S. House votes to prevent rail strike, but Peltola votes against agreement, saying it was not good enough

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The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday on an agreement between rail companies and workers to head off a strike that could have major economic consequences across the nation, including Alaska, due to the 49th state’s dependency on the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma for freight, much of which comes by rail.

Lawmakers voted 290 to 137 in favor of the deal between unions and rail companies that includes $5,000 pay increases. Now, the Senate will take up the issue.

Congresswoman Mary Peltola of Alaska voted against the agreement because she wanted more sick days for union rail workers. The vast majority of Democrats voted for the agreement, along with 79 Republicans. Eight Democrats voted with 129 Republicans against the agreement, but in the case of Peltola, it was because the deal wasn’t good enough for rail workers. Rail workers need more sick leave days, she said.

In a separate vote, House Democrats and a handful of Republicans voted to increase the number of sick days for employees to seven.

The deal appearing before Congress came in response to a threatened Dec. 9 strike, which could cripple the already struggling economy.

“I’m grateful to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and bipartisan House members for acting to prevent a rail shutdown, making clear it would devastate our economy and families everywhere,” said President Joe Biden. “But without more action, supply chain disruptions will begin. The Senate must urgently send a bill to my desk.”

In spite of his appeal to the Senate, some lawmakers in the upper body don’t like the precedent that such an action sets, having government inserting itself into labor contract negotiations.

The Biden Administration had negotiated a tentative agreement with the unions in September that included $5,000 bonuses for workers. But four of the 12 unions rejected the deal and put the strike back on the calendar if no agreement is reached by Dec. 9. Now, Biden wants Congress to ratify his September agreement with no amendments to avoid a strike.

The Biden deal includes an historic 24% pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs, Biden said. That was not good enough for Alaska Congresswoman Peltola.

Alaska Railroad workers are unionized but not a part of the agreement being haggled over.

The Association of American Railroads reports that a strike would cost $2 billion per day and cause immediate harm to every sector of the economy served by rail. About 7,000 trains per day would be idled and that would “trigger retail product shortages, widespread manufacturing shutdowns, job losses and disruptions to hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers.”

Rail accounts for about 28% of all freight in the United States.

26 COMMENTS

    • The federal government has business in this matter because the 1926 Railways act.

      The purpose of said act is to prevent major issues in interstate commerce. It also includes airlines too. That was added in 1936.

      And that is one of the purposes of the federal government, settling disputes between states and facilitating commerce between the states.

      • This is a private labor dispute, not a conflict between states which would invoke a properly interpreted Commerce Clause-based response.

        A labor dispute admittedly due, in part to successive Congresses and Administrations allowing and/or encouraging unhealthy concentration of railway entities over the years.

        • Except Congress wrote a law specifically to deal with this exact type of dispute.

          Whether rail workers like it or not, they are considered critical infrastructure to the US Economy. Not just the domestic economy, but the international economy as well.

          Doesn’t matter if you think this is a private labor dispute. Congress passed a law in 1926 (amended in 1936 and during the 1960’s) stating that when it comes to railroad workers and airline workers, the US Government can intervene. That puts this labor dispute under federal jurisdiction.

  1. There she goes siding with so call victimized rail workers while the American people and especially Alaskans suffer

    • Rail workers cannot take a sick day or even a unpaid day off without getting in serious trouble with the companies.

      For the workers, it is a three strikes policy. Three no shows, even if you called in saying you are in the hospital and can’t come to work, and you are fired.

      Now these are not no call, no show instances, it is any unapproved absence. Oh, your mother died and you want to go to the funeral three days from now? Too bad, you need to schedule your absences more than a month in advance and even then, they may not approve of your leave at all.

      Then there is the part of this where these companies are reducing the number of engineers (train drivers) forcing those who still are employed to work for weeks on end 7 days a week and 12 hours a day.

      The contracts that the workers rejected but will be forced to agree too favor the rail companies and not the workers at all.

      I’d say the workers are the victims in this situation

  2. Wow! All the libs must be getting the big shiver from watching the federal government insert itself in private business. What will they think when the next time it happens and a conservative Congress steps in?
    Only thing the feds should have stepped in on is to lock both sides in a room and not let them out until they reached an agreement.
    Just more federal over reach.

  3. What is missing here is that Government has inserted itself into Labor Negotiations before. But it was called Presidential Leadership. I am informed that Harry Truman once summoned the Top Railroad Union official to the Whitehouse, he had a blunt message for the Railroad workers threatening to go out on strike. ” Go ahead and strike President Truman said, but just remember that your members will look pretty silly being escorted to work every morning by a squad from a rifle company”! You are not going to shut down my Country! Go back to the table and negotiate!

    BTW, what do Mary know about running a Railroad or anything else for that matter? Somebody help me please. Mary? Can you explain your vote to me? Thanks!

  4. Rookie mistake. She needs to read more books and more of the classics in american politics-geography-history. She should be a strong reader so shouldn’t be all that challenging. Remember read
    to your child starting with bible because knowledge is dangerous when the reader lacks morals and absolute Truth to judge ones heart,motivations, thoughts, and actions.

  5. Communists like to be directly in authority regarding labor. This is anti-capitalist republic form of government isn’t it.

  6. We should all be so lucky to get a 24 PERCENT pay increase in addition to other benefits proposed. Plus a proposed $5,000 bonus? Not good enough??? Be still my beating heart!

    Brief internet search yields these gems:
    Avg. Base Salary (USD)
    Association Of American Railroads pays an average salary of $194,935 and salaries range from a low of $168,844 to a high of $224,649. BNSF Railway Company pays its employees an average of $98,273 a year. Salaries at BNSF Railway Company range from an average of $68,052 to $139,285 a year. Just a sampling of salaries from the Lower 48.

    • Their main grievances were reducing crew on a 2 mile long train down to a single engineer and being penalized for needing to take an unscheduled sick day. 3 unplanned sick days in a month and they are fired… kind of hard to schedule a cancer diagnosis or testing positive for covid. I’m sure you heard about all of this on ADN though

  7. Peltola. Never started or ran a business. Now, in the middle of the Winter, she’s voting to jeopardize food shipments into Alaska.

    Go woke, go broke.

  8. While I maintain the government has no business in this mess, I’ve done some research.

    If I were working on the railroad, I’d strike, too. The issue isn’t money, it’s quality of life. All the money in the world is useless if you are unable to get time off or even be sick.

    Over tired over stressed workers responsible for multi ton machinery moving at up to 50mph is a recipe for fatalities.

    • I agree with the sentiment, but she literally said the Feds need to meddle _more_, by forcing the additional sick leave days into the agreement.

      She gets zero “limited government” points for this one.

      • Yes, I know, the wrong reason but still the correct vote, and I’ll take those where I can find them. It’s not a perfect world and I’ll consider this one a win, maybe with an asterisk and a footnote.

    • The money is not the issue. I think the rail workers and unions would agree to a contract at the current pay rate if they got sick days.

      As Masked Avenger said above, it is quality of life for these workers. Extra money means nothing if one cannot take sick days or are worked to exhaustion because it is one engineer and 2 workers for the miles long trains.

  9. Sounds like the workers need to hire BDO. Forensic accounting. Bring them to the union bargaining table. The RR would be doing a lot of throat clearing, to explain why they need to keep $30 hr of the pay “to keep the lights on”.

  10. All brought to you by Amtrak Joe. Joe and his handlers have been able to wreak horrific havoc in such a short amount of time. If this is Build Back Better, I’d sure hate to see Build Back Worse.

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