Shipping and Logistics

Domestic Steel Cheers House Vote to Avert Rail Strike

Written by Laura Miller

Legislation is pending in our nation’s capital that would force railroad unions to accept the national labor agreement proposed in September in order to avoid a labor strike.

After being urged by President Joe Biden on Nov. 28 to enact the legislation, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives today, Nov. 30. It will now go to the Senate. While all are concerned about the disruption to the national rail system that a strike would have, some lawmakers do not support taking away unions’ right to strike, thus it is unclear if it will also pass in the Senate.

The domestic steel industry is supportive of the efforts of the nation’s leaders to avoid a rail shutdown.

rail transportation

While other rail unions voted to accept the national labor agreement proposed in September, both the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) rejected the agreement. The unions holding out are concerned that the agreement does not provide paid sick days for railroad workers. Their status quo period for continuing labor talks goes until Dec. 9. At that point, they may legally strike should their concerns not be met.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), which represents the interests of the domestic industry in Washington, joined Biden’s call, sending a letter to congressional leadership on Nov. 29 and urging Congress to pass the legislation to ensure the nation’s freight rail system remains operational.

“The potential for significant disruption in the critical national rail system would have serious consequences for the domestic steel industry and the entire US economy,” AISI president and CEO Kevin Dempsey stated in the letter. “While a voluntary agreement among all parties to the ongoing rail negotiations is clearly the best outcome, congressional action is necessary to ensure that our nation’s freight rail system remains operational.”

“The nation’s railroads are an indispensable necessity for the health and survival of our domestic steel industry,” the letter said, noting that railroads moved more than 15 million carloads of steel and steelmaking raw materials last year. “A functional freight railroad system is critical to ensuring that the American steel industry can effectively and efficiently serve its customers.”

AISI expressed its pleasure with the House’s passage of the legislation in a statement sent to SMU. It is now also calling on the Senate to pass the legislation as soon as possible

The Steel Manufacturers Association, which represents the domestic EAF steel industry in Washington, agrees that a rail shutdown must be avoided.

“Our supply chains are stressed and still recovering from the pandemic and labor shortages. Any disruption in freight rail service will hurt our economy by adding costs and delays to a rail service system that is already suffering from poor service and backlogs,” SMA president Philip Bell noted in a statement sent to SMU.

“The Biden administration’s effort to proactively impose the tentative union contract was affirmed today when Congress voted to prevent a rail shutdown,” the SMA noted. “Now it is time for the Senate to put our supply chains, economy and worker welfare ahead of partisan politics.”

The BMWED, however, disagrees that this legislation is needed, as “it both denies railroad workers their right to strike while also denying them of the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike.”

Instead, “BMWED calls upon President Biden and any member of Congress that truly supports the working class to act swiftly by passing any sort of reforms and regulations that will provide paid sick leave for all railroad workers,” the union said in a statement.

The BRS also expressed its disappointment in President Biden for his lack of support for paid sick leave.

By Laura Miller,

Laura Miller

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