Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday blocked a Republican request to force railroad workers and companies to accept the recommendations of a nonpartisan panel to avoid a strike that would impact millions of Americans.
Sanders stood up on the floor to block the speedy approval of the resolution — introduced by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Commission Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — that would require railroad workers to adopt the outlines of a labor deal.
He argued that railroad companies are making huge profits and should start treating their workers more fairly.
“The rail industry has seen huge profits in recent years and last year alone made a record breaking $20 billion in profit,” Sanders said. “Last year the CEO of CSX made over $20 million in total compensation while the CEOs of Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern made over $40 million each in total compensation.”
By contrast, Sanders said that workers in the freight rail industry are “entitled to a grand total of zero sick days.”
GOP senators, however, say their resolution would avoid a “disastrous” rail strike, which could freeze rail travel and freight shipment around the country.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of putting the economy at risk after Sanders blocked the resolution.
“Senate Democrats just blocked our bill that would have given railway workers a big raise and prevented a crippling strike and supply chain crisis. If a strike occurs and paralyzes food, fertilizer and energy shipments nationwide, it will be because Democrats blocked this bill,” he tweeted.
The Burr-Wicker resolution would adopt the comprehensive recommendations by the Presidential Emergency Board, which Biden created to avert a strike. Those recommendations include significant wage increases retroactive to 2020.
Burr noted it would include a 24 percent increase in pay, annual bonuses of $1,000 and additional paid leave.
“This is the president’s bipartisan emergency board that he set up that came back with a recommendation to the Biden Administration and said here is the solution to this. It should be adopted,” Burr said.
Wicker warned on the Senate floor that a rail strike would hurt the economy and further fuel inflation.
“The last thing we need is a shutdown of this nation’s rail service, both passenger and freight. And yet, that is what we are facing in less than a day and a half from this moment, a massive rail strike that will virtually shut down our economy,” he said.
A Republican aide said Sanders’s objection makes a strike more likely.
“Bernie wants a strike,” the aide said.
Local unions would still have to negotiate some of the finer details of labor agreements if the Burr-Wicker resolution were adopted, but the broad outlines of an industry-wide labor deal would be set.
Congress has required workers and companies to accept the recommendations of a special emergency labor board recommendations on at least four previous occasions.
Burr made that point on the floor Wednesday afternoon.
“Congress has intervened 18 times in the past, imposing PEB recommendations in whole or in part four times. If we don’t do it, if we do not force this issue, at 12:01 tomorrow night, the railroads will shut down and the economic impact on the American people is $2 billion a day,” he said.
Updated: 5:40 p.m.