By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
The U.S. House passed a resolution Wednesday that would force rail worker unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year. The resolution would make a threatened strike illegal.
Members of four of the 12 railroad unions voted against the agreement, which means the unions could strike as early as Dec. 9. A strike would bring Wyoming coal mines to a stop and, if prolonged, coal-fired power generation would stop when stockpiles are depleted at power plants.
Including all the other industries the strike would impact, estimates suggest a rail strike would cost the economy $2 billion a day.
Letter To Colleagues
Advocates for the railroad unions have criticized the agreement for not addressing time-off policies, especially paid sick days.
As the House resolution heads to the Senate, Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, is urging the Senate to not alter the agreement.
A letter to her colleagues signed by Lummis and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, says that granting more paid leave would set a precedent.
“Other unionized employees of regulated industries would likely make that same gamble in the future, rendering Congress the arbiter of these types of labor disputes instead of the National Mediation Board,” the letter says. “It is in the best interest of all parties that the railroads, not Congress, work through issues such as paid leave directly with their employees.”
The letter also notes that it would impose significant costs on the railroads, and that it would be inappropriate for Congress to add additional labor costs without a “comprehensive understanding of the financial ramification that would cause.”
Lummis and Cramer acknowledge the urgency with which Congress would intervene in the dispute, given the potentially enormous impacts on the U.S. economy, but the consequences of altering the agreement would be problematic in the long term.
“While this position is undesirable, Congress must act,” Lummis and Cramer wrote. “Implementing an agreement that roughly half of the unionized workers support, along with all their leadership, is the most responsible path forward. Inserting ourselves further into a labor dispute will only cripple future labor negotiations for the railroads and other similar industries.”