NOLA: Louisiana senators back bill to avert national rail strike
WASHINGTON — Both Louisiana’s U.S. senators on Thursday approved legislation aimed at averting a costly strike that would have shut down the nation’s rail system on Dec. 8.
On an 80-15 vote, the Senate gave final approval to House Resolution 100, which basically enshrines into law the agreement worked out in September with the help of the Biden administration. Having cleared its legislative hurdles, Resolution 100 now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Biden had asked for Congress’s help when talks between railroads and their employees threatened to break down. “We’re going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and we’re going to go back and we’re going to get paid leave not just for rail workers, but for all workers,” Biden said during a press conference at the White House.
In general Democrats backed the resolution and Republicans opposed. But a considerable number of Democrats and Republicans crossed party lines.
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville, were two Republicans who approved the legislation that will avoid the work stoppage next week.
“I think a nationwide strike would hurt shippers, consumers and workers,” Kennedy said Thursday about his vote on House Resolution 100. The measure imposed the Railway Labor Tentative Agreement includes a 24% pay raise and a $5,000 bonus; no changes to copays and deductibles in the health insurance; and protects two-person crews. Cassidy had no comment.
“I really regret that this problem ended up in the lap of Congress. President Biden was not honest with the American people when he told them — before the midterm elections — that he had successfully mediated a resolution of the issues and that there would not be a strike,” Kennedy added.
The House on Wednesday night approved Resolution 100 on a vote of 290 to 137.
U.S. Representatives Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, and Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, voted in favor of House Resolution 100. But neither would explain their positions. They were joined by Congresswoman Julia Letlow, R-Start.
“I voted today to prevent a major railroad strike that would cripple the American economy and have devastating impacts in Louisiana. I was willing to support preventing the work stoppage, but I do not believe Congress should cave to the unions’ additional demands,” Letlow said Wednesday.
The additional demands to which Letlow referred was part of a companion measure — House Con. Res. 119 — that would have provided freight railroad workers seven days of paid sick leave in the tentative agreement. She voted “no” on that resolution. HCR 119, which passed the House Wednesday night on a 221-207 vote, was defeated Thursday afternoon in the Senate on a 52-43 vote — the measure needed 60 votes to pass. Cassidy voted against it. Kennedy supported the resolution.
“I cast my second vote in support of the workers, because I think they have a valid point,” Kennedy said.
He also backed a third amendment that would have extended the “cooling off period,” giving the parties an extra 60 days to keep negotiating an agreement between unions and rail operators. Only the Senate considered that change to the law, but the effort failed on a 26-69 vote.
Kennedy said: “I voted to give the parties more time because, with extra time, I think the workers and management could resolve their issues.”