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Congress intervenes to stop looming rail strike

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was among the cabinet members in attendance as President Biden signed a bill to avert a rail strike following action in Congress. Image credit: The White House
Date Posted: December 6, 2022

At the urging of hundreds of ag and business groups, Congress has stepped in to head off a looming rail strike that was set to start Dec. 8.

Following a 290-137 vote in the House, the Senate passed the measure 80-15 to force a tentative agreement and avoid a strike that could have cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion per day.

President Biden signed the bill on Friday.

At Michigan Farm Bureau’s request, nearly 500 people sent more than 1,300 messages to members of Congress in the last two weeks, alerting them to vast threats a rail strike posed for agriculture and urging them to intervene.

“Congress did what’s needed to be done to avert a catastrophic strike that would have taken a devastating toll on ag shipments, including fertilizer and ethanol production,” said MFB National Legislative Counsel John Kran.

“We appreciate the incredible response from our members who sent an overwhelming message to lawmakers that action needed to happen quickly and decisively.”

A separate measure that would have granted rail workers seven days of paid sick leave — the last major stumbling block in contract negotiations among the remaining unions that have not ratified the contract agreement — failed to gain traction, disappointing the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED).

“The Federal Government inserted itself into the dispute between the railroads and the Railroad Workers under the premise that it must protect the American economy,” the union wrote in a statement.

“Yet, when the Federal Government makes that decision, its Representatives have a moral responsibility to also protect the interests of the citizens that make this nation’s economy work — American Railroaders.”

Although it does not include paid sick leave, the contracts provide rail employees a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

AAR called the Senate vote “overwhelmingly bipartisan,” adding that none of the parties involved achieved everything they advocated for but said the gains for employees are significant.

“Let’s be clear railroading is tough, essential work that keeps our nation moving, and our employees deserve our gratitude for moving America’s freight and doing so safely every day,” AAR wrote in a statement.

“The gains in this agreement are significant, including historic wage increases, best-in-class healthcare, and meaningful progress in creating more predictable, scheduled work shifts. Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address our employees’ work-life balance concerns, but it is clear this agreement maintains rail’s place among the best jobs in our nation.”