Indiana News

Indiana Congressman unsure if rail worker deal will get enough support

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Republican member of Indiana’s Congressional delegation on Tuesday said it’s unfortunate Congress is being asked to force a labor deal.

The U.S. House could vote as early as Wednesday on a measure to force the nation’s rail unions to accept a deal brokered in September. The deal would give rail workers a major boost in pay but would not provide them with paid sick leave, something most employers now offer but rail workers currently lack. Four of the nation’s 12 rail unions have rejected the deal. If their objections are sustained, the nation’s rail workers could go on strike Dec. 9.

Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon, told News 8 he wasn’t yet sure how he would vote on the deal, in large part because he has not yet had a chance to review its finer details. He says he thought both sides of the rail debate had some valid concerns.

“I wish the administration would have worked more with them to resolve this issue prior to Congress essentially forcing an agreement that was negotiated by the administration and that, honestly, people like myself had no imput on,” he said.

Economists say a prolonged rail strike would have disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy. The last rail strike happened in June of 1992 and was resolved within two days. Ball State economics Prof. Michael Hicks said the existing stockpile of products would be able to get through a strike of that length. After two or three days, factories would no longer be able to get the parts they need and manufacturing would begin to shut down. Indiana’s coal-fired power plants would no longer receive coal deliveries, though they typically have about 30 days’ worth of coal on site. He said even if a particular item is not moved by rail, other products would have to be transferred off of the rail system and onto trucks, barges and aircraft, thus contributing to delays and price spikes.

“A way to think about this is, in a military operation, rail lines are a prime target, and they are a prime target because the damage to rail and rail services is very damaging to the economy,” Hicks, a retired Army reserve infantryman, said. “If we’re voluntarily doing this to ourselves, it’s very much like that sort of forced economic damage that you would get in wartime.”

Hicks said rail strikes are rare in U.S. history and he still considers a strike next month very unlikely.

Bucshon said he wouldn’t be surprised if some Congressional Democrats balk at the deal due to some of the concessions to railroad management. He said it’s unfair to try to vote so quickly on an issue of this magnitude. Bucshon said he would like to see another delay in the strike deadline to give Congress time to deliberate.

Congressman Andre Carson, who serves on the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said in a statement, “I have been briefed by local labor groups and regional business leaders about some of their concerns and share in their desire to avoid supply disruptions. I look forward to hearing more about a possible legislative fix and remain open to all options.”