The Senate overwhelmingly cleared a bill that will implement a new contract for rail workers, ending prospects for a strike or lockout that could have hobbled agricultural shipping and hammered the broader economy.

The Senate approved the House-passed measure, 80-15, after a Democratic bill that would have added seven days of paid sick leave to the contract failed to get the necessary 60 votes. The Senate also rejected a GOP proposal that would have extended the existing cooling-off period, set to end Dec. 9, by two months.
The agreement to hold the votes on sick leave and the GOP proposal allowed the Senate to act relatively quickly on the issue Thursday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said a strike “would be extremely damaging to the country.”
President Joe Biden, who still must sign the contract bill, called on Congress Monday to pass the legislation, angering some of his union supporters. Four of 12 rail unions had rejected the contract that was recommended by a presidential board.

The House approved the measure 290-137 on Wednesday. 

Farm and agribusiness groups sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Wednesday appealing for Congress to implement the rail contract, saying that a strike or lockout “would have harmful consequences for the agricultural and broader U.S. economies.”

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“We are extremely relieved that Congress took action to head off a strike that would have had serious consequences for America’s farmers, who are grappling with an increase in input costs and barge rates due to severe drought conditions on the Mississippi River,” Tom Haag, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said in a statement after the Senate vote. 

The threat of a rail shutdown had been particularly urgent for the fertilizer industry, because shipments of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer would have to be pulled off the network as soon as this weekend. The National Grain and Feed Association said a strike would also hit livestock producers that solely rely on rail for feed shipments.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack played a lead role in the administration’s handling of the labor dispute because of its implications for the ag sector.

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