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Senate Joins House in Passing Bill to Avert National Rail Strike

Railroad strike showdown (AP Photo)

The US Senate passed legislation Thursday to impose a settlement on rail companies and unions, averting a potential rail strike set for December 9th. The House had passed a similar bill Wednesday. The Senate voted 80-15 to approve the bill.

Biden sent Cabinet members to lobby senators, arguing a vote in the next few days is crucial. The 12 unions representing approximately 115,000 railroad employees had threatened to strike unless an agreement was reached.

"Without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin," Biden said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other business groups have warned that a strike could cost the U.S. $2 billion a day and freeze rail lines used by 7 million commuters and travelers.

The rail unions have centered negotiations around paid sick leave as well as other quality-of-life issues, maintaining the railroads are highly profitable and can afford the benefits. The railroads say the unions have agreed in negotiations for decades to forgo paid sick time in return for higher wages and robust short-term disability.

Meanwhile, Wall Street responded favorably regarding the economy on Wednesday but largely for other reasons.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled that the central bank may begin to moderate the pace of interest rate hikes as early as its December meeting. 

After his comments, stocks on Wall Street roared higher. 

So far this year, the Fed has raised its benchmark interest rates six times in an effort to curb spending and cool off inflation. Powell is now indicating that although the hikes will continue, the next one may only increase by half a point, after four straight three-quarter point increases.

Such a move could help to ease mortgage and other loan rates that the Fed impacts.

The federal government also reported Wednesday that the economy expanded at a 2.9% annual rate from July-September, better than its initial estimate.

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