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Rail strike would impact Nestle, Sempolinski says

A rail strike could negatively impact a number of industries across the United States, including a major industry in Chautauqua County.

U.S. Rep. Joe Sempolinski, who was elected in August and will continue to serve the 23rd Congressional District until the end of the year, said he spoke with representatives from Nestle Purina about the possible rail strike.

“On Monday I happened to be scheduled to tour the Nestle Purina food factory in Dunkirk,” he said. “(There’s) 800 workers at that facility, one of the largest industrial facilities in the entire congressional district. They expressed to me their concern about the strike because most of the ingredients that goes into the pet food that they make come by rail. And so, a rail strike goes well-beyond the rail industry because so much of the commerce of the United States of America is going via rail.”

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill by a vote of 80-15 to bind rail companies and workers to a proposed settlement that was reached between the rail companies and union leaders in September. That settlement had been rejected by some of the 12 unions involved, creating the possibility of a strike beginning Dec. 9.

The measure passed the U.S. House on Wednesday by a vote of 290-137. Among those voting in favor was Sempolinski. “I was extremely concerned about the economic impact of the strike. There’s estimates it would cost the United States $2 billion a day,” he said.

There was a second vote Wednesday that would add seven days of paid sick leave per year for rail workers covered under the agreement. The House passed the sick leave measure as well, but by a much narrower margin, 221-207, as Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it.

Sempolinski was one of those who vote no in the second vote.

“Our goal was not to take a side; our goal was to make a backstop to prevent an economic catastrophe,” he said.

The Republican congressman criticized Democratic President Joe Biden for the situation.

“He told everyone before the election that this was done,” he said. “He told everybody before the election that his administration had solved this problem. Clearly they hadn’t so he threw up his hands and kicked it to Congress.”

According to the Associated Press, the compromise agreement that was supported by the railroads and a majority of the unions provides for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020 along with one additional paid leave day. The raises would be the biggest rail workers have received in more than four decades. Workers would have to pay a larger share of their health insurance costs, but their premiums would be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. The agreement did not resolve workers’ concerns about schedules that make it hard to take a day off and the lack of more paid sick time.

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