WASHINGTON -- Congress passed and sent to President Bush late last night legislation that would put an end to the nationwide strike by 200,000 rail workers.
The president was awakened and signed the bill shortly after its arrival at the White House early this morning.
"By the time of the morning rush hour people will be back to work," Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner said. "It's remarkable we've been able to bring this to this point this quick."
About 10:30 p.m., the full House passed the bill by a 400-5 vote. The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent, a procedure that allowed the Senate action to take afSee RAIL, 5A, Col. 3RAIL, from 1Afect without a roll call vote once the House had acted.
Earlier in the evening, the transportation subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee had hammered out the legislation in consultation with Senate staff and the Bush administration.
"The legislation...is not perfect--no legislation ever is," said Representative Norman F. Lent, R-N.Y., a subcommittee member. But "it stops the strike and gets Americans moving again."
The terms of the legislation represented a compromise that follows closely the settlement terms favored by the Bush administration, while still providing the rail unions a chance to appeal some of the recommendations for settlement that they have opposed.
Both the rail industry and the Bush administration had been urging Congress to adopt the recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board report issued in January. The rail unions steadfastly maintained that those recommendations were biased in favor of management positions.
The legislation makes the terms of the PEB report binding on the unions and management unless the unions can persuade a newly constituted panel appointed by the president that the original report was incorrect or unfair.
Union workers spent the day in picket lines before the congressional action.
Yesterday morning, Darryl Topolski, a carman with the Transportation Communications Union, and Stuart Riggs, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, walked a picket line in front of the B&O Building on Charles and Baltimore streets, while others picketed the CSX Building up the block.
Management has dug in its heels, said Mr. Topolski, 33. "They don't want to bargain, and that's it," he said. "We did everything possible. They're forcing us to strike."
Most manufacturers contacted yesterday said they would not feel the pinch of a rail strike for two weeks or more, depending on the size of stockpiles and the availability of alternative transport.
Many were counting heavily on Congress to keep its vow of drafting quick legislation to end the strike.
"We assume that Congress will put these suckers back to work by the weekend," said Jill Thompson, chief economist with Boston-based DRI/McGraw Hill, an economic forecasting firm. "In the short-term, industries probably won't be affected that much at all."
Though the legislation offers unions a chance to change the PEB recommendations, Keith Hartwell, Washington representative for the Regional Railroads of America, said he thought it would be difficult for the unions to alter the settlement under the procedures established by the legislation.
The legislation puts the burden of proof on opponents of the PEB's recommendations to demonstrate that the original proposals "were demonstably inequitable" or based on a "material error."
The new law also prohibits opening of issues that were not part of the original recommendations of the PEB.
"I'd be surprised if it changed materially," Mr. Hartwell said.
Rail union officials testified at a hearing before the House Transportation Subcommittee yesterday that a settlement along lines of the PEB would mean the loss of more than 40,000 jobs.
The jobs would be lost through the PEB's treatment of crew size. The PEB recommends that crew sizes be negotiated by each railroad locally.
If the issue cannot be resolved locally, it would be submitted to binding arbitration.
Charles I. Hopkins Jr., the lead negotiator for management, said unneeded jobs cost the industry about $1.5 billion a year out of a total payroll of about $7.5 billion. He put the number of unnecessary jobs at 22,000.
Michael H. Walsh, president of the Union Pacific Railroad Co., said the system also generates resentment by hard-working employees toward those who have nothing to do.
He pleaded with the legislators to free the industry from arbitrary work rules.
"We have to allow as many market-based factors as we can to drive the industry," Mr. Walsh said.