Fresh off his third victory in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston this week continued to prove a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership.

Maine U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in Lewiston in October. Steve Collins/Sun Journal file

Golden was one of eight Democrats in the House to oppose a measure to impose terms to end a labor dispute between rail companies and their union workers that President Joe Biden signed into law Friday.

The bill pushed by Biden resolved the longstanding issue before a threatened strike that could have shut down rail shipping as soon as Dec.  9.

The bill passed the House this week, 290-137, with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st District joining the majority. It won Senate approval 80-15, with Maine’s independent Angus King voting yes and Republican Susan Collins voting no. The other New England senators voting no were independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Biden said that by “working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces and in our communities.”

Passage of the measure imposed a contract deal on both sides that Biden negotiated in September to prevent a strike by a dozen unions representing 115,000 workers. The unions, though, voted down the wording because they sought more paid medical leave.


Golden said in a written statement that by “prematurely rushing this legislation through the House, Congress undermines the fundamental bargaining power of workers and unions across the country.”

“The right to bargain for fair wages and humane working conditions is a bright red line for me,” Golden said. “While the stakes are high with these particular negotiations, in the end, nothing is better for our long-term economic security than a strong and resilient workforce.”

Annie Clark, a spokesperson for Collins, said Maine’s senior senator “doesn’t think that Congress should impose a contract on the two parties, especially since four of the rail unions rejected the proposed contract.”

“That’s why she voted for the 60-day pause to send both sides back to the bargaining table and give workers, management, and the administration more time to reach agreement,” Clark said. “She believes the sick leave issue in particular should have been resolved through the collective bargaining process, and she hopes that both sides will continue to work on it.”

Rail workers and rail companies had been unable to resolve the union quest to get seven sick days annually rather than the one offered by their employers.

The bill marked the first time in decades that Congress had stepped in to resolve a labor dispute, something that few on Capitol Hill wanted to do. But Biden argued the nation had no choice.


Golden called the move “the option of last resort” and insisted “other viable steps” were possible, which matched the union position on the issue.

King called the measure “a necessary step to avoid immense economic pain that would have impacted every American. From groceries to heating oil, a shutdown of federal railways would mean widespread shortages across our state and a $2 billion dollar a day cost to the nation’s economy.”

“While I would have preferred for unions and rail companies to finalize the September contract agreement through the normal bargaining process, the disastrous impact of a rail strike was simply a price we could not afford to pay,” King said. “When it became clear that an agreement was not going to be reached before the December 9th deadline, Congress had to act.”

The House and Senate voted to support adding seven days of paid medical leave, but the provision failed because it did not get enough votes in the Senate to overcome a rule requiring at least 60 votes in favor in order to pass.

King was among the senators supporting the additional sick days. Collins opposed them.

King said the process for ratifying the contract through congressional action “was not the one I wished for,” but added that “there are still significant improvements for workers in the agreement.”

“The contract was carefully shaped by months of good-faith negotiations between workers, their union representatives, railway companies, and the Biden administration. It includes the largest pay increase in nearly 50 years, with thousands in backpay for each rail worker, a cap on healthcare premiums, and more opportunities for leave,” he said. “This real progress is why the contract was ratified by the majority of the leadership of the 12 rail unions, and why I hope that rail workers can feel proud of the well-deserved victories they secured.”


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