Most labor disputes never end up being debated in Congress. But thanks to a nearly century-old law that regulates labor relations only when it comes to railroads and airlines, what otherwise would be strictly an economic issue became a political one.
The Railway Labor Act was passed in 1926 as one of the very first labor laws in the nation. At that point most of the railroads already had been unionized, some all the way back to the mid-19th century. The structure was therefore set up to regulate labor negotiations between unions and management, rather than oversee organizing campaigns for new unions and additional members.
Because of the law, the House was able to vote Wednesday to impose unpopular contracts on four rail unions whose members have already rejected the terms, followed by a vote by the Senate vote late Thursday that did the same.