Biden calls on Congress to avert rail strike

by Jacob Fuller

Chris Lieberman, FISM News


President Biden is urging Congress to ratify an agreement that would prevent the impending national rail strike, avoiding a work stoppage that would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy.

“I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators — without any modifications or delay — to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown,” the president said in a statement Monday.

In September, the Biden administration reached a tentative deal between the major railroads and 12 unions representing about 115,000 rail workers, but four of the unions have voted to reject the settlement. The two sides are still far apart in negotiations, setting up the possibility of a national rail strike if they cannot reach an agreement by the Dec. 9 deadline.

In the statement, the president warned of some of the dire economic consequences a rail strike would bring.

Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down. My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans — many union workers themselves — could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to respond to the president’s call, saying that Congress would take up the bill this week.

“As we consider Congressional action, we must recognize that railroads have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers,” said Pelosi in a statement. “We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement — but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.”

The president acknowledged that some may view Congressional action to end the strike as a betrayal of his allies in the labor movement, but he believes that the move is necessary to prevent a crippling shutdown.

“As a proud pro-labor president, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” Biden said. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Numerous business groups, a total of about 400, joined the chorus calling for an end to the dispute on Monday, writing a letter to leaders from both parties calling on Congress to intervene.

“A stoppage of rail service for any duration would be extremely damaging to American families and our economy, costing $2 billion dollars per day,” the letter states.

As provided for under federal law and consistent with past practice, Congress must be prepared to intervene before the end of the current ‘status quo’ period on December 9 to ensure continued rail service should railroads and four unions fail to reach a voluntary agreement.

The businesses noted the precedent for Congressional action in the letter, pointing out that since 1926, Congress has intervened 18 times in labor disputes that threatened interstate commerce.

The main points of contention between the railroads and the unions are paid sick leave and the attendance policy. Currently, rail workers do not receive paid time off for sick days and are penalized when they call out. The September settlement would give workers one additional paid day off and allow for three call-outs per year without penalty, but the unions say that’s not enough to address their concerns.

“We’re going to work sick, fatigued,” conductor Beau Trego told the Washington Post. “You have so many other jobs where people work 9 to 5 and still have sick days, but we don’t. Hopefully, they go back to the table and come up with something better.”