Biden urges Congress to stop a potential rail strike.
Monday’s request by President Joe Biden to Congress for an intervention to stop a rail strike before the next month deadline in the stalled contract negotiations was met with congressional speaker Nancy Pelosi stating that lawmakers would consider legislation this week to implement the agreement the unions reached in September.
Biden stated in a statement that a railroad shutdown would “devastate our economy.” Many U.S. industries will shut down if freight rail is not available.
Pelosi stated in a statement that she was hesitant to skip the standard ratification process of the Tentative Agreement. However, it is imperative to act to stop a nationwide rail strike which could bring down our economy.
Pelosi stated that the House would not alter the terms of September’s agreement. This would make it difficult for the Senate to pass the House bill with no changes.
Biden and Pelosi want a September agreement, which is slightly better than the recommendation of the board. Engineers and conductors will now be able to take care of medical appointments for three additional unpaid days per year under the September agreement. This is provided that they schedule their appointments at least 30 days before. In September, the railroads promised not to penalize hospitalized workers and to continue negotiations with unions about improving the daily scheduling of days off.
Many business groups had been asking Congress and the President to intervene in the deadlocked contract talks and stop a strike.
Both railroads and unions are lobbying Congress to stop contract negotiations from continuing. Congress must act to end negotiations between the railroads, four rail unions, and the four railroad unions that Biden brokered before September’s strike deadline. Eight other unions approved the five-year agreements with railroads. They are now working to get back the wages of their workers for the 24% retroactive raises, which are retroactive to 2020.
The union’s push for paid sick leave will be ended if Congress follows the lead of Biden and imposes terms similar to those that were agreed to in September. Four unions have been pushing for railroads to include that benefit in order to address worker’s quality-of-life concerns. However, railroads have refused to do so.
Absolute malarkey! If Congress can pass legislation to stop a rail worker strike they most certainly can make PTO a law. This is an attack on unions, nothing else. https://t.co/AeWkfSoXra
— Joe Miller (@Miller81Joe) November 30, 2022
Biden stated that he is proud to be a pro-labor president and was not willing to ignore the opinions of those who voted against it. “But in this instance — where the economic consequences of a shutdown could hurt millions of other workers and families — I believe Congress should use its power to adopt this agreement.”
Biden’s comments and Pelosi’s statement were made after more than 400 business organizations sent Monday a letter to Congress urging them to get into the stalled negotiations.
The letter expressed concern about the potential consequences of a strike that could see many businesses shut down if they don’t receive the rail deliveries they need. Amtrak and the commuter railroads would also be affected by a strike, as they use freight railroad tracks.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, even a brief strike could have a significant impact on the economy and would begin to feel effects even before the Dec. 9, strike deadline. To prevent these products from getting stuck on the tracks, railroads will stop transporting perishable goods, chemicals, and fertilizers up to one week in advance.
Businesses wrote that a possible rail strike would only increase the economic headwinds facing America. A rail strike would lead to a shortage of supplies and higher prices. Amtrak and commuter trains would be cut off, disrupting 7 million passengers per day. Many businesses would lose sales right during the holiday shopping season.
Similar businesses also wrote a letter to Biden last year, urging him to take a more active part in the resolution of the contract dispute.
Monday’s praise was echoed by the Association of American Railroads trade association.
AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies stated that “no one benefits from a railroad work stoppage — our customers, rail employees, and not the American economy.” “Now is the right time for Congress to pass legislation that will implement the agreements already signed by eight of twelve unions.”
Biden’s action was praised by business groups who had been pressing Congress to resolve this contract dispute.
“The Biden administration’s support for congressional intervention affirms the American food, beverage and personal care industry’s belief that freight rail operations cannot be shut down and threaten the affordability and availability of everyday essentials for consumers,” stated Tom Madrecki, vice president of supply chain at the Consumer Brands Association. “The consequences for consumers if there were to be a strike are too severe, especially given the ongoing supply chain disruptions and challenges.”
Clark Ballew, a spokesperson for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division that represents track maintenance workers, stated before Biden’s announcement, that the union was “headed towards D.C. this Week to meet with legislators on the Hill from both sides.” For several weeks, we have been telling our members to contact their federal legislators in the House or Senate.
Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s president, said that Biden was right in advocating for the agreement already reached. Bradley stated that Congress must do the same thing it did 18 times: intervene against a strike on the national railroad. He also said that Congress’s enforcement of the agreement reached by railroad leaders and union leaders was the only way to prevent a crippling strike.
Union Pacific, BNSF and Norfolk Southern are all railroads. They wanted any deal to closely match the recommendations. A special board of arbitrators was appointed by Biden this summer. It called for 24% increases and $5,000 in bonuses, but did not address workers’ concerns about strict schedules that make a day off difficult and other working conditions. This is what Biden wants Congress to do.