Biden calls on Congress to head off potential rail strike

President Joe Biden asked Congress Monday to block a railroad strike prior to next month’s deadline in the stalled contracts talks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that lawmakers would consider legislation this week to impose a deal that 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 September agreement terms, which would make it difficult for the Senate to pass the House bill.

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 were urging Congress to intervene in the impassed 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 railroads. Biden was instrumental in brokering these deals 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.

Biden’s suggestion that Congress impose terms similar to those agreed to in September will stop the union’s push for paid sick leave. Four unions have been pushing for railroads to include this benefit to address worker quality-of-life concerns. However, railroads have refused to do so.

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 economic.” “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 supporting 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 railroads 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 adhere to the recommendations of a special board that Biden created this summer. The arbitrators recommended that 24% be raised and $5,000 in bonuses, but that didn’t address workers’ concerns about difficult schedules that make it difficult to take a day off or other work conditions. Biden wants Congress to make that happen.