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In break with labor, Biden asks Congress to intervene in potential rail strike

Biden has said he wants to be the most “pro-union president” ever

SHARE In break with labor, Biden asks Congress to intervene in potential rail strike
Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta.

Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. In a meeting in the White House with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, President Joe Biden said they had agreed to pass legislation to stave off a possible rail strike.

Danny Karnik, Associated Press

In a meeting in the White House with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Tuesday, President Joe Biden said they had agreed to pass legislation to stave off a possible rail strike.

“Congress, I think, has to act to prevent it,” said Biden. “It’s not an easy call, but I think we have to do it. The economy’s at risk.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement on Tuesday saying the House would consider legislation this week to adopt the tentative agreement between rail companies and unions that was negotiated earlier this year.

“We must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt,” she said.

A rail workers strike during the crucial Christmas season could be devastating to the economy, according to an analysis by Anderson Economic Group. The report estimates the U.S. economy would lose a quarter of a billion dollars in just the first three days of a strike.

Biden has said he wants to be considered the most “pro-union president” in U.S. history, making his willingness to force an agreement on unions unusual.

In a statement released Monday, Biden said while he shared workers’ concerns, a railway shutdown would be “devastating.”

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” he 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.”

There are 12 unions involved in the negotiations with rail companies, and eight had voted to approve the contract while four did not. All 12 of the unions have said they would strike if no deal is reached by Dec. 9. The agreement reportedly includes a 25% pay increase and additional days off for union workers. Some unions have said it didn’t go far enough on sick days.

Rail union officials reacted to the president’s announcement by saying they were “deeply disappointed” with his decision to intervene.

“It is not enough to share workers’ concerns,” a statement from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees said. “A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the Railroad Workers’ concerns. It both denies Railroad Workers their right to strike while also denying them of the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike.”

Business groups had called on Congress to intervene in order to stop a potential strike. In a letter to Congress sent Monday, signed by hundreds of business groups, business leaders said a strike would affect the ability to supply clean water, food and energy to consumers.

“The sooner this labor impasse ends, the better for our communities and our national economy,” they said.