President Biden on Monday urged Congress to step in and pass legislation to avert an economically damaging rail strike. In September, Biden and his administration brokered a compromise deal between 12 rail worker unions and rail companies, but workers at four of the 12 unions rejected that deal, teeing up a strike by all 12 unions as soon as Dec. 9.
"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 in a statement. "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." A rail shutdown "would devastate our economy," he said, and Congress should pass legislation to adopt the September deal "without any modifications or delay."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded that "this week, the House will take up a bill adopting the tentative agreement — with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms — and send it to the Senate." What will happen in the evenly divided Senate is less clear, though business lobbying groups have been pushing lawmakers in both parties to intervene.
The deal brokered in September is a slight improvement for workers over an agreement recommended over the summer by a board of arbitrators. Eight of the unions agreed to the deal, which features a retroactive 24 percent pay raise between 2020 and 2024 and three new unpaid days a year for engineers and conductors to attend to routine medical appointments. But the four other unions were holding out for paid sick time and other measures to address unpredictable schedules and other quality-of-life concerns.
Biden is a staunch supporter of both unions and rail travel. Congress has stepped in to prevent rail spikes 18 times over the past 60 years, the White House noted earlier Monday, but Biden was only of only six senators to vote against a deal to end a bitter rail strike in 1992, The New York Times reports. "Though many members are likely to be upset by the prospect of congressional intervention, some union leaders may quietly prefer that intervention to come in December rather than January, when the House comes under Republican control and may be more likely to back the skimpier deal."