Biden calls on Congress to avert rail strike

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by Emily Atkins

US president Joe Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation that would prevent a national rail strike on December 9th.

On Monday he called for legislation that would force the adoption of the tentative agreement between the unions and railways that was reached in September. Since that time, the majority of the unions in the industry have voted to approve the deal.

However, four unions – BMWED, BRS and IBB, in addition to SMART-TD – remain without agreements in place, and the end of their cooling-off periods is rapidly approaching.

The deal provides a historic 24 percent pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs.

A work stoppage would have disastrous impacts on the economy, rail customers and the American people, with a projected impact of US$2 billion per day, according to AAR.

“A rail shutdown would devastate our economy. 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,” Biden said in a statement on Monday.

Congress has historically intervened to prevent rail system disruptions. “In the event that the four unions remain unwilling to enter agreements within the bounds of the PEB’s framework, Congress must be prepared to act and institute the terms supported by the majority of the unions, guaranteeing certainty for rail customers and the broader economy,” AAR said in a statement.

“A nationwide rail strike during the peak holiday season will be devastating for American businesses, consumers and the U.S. economy,” echoed National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay.

Biden said that as a “pro-labour” president, he is “reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. 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.”