A labor deal that President Joe Biden and his Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, negotiated in September was rejected by the country’s largest railroad union last week, sending Biden to Congress to beg for an intervention that would prevent what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) described as a “catastrophic nationwide rail strike” that would bring the U.S. economy to a grinding halt.
The original deal called for a 24% pay increase over a 5-year period for union rail workers along with what Biden described as “better working conditions” and “caps on what they have to pay out of pocket for healthcare.” Now that the union has rejected the deal, a nationwide strike is almost inevitable.
Congress does have the power to intervene in contract negotiations in order to prevent a strike, but Pelosi told Biden, “We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement – but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike.”
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Pelosi made it clear that while the House would not change the terms of the agreement, the Senate could approve the House bill without changes.
The board of arbitrators working on the agreement over the summer made similar recommendations to what Biden’s September agreement offered rail workers, including, 3 unpaid days of a year for engineers and conductors to attend medical appointments as long as they gave 30 days notice of the appointments. The railroads also agreed to not penalize workers who are hospitalized.
If Congress refuses to intervene, the country will face what Biden called “a rail shutdown [that] would devastate our economy.”