By Harold W. Reid, The Chicago Times
November 30, 2022
WASHINGTON – Congress may be forced to take drastic action to prevent a looming US rail workers strike that threatens to shutdown an already weakened economy suffering from high inflation and supply chain issues.
The Biden administration pleaded with Congress to act after rail unions rejected a deal brokered by Biden representatives. Four of the twelve unions, representing some 100,000 employees for rail freight carriers, voted down the most recent deal and have threatened to strike by December 9 if another deal is not approved.
Both Republicans and Democrats are wary of intervening in labor disputes, especially Democrats who are dependent on union labor votes and political contributions. Yet, the bill is expected to receive bipartisan support after both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress met with the Biden administration on Tuesday at the White House.
Outgoing Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised two votes with the first on adopting the tentative labor agreement and the second to add seven days of paid sick leave for railroad workers to the agreement.
“It is with great reluctance that we must now move to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement. However, we must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that would touch the lives of nearly every family: erasing hundreds of thousands of jobs, including union jobs; keeping food and medicine off the shelves; and stopping small businesses from getting their goods to market.” according to Pelosi.
The failed agreement brokered by the Biden administration, supported by the railroad freight carriers and a majority of the unions, provided for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020 along with one additional paid leave day. Rail workers would have to pay a greater share of their health insurance costs, but their premiums would be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. However, the rejection was over workers’ concerns about demanding schedules that make it hard to take a day off and the lack of paid sick time.
The US Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to congressional leaders stating that they must intervene in the labor dispute and pointed out that a stoppage of rail service for any duration would represent a $2 billion per day loss to the economy.
Railroad labor unions on Tuesday were angered over Biden’s pleas for Congress to intervene in the dispute since it undercuts their efforts to address workers’ quality-of-life concerns.