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Biden asks US Congress to block railroad strike that could ‘devastate economy’
US Congress to block railroad: Joe Biden urged Congress to intervene and prevent a railroad strike before the next month’s deadline in stalled contract negotiations, stating that a strike would “devastate our economy.” Biden’s move follows warnings from business groups that the impending strike would occur just before the holiday season and exacerbate the United States‘ inflation problems.
“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement. “Without freight rail, many US industries would shut down.” The strike comes after long-running negotiations reached an impasse and both sides agreed to a cooling-off period that ends next week. Congress has the power to impose contract terms on the workers, but it’s not clear what lawmakers might include if they do. They could also force the negotiations to continue into the new year.
Both the unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress while contract talks continue. Four rail unions that represent more than half of the 115,000 workers in the industry have rejected the deals that Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September and are back at the table trying to work out new agreements. Eight other unions have approved their five-year deals with the railroads and are in the process of getting back pay for their workers for the 24% raises that are retroactive to 2020.
The Biden administration stated last month that unions and rail companies were responsible for reaching an agreement. Biden stated in his statement that as a “proud labor supporter” he was hesitant to override the opinions of those who voted against the agreement. “However, in this instance, where the economic impact of a government shutdown would harm millions of other working people and families, I believe Congress must use its authority to approve this agreement.”
Biden’s remarks came after a coalition of more than 400 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday urging them to step into the stalled talks due to concerns about the potential devastation of a strike that could force many businesses to close if they cannot receive the rail deliveries they require. Many commuter railroads and Amtrak use freight railroad tracks, so they would also be affected by a strike.
The business groups, led by the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Retail Federation, stated that even a short-term strike would have a significant impact, and the economic pain would begin to be felt well before the strike deadline of 9 December. They stated that the railroads would cease transporting hazardous chemicals, fertilizers, and perishable goods a week in advance to prevent these products from becoming stranded on the tracks.
The businesses wrote that a potential rail strike would only add to the headwinds facing the US economy. “A railroad shutdown would immediately cause supply shortages and price increases. The discontinuation of Amtrak and commuter rail services would inconvenience up to seven million passengers per day. In the midst of the crucial holiday shopping season, many companies’ sales would be negatively impacted.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) praised Biden’s action on Monday. Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the American Association of Railroads, stated, “No one benefits from a rail work stoppage, not our customers, not our rail workers, and not the American economy.” Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements that have already been ratified by eight of the twelve unions.
To address some of the workers’ quality-of-life concerns, the unions have urged the railroads to consider adding paid sick time to what they already provide. The railroads, including Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Kansas City Southern, have thus far refused to consider this possibility.
The railroads want any agreement to closely resemble the recommendations made by a special board of arbitrators appointed by Vice President Joe Biden this summer, which called for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses but did not address workers’ complaints about demanding schedules and other working conditions.
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