Biden indicators invoice to avert railroad staff’ strikes regardless of lack of paid sick go away
President Joe Biden signed legislation making rail strikes illegal and preventing workers from quitting their jobs weeks before the holiday season.
“The legislation I am about to sign into law ends a difficult railroad dispute and helps our nation avoid what would no doubt have been an economic disaster at a very bad time on the calendar,” Biden said Friday morning before signing the law .
After months of his government backing negotiations and the sides reaching a tentative agreement in September, talks eventually stalled and rail workers threatened to go on strike. Biden then asked Congress to intervene, and the Senate passed legislation on Thursday declaring a strike illegal.
The original agreement, brokered by the Biden administration, was accepted by all but four railroad unions, which were awaiting guaranteed paid sick days. The opposing unions, however, represent the majority of railway workers. Workers and companies had until December 9 to reach an agreement before promising a strike that industry estimates would cost the US economy $2 billion a day.
“Our country’s rail system is literally the backbone of our supply chain,” Biden said Friday. “So much of what we depend on is delivered by rail, from clean water to food and gas to every other commodity. Shutting down rail would have devastated our economy. Without rail freight, many of our industries would have literally come to a standstill.”
A strike by railroad workers so close to the holiday season – and at a time of high inflation – could potentially ruin the economy. Biden insisted Congress send the legislation to his desk by Saturday. Without an agreement, rail transport of certain goods should be restricted as early as this weekend in preparation for the strike.
Biden, signing the law into law on Friday, said his economic advisors told him that up to 765,000 Americans, “many of them union members themselves,” had lost their jobs.
Railroad companies begin preparing for a strike seven days in advance, in accordance with federal safety measures. Shippers are beginning to prioritize the securing and transportation of sensitive materials such as chlorine for drinking water and hazardous materials.
Chemicals are no longer transported 96 hours before a strike. The American Chemistry Council noted a drop of 1,975 carloads of chemical shipments during the week of September 10, when the railroads stopped accepting shipments due to the prior threat of a rail strike.
The big four railroads also typically carry more than 80% of agricultural freight, according to the National Grain and Feed Association.
Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it can use that power to intervene in railroad worker disputes that have the potential to affect trade across state lines to affect. A law nearly a hundred years old, the Railroad Labor Act of 1926, gives the president the power to intervene even in situations where a railroad strike could significantly affect vital modes of transportation. The law has been invoked 18 times since it was signed.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a separate measure that would have added seven days of paid sick leave to the contract instead of just one. Although it had bipartisan support in both chambers, This measure was rejected in the Senate vote. Biden thanked Congress for its quick action as the bill was signed into law, although he acknowledged it was not an easy vote.
“I know this has been a difficult vote for members of both parties. It was a difficult set-up for me,” Biden said. “But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs, protect millions of working families from harm and disruption, and keep the supply chain stable over the holidays.”
The situation put “Union Joe” Biden in a difficult position. Biden said Thursday he still supports the unions, but as President of the United States, and not as an individual senator from Delaware, it’s his job to look out for all Americans. He said he has long been a supporter of paid sick leave and will continue to advocate that it is a right for all workers, not just railroad workers.
The original White House-brokered agreement would give rail workers a 24% pay increase over five years from 2020 to 2024 and immediate payouts averaging $11,000 upon ratification. Under the deal, workers would be given an extra day off with pay and a promise that they could show up for doctor’s appointments without penalty.
However, workers balked at the lack of paid sick leave because the agreement required them to use unpaid time off to see doctors. Biden on Friday admitted his disappointment that paid sick leave was not included in the agreement.
“Look, I know this bill doesn’t have paid sick leave that these workers, frankly every worker in America, deserve, but this fight isn’t over,” Biden said. “I didn’t promise that we would stop just because we couldn’t bring it into this bill that we would stop fighting for it. I’ve supported paid sick leave for a long time and will continue this fight until we succeed.”
Union leaders told CNBC they would remember who opposed them in the upcoming election. Union support was critical in forming Biden’s eventual winning coalition in the 2020 election.
“Our membership will support everyone who stands by them,” said Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division. “It looks like Democrats are standing with our members and making sure our members are on sick leave. If that’s the case, we will. and vote with our members, then there’s a good chance they can win votes too.”
The provision to add seven days of paid sick leave failed in the Senate by a vote of 52 to 43. All Democrats present to vote supported it except Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va. Six Republicans also supported the measure.
In the House of Representatives, three GOP representatives joined all Democrats in passing the sick leave proposal.