A tentative deal has been reached with railroad labor to avert a strike, Biden says

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said Thursday that a preliminary railroad labor agreement had been reached, averting a strike that could have been devastating to the economy ahead of key midterm elections.

Railroad representatives and unions negotiated for 20 hours at the Labor Department on Wednesday to reach a deal as there was a risk of a strike starting on Friday that could shut down railroads across the country.

Biden made a key phone call to Labor Minister Marty Walsh at 9 p.m., as talks continued after an Italian dinner was delivered, according to a White House official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks. The president told negotiators to consider the damage to families, farmers and businesses if a shutdown occurs.

What emerged from the back-and-forth was a tentative agreement that will be sent to union members for a vote after a post-ratification cooling off period of several weeks.

“These railroad workers will get better pay, better working conditions and peace of mind about their health care costs: all hard-earned,” Biden said. “The agreement is also a win for railroad companies, who will be able to retain and hire more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.”

Read more: America’s railroads are in trouble—with or without a strike

The five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes 24 percent raises and $5,000 in bonuses recommended by the president’s emergency council this summer. But the railroads also agreed to relax their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions’ concerns about working conditions.

Railway workers will now be able to take unpaid days off for doctor’s appointments without being penalized under the railways’ attendance rules. Previously, workers lost points under the attendance systems that BNSF and Union Pacific railways had adopted, and could be disciplined if they lost all their points.

The unions that represent the conductors and engineers who operate the trains have pushed hard for changes to the attendance rules, and they said the deal sets a precedent that they will be able to negotiate these kinds of rules in the future. But workers will still have to vote on whether those changes are enough to approve the deal.

The threat of incarceration has put Biden in a delicate political position. The Democratic president believes unions have built the middle class, but he also knew a rail strike could hurt the economy ahead of the midterm elections, when majorities in both houses of Congress, key governorships and dozens of key state offices will be up for grabs. seized.

That put him in an awkward position on Wednesday. He flew to Detroit, a strong representative of the labor movement, to espouse the virtues of unions, while members of his administration did their best to continue negotiations in Washington between the railroads and union workers.

As the administration tried to broker peace, United Auto Workers Local 598 member Ryan Buchalski introduced Biden at the Detroit Auto Show on Wednesday as “the most union- and worker-friendly president in American history” and someone who “kicks ass for the working class .” Buchalski returned to the pivotal sit-ins of auto workers in the 1930s.

In the speech that followed, Biden acknowledged he wouldn’t be in the White House without the support of unions like the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, saying the auto workers “made me dance.”

But with no agreement among the 12 unions in talks in Washington, Biden also knew a shutdown could begin as early as Friday, potentially halting food and fuel supplies at a cost of $2 billion a day.

Much more was at stake than sick leave and wage increases for 115,000 unionized railroad workers. The ramifications could extend to control of Congress and to the shipping network that keeps factories moving, stores shelves stocked, and the United States united as an economic powerhouse.

That’s why White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking aboard Air Force One as it took off for Detroit on Wednesday, said the rail workers’ strike was “an unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people.” The railroads and their labor representatives “need to stay at the table, bargain in good faith to resolve outstanding issues and reach an agreement,” she said.

Biden faces the same kind of predicament that Theodore Roosevelt faced in 1902 with coal and Harry Truman in 1952 with steel — how do you balance the needs of labor and business to do what’s best for the nation ? Railroads were so important during World War I that Woodrow Wilson temporarily nationalized the industry to keep goods flowing and prevent strikes.

Inside the White House, aides see no contradiction between Biden’s devotion to unions and his desire to avoid a strike. Union activism has grown under Biden, as evidenced by a 56 percent increase in petitions for union representation at the National Labor Relations Board so far this fiscal year.

One person familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House deliberations on the issue, said Biden’s mindset approaching the debate was that he was the president of the entire country, not just the organized labor.

With the economy still recovering from the supply chain disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, the president’s goal was to keep all parties on hold so a deal could be reached. The person said the White House sees a commitment to continuing negotiations in good faith as the best way to avoid a shutdown while exercising the principles of collective bargaining that Biden holds dear.

Biden also knew that a shutdown could worsen the dynamics that have contributed to skyrocketing inflation and created a political headache for the party in power.

Eddie Vail, a Democratic political consultant and former communications aide for the AFL-CIO, said the White House took the right approach at a dangerous time.

“Nobody wants a rail strike, not the companies, not the workers, not the White House,” he said. “No one wants to be this close to the election.”

Weil added that the sticking point in the talks was over “basic respect — sick leave and bereavement leave,” issues Biden has supported in speeches and with his policy proposals.

Sensing a political opportunity, Senate Republicans moved legislation Wednesday to impose contract terms on unions and railroad companies to avoid a shutdown. Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, have blocked it.

“If a strike occurs and paralyzes food, fertilizer and energy supplies across the country, it will be because Democrats blocked this bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The economic impact of a potential strike was not lost on members of the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based group that represents CEOs. On Wednesday, it released its quarterly economic outlook.

“We’ve been experiencing a lot of headwinds from supply chain issues since the start of the pandemic, and those issues are going to be magnified geometrically,” Josh Bolten, the group’s chief executive, told reporters. “There are manufacturing plants in the country that will probably have to close. … There are critical products to keep our water clean.”

The roundtable also had a board of directors meeting on Wednesday. But Bolten said Lance Fritz, chairman of the board’s international committee and CEO of Union Pacific railroad, will miss it “because he’s working hard trying to bring the strike to a resolution.”

By 5:05 a.m. Thursday, it was clear that the hard work of the government, unions and railroad companies had paid off as Biden announced the deal, calling it “an important victory for our economy and the American people.”


AP writer Josh Funk contributed.

More must-see stories from TIME

Contact us at [email protected].

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *