Joe Biden called on Congress to step in and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in stalled contract talks, saying a strike would “destroy our economy”.
Biden’s move comes as business groups warned the impending strike would hit just before the holiday season and worsen inflation problems in the United States.
“Let’s be clear: a rail closure would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement. “Without rail freight, many American industries would shut down.”
The strike comes after long-running negotiations reached an impasse and the two sides agreed to a cooling-off period which ends next week.
Congress has the power to impose contract terms on workers, but it’s unclear what lawmakers might include if they did. They could also force negotiations to continue into the new year.
Unions and railroads have lobbied Congress as contract negotiations continue. Four rail unions that represent more than half of the industry’s 115,000 workers have rejected deals Biden helped broker before an initial strike deadline in September and are back at the table to try to hammer out new deals . Eight other unions have approved their five-year agreements with the railways and are in the process of recouping their workers’ pay for the 24% increases retroactive to 2020.
Last month, the Biden administration said it was up to unions and the railroads to reach an agreement. In his statement, Biden said that as a “proud pro-Labour president” he was reluctant to overrule the opinions of people who voted against the deal. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would harm millions of other workers and families — I think Congress needs to use its powers to pass this deal.”
Biden’s remarks came after a coalition of more than 400 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday urging them to intervene in stalled talks due to fears over the potential devastating impact of a strike. which could force many businesses to close if they can. are not getting the rail deliveries they need. Commuter railroads and Amtrak would also be hit by a strike because many of them use tracks owned by freight railroads.
The business groups, led by the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation, said even a short-term strike would have a huge impact and the economic pain would begin to be felt even before the December 9 strike. deadline. They said the railways would stop transporting dangerous chemicals, fertilizers and perishables up to a week in advance to prevent these products from being stuck somewhere along the tracks.
“A potential rail strike only adds to the headwinds facing the U.S. economy,” the companies wrote. “A rail shutdown would immediately lead to supply shortages and higher prices. Shutting down Amtrak and commuter rail services would disrupt up to 7 million travelers a day. Many businesses would see their sales halted in the middle of the critical holiday shopping season. »
On Monday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) trade group praised Biden’s action. “No one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not railroad workers, not the American economy,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the 12 unions.”
Unions have asked the railroads to consider adding paid sick leave to what they already offer to address some of workers’ quality of life concerns. But so far the railroads, which include Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX and Kansas City Southern, have refused to consider that.
The railroads want any deal to closely follow recommendations made this summer by a special Biden-appointed board of referees that called for 24% increases and $5,000 in bonuses, but failed to address concerns from workers about demanding schedules that they say make it difficult to take a day off and other working conditions.
The Associated Press contributed reports
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