Biden urges Congress to pass legislation to prevent rail strike

President Joe Biden on Monday called on lawmakers to quickly pass a labor deal that would prevent what he called a “potentially crippling national rail shutdown” starting Dec. 9.

The tentative agreement, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would vote on this week, is aimed at avoiding a freight strike just two weeks before Christmas, but has divided workers into two of the largest rail unions. greats of the country

Biden urged lawmakers to adopt the tentative agreement between rail workers and operators “without modification or delay,” warning that the economic fallout from shutting down the nation’s freight trains would “devastate” the economy.

“As a proud labor president, I am reluctant to quash ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the deal,” Biden said in a statement. “But in this case, where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of workers and families, I think Congress should use its powers to adopt this deal.”

“Congress should send this bill to my desk well before December 9 so we can avoid disruption,” he added.

Shortly after Biden’s statement, Pelosi said the tentative deal would be considered by the House soon.

“This week, the House of Representatives will take up a bill that adopts the Tentative Agreement, without poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms, and send it to the Senate,” it said in a statement.

When asked about the potential rail closure, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Monday’s briefing that Biden has been “directly involved” in the process and has had discussions with members of Congress. “If it is their turn to solve the problem.”

The tentative agreement, which was approved by labor and management negotiators in September, was rejected by the 28,000-member SMART-TD union, which represents rail drivers, after one of its divisions voted down it. Meanwhile, members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Train Engineers, which represents some 24,000 freight train engineers, voted in favor of the agreement.

The agreement would provide a 24% wage increase for rail workers over five years and raise the average salary up to $110,000 by 2024, the Association of American Railroads says.

However, several unions have signaled their discontent with the proposed contract, put together with the help of the White House and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, primarily over the lack of fully paid sick leave and other scheduling requirements.

Four of a dozen unions representing rail workers have rejected the tentative deal, but a single union’s strike decision would require all 12 to comply, crippling the system.

in a letter To congressional leaders on Monday, the US Chamber of Commerce warned that a rail shutdown of any length “would be extremely damaging to American families and our economy.” The main lobbying group added that Congress “must be prepared to intervene” before a December 9 deadline to ensure continuity of rail service if a voluntary agreement is not reached, a task it said Congress has taken on. 18 times since 1926.

Eli M Rosenberg contributed.