Rail strike update: Biden signs bill averting Friday’s strike

Members in four of the twelve unions involved had rejected the proposed agreement because of the lack of adequate paid sick leave.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed legislation on Friday to avert a railroad strike that he said could have plunged the US into a catastrophic recession.

Biden signed one in the White House Measure passed by the Senate on Thursday and Wednesday through the house. It binds rail companies and workers to a proposed agreement reached between rail companies and union leaders in September but rejected by some union officials.

The president, for decades a vocal union ally, called it “the right thing to do” given the risks to an economy struggling against high inflation.

“The law I’m 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, adding that his team negotiating a ” good product, but I think we still have a lot to do.”

Members in four of the twelve unions involved had rejected the proposed agreement because of the lack of adequate paid sick leave. Biden acknowledged the shortage when he said he will continue to push for that benefit for every US worker.

“I’ve supported paid sick leave for a long time,” he said. “I will continue this fight until we succeed.”

The rejection of the settlement had created the risk of a strike that began December 9 and jeopardized essential supplies during the holiday season. Biden and Congress fended off a walkout by forcing the agreement on railroad companies and workers.

A freight rail strike would also have a large potential impact on passenger service, since Amtrak and many commuter railroads rely on railroad-owned tracks.

The president said a strike would have collapsed the US economy and lost around 765,000 jobs because supply chains would have been disrupted. Basic goods, food and chemicals needed for clean drinking water and the production of gasoline may not have been delivered.

Rising prices are already making many Americans fearful of an impending downturn, but the US job market has been resilient. The government announced this on Friday Employers added 263,000 jobs in November as the unemployment rate was 3.7%. Still, increases in hourly wages raised concerns among many economists that high inflation could persist in a way that could force aggressive Federal Reserve action to cut prices.

Although Biden is a staunch union ally, he said the railroad order was necessary to prevent a strike.

The Biden administration helped broker deals between the railroads and union leaders in September, but four of the unions turned down the deals. Eight others have approved five-year contracts and all 12 are getting their wages back for their workers for the 24% pay rises backdated to 2020.

But the lack of a meaningful increase in paid sick leave and other quality of life issues were a major concern for many union members whose votes were needed to reach an agreement. The railroads say unions have agreed, after decades of negotiations, to forgo paid sick leave in favor of higher wages and strong short-term disability benefits. Union members say the railroads can afford the paid leave given their profit margins.

House Democrats narrowly passed a measure to add seven days of paid sick leave to the tentative agreement, but that amendment fell eight votes short of the 60 vote threshold required for Senate passage.

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/rail-strike-to-be-averted-biden-to-sign-bill-friday/507-d1b840fd-2eda-4ef3-960f-13821025431b Rail strike update: Biden signs bill averting Friday’s strike

Laura Coffey

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