President Biden said on Thursday that a temporary railway labor agreement has been reached to avert a potentially disastrous strike ahead of the midterm elections.
Railroad and union representatives were negotiating for 20 hours at the Labor Department on Wednesday to reach an agreement, as there was a threat of a strike starting Friday that could close rail lines across the country.
A White House official, insisting anonymity, said Biden made an important call to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at 9 p.m. as talks were underway. The president asked negotiators to consider the damage to families, farmers and businesses in the wake of the closures.
The result of the back-and-forth was a tentative agreement that would go to union members for a vote after a cooling-off period of several weeks.
“These railroad workers will find better pay, better working conditions, and peace of mind around health care costs,” Biden said. “The agreement is also a win-win for railway companies that will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will remain part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.”
The shutdown threat had put Biden in a politically fragile position. The Democratic president believed unions created the middle class, but he also knew that a railroad worker’s strike could damage the economy before midterm in November, when both houses of Congress hold a majority. There will be scores of key governance and important state offices. takes hold
On Wednesday, he was in the awkward position of spying on the merits of unionization in Detroit, a veteran of the labor movement, while members of his administration to continue negotiations in Washington in hopes of derailing talks between railroads and unionized workers. were completely out. a shutdown.
As the administration was trying to strike a deal, United Auto Workers Local 598 member Ryan Bukalski introduced Biden as “the most union- and Labor-friendly president in American history” at the Detroit Auto Show on Wednesday. Bukalski reminisces about the decisive demonstrations organized by autoworkers in the 1930s.
In his speech, Biden acknowledged that he would not be in the White House without the support of unions such as the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, adding that the autoworkers “brought me to the dance.”
But without talks between the 12 unions in Washington, Biden also knew a halt could begin as early as Friday that could halt shipments of food and fuel at a cost of $2 billion per day.
At stake was far more than sick leave and pay increases for 115,000 unionized railway workers. Influences could have extended to Congress’s control and the shipping network that keeps factories running, stocked store shelves and ties America together as an economic power.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking on Air Force One on her way to Detroit on Wednesday, called the rail strike “an unacceptable consequence for our economy and the American people.” Representatives of rail lines and their workers need to “stay at the table, bargain in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, and come to an agreement,” she said.
Inside the White House, aides do not see a contradiction between Biden’s devotion to unions and his desire to avoid a strike. Union activism has increased under Biden, as has seen a 56% increase in petitions for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board so far this fiscal year.
A person familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House deliberations on the matter, said Biden’s mindset in approaching the debate was that he is the president of the entire country. , not just organized labor.
With the economy still reeling from the pandemic’s supply chain disruptions, the president aimed to keep all parties on the table until a deal was finalized. The person said the White House saw a commitment to continuing talks in good faith as the best way to avoid the shutdown, using the principles of collective bargaining, which Biden holds dear.
Biden also knew that a pause could erode the dynamics that have contributed to soaring inflation and create a political headache for Democrats.
Democratic political adviser and former AFL-CIO communications aide Eddie Vale said the White House took the right approach at a dangerous moment.
“Nobody wants a railroad strike, neither the companies, nor the employees, nor the White House,” he said. “No one wants it close to the election.”
Vale said the sticking point in the talks was about “honor, basically — sick leave and bereavement leave,” issues Biden has endorsed in speeches and with his policy proposals.
Sensing a political opportunity, Senate Republicans moved on Wednesday to pass a law to impose contractual terms on unions and railroad companies to avoid the shutdown. The Democrats, who control both houses in Congress, blocked it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “If a strike happens and paralyzes food, fertilizer and energy shipments across the country, it will be because Democrats have blocked this bill. “
But as of 5:05 a.m. Thursday, it was clear that hard work in government, unions and railway companies had paid off as Biden announced the deal, calling it “a significant victory for our economy and the American people.”