Democratic leaders said they could act as soon as this week after President Joe Biden on Monday called on Congress to pass legislation ‘immediately’ to avoid a rail shutdown by formally passing a leadership-endorsed September tentative agreement. unions and employers.
“I call on Congress to immediately pass legislation to enact the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators — without any amendments or delays — to avoid a potentially crippling nationwide rail shutdown,” Biden said in a statement.
“This deal was approved by union and management negotiators in September,” Biden continued. “On the day it was announced, union leaders, business leaders and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution to the dispute between rail freight union workers and rail freight companies. … Since then, the majority of unions in the industry have voted to approve the deal.
A railroad strike could become a reality as early as December 9, causing shortages, soaring prices and the halting of factory production. It could also disrupt commuter rail services for up to seven million passengers a day and the movement of 6,300 rail cars of food and agricultural products a day, among other items, according to a set of business groups.
Additionally, a rail freight strike could cost the U.S. economy $1 billion in its first week alone, according to new analysis from the Anderson Economic Group.
While the railways say they hope to strike new deals, they have so far rejected demands union negotiators say they want from their members. A previous strike threat in September was likely to cause bigger problems with goods destined for holiday sales, but that strike threat was averted by a tentative 11-hour labor agreement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said Monday the House would pass legislation this week to avert a potential railroad strike.
“This week, the House will consider legislation adopting the tentative agreement reached in September after months of hard-fought negotiations,” Pelosi said in a statement.
After the House passes, Senate action could come later this week or next, multiple Senate sources said.
The Senate should have the votes to break a filibuster on the bill to avert a possible railroad strike, the sources say. There will likely be at least 10 Republicans voting with most Senate Democrats to cross the 60-vote threshold.
The only question is how quickly the bill can be introduced, as any senator can oppose it, delaying the process and delaying a quick vote. Sources are watching Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders closely to see if he reverses his efforts to secure a quick vote. A spokesperson for Sanders declined to comment.
Congress can impose a contract on both parties or extend a “cooling off period” of negotiation to keep the railroads in business and avoid disruptions to interstate commerce under the Railroad Labor Act of 1926. The The crux of the dispute between the railroads and their workers revolves around leave rules.
Calling himself a “proud pro-Labour president,” Biden said in his Monday statement, “I hesitate to override the ratification procedures and views of those who voted against the deal. But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other workers and families — I think Congress needs to use its powers to pass this deal.
A rail closure, Biden warned, “would devastate the economy.”
Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement Monday evening: “No one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not railroad employees and not the American economy.”
“The time has come for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the twelve unions. A clear pattern of ratified agreements has been established and congressional action to prevent a work stoppage in this manner is appropriate,” Jefferies said.
“These agreements will ultimately increase average employee compensation and benefits to more than $160,000.”
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had been “directly involved” in efforts to resolve the ongoing railroad union dispute that could lead to a rail closure – contrary to comments from Biden himself, who told reporters in Nantucket over the weekend, he did “not directly engage” railroad and union negotiators.
This story was updated with additional information on Monday.