Cancel OK

Biden pushes Congress to enact rail agreement

freight train

The U.S. national rail strike has been postponed, not averted.

The major railroads and the railroad workers’ unions have been at an impasse since the summer.

An agreement brokered by the Biden administration in September was brought to a halt when four of the major unions voted to oppose it.

richard smoley produce blueprints

In short, the proposed agreement grants substantial pay raises (a 24 percent raise by 2023 and a cap on health care premiums) but does not grant workers enough sick leave—at least from their point of view. It does grant one day of paid sick leave, but they wanted 15. Nor did it grant them the right to take unpaid sick days. Third union rejects railway contract – Produce Blue Book

“Though a bitter pill for labor to swallow, enacting the agreement would put an end to the cliffhanger deadlines that have loomed every few weeks since summer, and allow all manner of industries that depend on freight rail shipments to stand down from doomsday preparations,” writes transportation journalist Tanya Snyder in Politico.

President Biden, who has always prided himself on his prolabor stance, is now asking Congress to implement the agreement.

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” he said in a statement. “But in this case—where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families—I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, announced a compromise late on Tuesday: she will put to the floor legislation that would give union members seven paid sick days.

This would mean that congressional Democrats could vote to enact the agreement but would still enable them to support workers’ calls for sick pay.

Although the produce industry does not move a great deal of its product by rail, a national rail strike would disrupt the economy for practically everybody. It has been estimated that a full strike would cost the economy some $1 billion a week.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.