US President Joe Biden has signed a joint resolution ending a labor dispute between the country’s railroad companies and its unions, forcing both sides to strike a deal that would mean higher wages for workers.
The move halts a strike expected to start on December 9 as railway workers push for better working conditions. Biden had said a railroad strike would spell a “real disaster” for the US economy, with job losses for “as many as 765,000 Americans” in the first two weeks alone.
But at a signing ceremony at the White House on Friday, Biden opened his remarks by vowing to continue fighting for one of the railroad unions’ top demands: paid sick leave. An amendment that would have added seven days of sick leave to the deal failed to pass the US Senate on Thursday.
“We have more work to do, in my opinion, in terms of getting paid sick leave, not just for railroad workers but for every worker in America,” Biden said. “That’s a goal I had in the beginning, and I’ll come back to it.”
While the deal doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave, it does provide employees with a 24 percent raise and $5,000 in bonuses backdated to 2020, along with an additional day of paid time off.
The Biden administration helped broker the deal in September, calling it “an important victory for our economy and the American people.” But four of the 12 railway unions needed to approve the deal rejected it instead, with some pushing for a strike.
With railroad companies and labor unions at a standstill, the Biden administration exercised its powers under the Railroad Labor Act of 1926 to intervene in disputes that threaten to “significantly interrupt interstate commerce”.
This sparked outrage among railway unions, who felt their ability to negotiate was being curtailed.
“We firmly believe in the right of workers to fight for their own interests, as well as the interests of their families,” SMART-TD, one of the unions representing railway workers, said in a statement opposing plans for the Congress to intervene. at the agreement.
Congress moved quickly to avert the expected railroad strike, which would have frozen nearly 30 percent of U.S. freight by freight and cost the economy an estimated $2 billion a day.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 290 to 137 to impose the railroad deal on unions and businesses. It also passed an amendment to add sick leave to the deal, albeit by a smaller margin, 221 to 207.
That sent the deal to the Senate, which also approved the train deal 80 to 15. But the sick leave amendment failed to pass the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster, with majority Republicans and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin voting against. the.
In the wake of the Senate vote, unions such as the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, which represents more than 10,000 railroad workers, expressed their disappointment.
“What happened today in the United States Senate is a symptom and further illustration of a larger problem in our country. Nearly every elected member of Congress campaigns to be “for the working class.” The actions of many today showed they are for the corporate class,” the Brotherhood said in a statement.
The deal signed Friday is expected to affect some 115,000 railroad workers in the United States.
In his speech on Friday, Biden acknowledged, “This has been a tough vote for members of both parties.” But he stressed that imposing the deal was “the right thing to do at this point,” and thanked Congress for preventing “economic catastrophe at a very bad time on the calendar.”
“The rail system of our country is literally the backbone of our supply chain, as you well know, and so much of what we rely on is delivered by rail, from clean water to food and gas and all other commodities,” Biden said.
“Communities may have lost access to chemicals to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country would not be able to feed their livestock. Thanks to the bill that Congress has passed and I am about to sign, we have saved the country from that catastrophe.”
As he left the signing ceremony, Biden told reporters he was heading to Boston, where he planned to attend a fundraiser for Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent for Georgia’s Senate seat in the runoff election on Dec. 6.