Biden Signs Bill That Imposes Agreement on Rail Unions, Averting Strike

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
December 2, 2022Politicsshare

President Joe Biden on Dec. 2 signed legislation that forces rail unions to adopt an agreement, averting a strike by rail workers.

“I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties, it was tough for me,” Biden said before signing the bill. But, he added, he believed it was the right thing to do at the moment.

Bipartisan majorities in both chambers approved the bill this week.

The legislation requires unions representing rail workers to accept tentative agreements that were reached in the fall but were later rejected by workers with multiple unions.

Absent the bill or a fresh deal, the workers could have begun striking on Dec. 9, with some effects beginning to be felt before then as companies prepared for the disruption.

A strike would have “devastated our economy,” Biden said.

Congress is empowered through the Railway Labor Act to investigate disputes between operators and workers and to resolve such disputes. Options include forcing the parties to accept an unratified agreement and extending the “cooling-off period,” which was set to expire.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) attempted to amend the legislation so as to extend the cooling-off period and not impose an agreement on workers, but the amendment was rejected.

Senators also turned down the proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to add seven paid sick days to the agreement. The House of Representatives had approved the provision.

Biden said he was aware the bill did not include paid sick leave “but that fight isn’t over.” Asked when workers should expect paid sick leave, he said, “as soon as I can convince Republicans to see the light.”

Republicans helped pass the paid sick leave provision in the House and six voted for it in the Senate, but that wasn’t enough to meet the 60-vote threshold. Five senators missed the vote, including Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Agreement

The agreement was reached after a panel of arbitrators appointed by Biden recommended pay hikes, cash payments, and improved health care.

Both sides negotiated from the proposals and arrived at an immediate 14.1 percent wage increase, with a 24 percent hike by 2024. That would take the average worker’s total compensation to about $160,000 annually, from $126,000 in 2020. The agreement also includes five annual $1,000 payments.

The agreement keeps health care at the current levels, which meet the definition of platinum outlined in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Employees have to contribute 15 percent of the premiums.

The average worker currently has three weeks of paid vacation and another up to 14 days for personal leave, while some do have paid sick leave. The agreement would add one personal leave day and add reimbursement options for travel.

The agreement has been ratified by nine unions and rejected by four others, including the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers union, the largest one.

“The gains in this agreement are significant, including historic wage increases, best-in-class healthcare, and meaningful progress in creating more predictable, scheduled work shifts. Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address our employees’ work-life balance concerns, but it is clear this agreement maintains rail’s place among the best jobs in our nation,” Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement.

The unions that did not ratify said the agreement wasn’t sufficient.

The most common sticking point, according to the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED-IBT), was the lack of paid sick leave.

“Over the last year, numerous employers throughout the world have analyzed what they could do to attract and retain talented employees. The railroads have done the complete opposite. They’ve ignored industry regulators and customers’ concerns about maintaining an adequate workforce, and they’ve ignored the workforces’ pleas for improvements to their working conditions and quality of life. This has gone on long enough. It is time for the railroads to improve the quality of life for their workforces,” Tony Cardwell, president of the union, said in a statement.

Workers, Operators React

Operators favored Congress intervening.

“We wish to thank President Biden and members of his administration … for their support of the Railway Labor Act bargaining process and the collectively bargained outcomes,” the  National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the railroads, said in a statement. “We also wish to thank Congressional leaders and members for recognizing the criticality of freight rail service to the nation’s supply chain and economy and for acting quickly to avert a shutdown.”

Unions had mixed reactions, with some favoring intervention and others opposing it.

“Passing legislation to adopt tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave for Railroad Workers will not address rail service issues,” the BMWED-IBT said. “Rather, it will worsen supply chain issues and further sicken, infuriate, and disenfranchise Railroad Workers as they continue shouldering the burdens of the railroads’ mismanagement.”

From The Epoch Times

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