President Joe Biden’s call for Congress to intervene in the Railroad union’s contract dispute was slammed by blue collar union union workers. The one union said that the move undercuts their efforts to improve working conditions and Biden’s claim to be a pro-labor leader.
Lawmakers will be asked to vote this week to impose the terms of the deals the 12 unions agreed to before an original strike deadline in September, as Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say, even though they were rejected by four of those unions, who represent more than half of the 115,000 rail workers. But because the potential damage to the economy would be too big, Biden said he reluctantly agreed that it would be best to override the union votes.
Here is what Biden said: “Congress I think has to act to prevent it. It’s not an easy call but I think we have to do it. The economy’s at risk.”
Business groups meanwhile claim that it would devastate the economy, and stress that it is crucial to avoid a strike next week. It is allowed by the law for Congress to impose a compromise agreement that had been backed by business and labor leaders in September, and which leaves out provisions demanded by four rail unions to boost sick leave. But forcing the deal on workers, including a majority of whom voted against it, is siding with businesses over workers, as rail workers and union leaders say.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union, which is one of the four that rejected their deal, said in a statement that “it is not enough to ‘share workers’ concerns.'”
“A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the railroad workers’ concerns,” the union added.
BNSF, CSX, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, and Norfolk Southern are the railroads that have refused to consider adding sick time because they didn’t want to spend any more on the labor deals than they agreed to in September.
It was also argued by these railroads that in favor of higher wages and stronger short-term disability benefits, rail unions have agreed over the decades to forego paid sick time.
Co-chairman of the Railroad Workers United coalition that includes workers from all the rail unions, Conductor Gabe Christenson said that Biden’s move sides with employers over workers.
Christenson, whose group encouraged workers to reject these deals, said that “the ‘most labor-friendly president in history’ has proven that he and the Democratic Party are not the friends of labor they have touted themselves to be.”
“These wolves in sheep’s clothing have for decades been in bed with corporate America and have allowed them to continue chipping away at the American middle class and organized labor,” added Christenson.
A longtime Union Pacific engineer based in Pocatello, Idaho, who is active with Railroad Workers United, Paul Lindsey said that Congress and Biden seem to be sending the message that “your quality of life, your time off, your days, your standard of living doesn’t matter if you getting a pay increase is going to hurt business.”
But Sen. Bernie Sanders said that until there is a vote on paid sick time for rail workers, he intends to hold up the rail deal.
This is what Sanders wrote on Twitter: “At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. It’s my intention to block consideration of the rail legislation until a roll call vote occurs on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers in America.”
President and chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute, Mike Sommers said that “the only thing standing in the way of ensuring the American economy doesn’t take a major hit as a consequence of a catastrophic rail strike is the United States Congress.”
“We need to make sure that the United States Congress acts on this as quickly as possible,” Sommers added.