At the request of President Joe Biden, Congress is set to vote on legislation that would prevent a rail strike, a move that comes after similar pleas from agricultural organizations worried about the effects of a stoppage of the nation’s trains.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday the House of Representatives will consider legislation to adopt an agreement reached by rail and union negotiators in September. She said the bill will contain “no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms.”
“It is my hope that this necessary, strike-averting legislation will earn a strongly bipartisan vote, giving America’s families confidence in our commitment to protecting their financial futures,” she said.
The White House released a statement Monday from Biden, who pressed Congress to “pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators – without any modifications or delay – to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.”
“At this critical moment for our economy, in the holiday season, we cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached, and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown,” Biden said.
Negotiators reached a deal in September to avoid a strike at that time, sending the agreement to the nation’s rail unions for a ratification vote. But since that deal was reached, four unions have rejected its terms; according to the American Association of Railroads, eight of the 12 railroad labor unions have voted to ratify the deal.
“On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders, and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry,” Biden said of the deal.
“During the ratification votes, the Secretaries of Labor, Agriculture, and Transportation have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management,” he added. “They believe that there is no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table and have recommended that we seek Congressional action.”
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed Biden's call Monday, saying a rail shutdown "would have significant and long-lasting effects on some sectors of American food and agriculture and could be devastating to parts of our economy." Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg shared Biden's call for congressional action on Twitter and said it was "vitally important" for Congress to address the issue. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has previously said Congress might need to act but did not issue a statement following Biden's directive to Capitol Hill Monday.
Farm groups have asked Congress to be ready to take the action Biden is requesting. More than 400 business groups wrote to congressional leaders today requesting Capitol Hill’s help in avoiding a rail strike. Ag groups have said the matter is only more pressing due to the movement of the 2022 harvest and low water levels on the Mississippi River.
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Biden’s statement also noted his pro-labor stance and said he was “reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement.” But he said the potential economic impact of a strike makes him believe “Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
AAR estimates put the cost of a rail strike at about $2 billion per day, said Ian Jeffries, the group’s president and CEO,
“Now is the appropriate time 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.”
Story updated Nov. 29 to include statements from Secretaries Buttigieg, Vilsack and Walsh.
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