WASHINGTON – A national freight rail strike has officially been averted.
President Joe Biden signed legislation Friday to prevent a strike that he warned would cripple the economy and put millions out Americans out of work heading into the holidays.
"We've spared the country that catastrophe," Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House. "I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties. It was tough for me. But it was the right thing to do at the moment."
At Biden’s urging, Congress voted earlier this week to intervene in a labor dispute between rail unions and operators of the nation’s freight railways. Lawmakers voted to adopt a tentative agreement that the White House brokered in September between union leaders and rail operators despite the opposition of some rank-and-file workers.
Four of the 12 unions representing rail workers rejected the deal, setting the stage for a work stoppage that would have begun Dec. 9. The unions wanted more than the one day of paid sick leave provided in the agreement.
Some union leaders slammed the government’s decision to intervene, charging that many elected officials had turned their back on workers.
“While we are disappointed, we are not defeated,” Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger of the AFL-CIO said in a joint statement. “We are going to keep this fight moving forward, whether it be through legislation, executive action, or dragging the railroads back to the bargaining table.”
Biden, promising he would pursue expanded sick leave for all American workers, said “that fight isn’t over. … I’m going to continue that fight until we succeed.”
Lawmakers' decision to adopt the agreement marked the first time in 30 years that Congress has intervened to stop a strike.
The agreement that Biden signed into law includes a 24% pay increase over five years, $5,000 bonuses, voluntary assigned days off, but only one paid sick day off.
An additional measure passed in the House would have provided rail workers with seven paid sick days. The Senate rejected the additional paid sick time over the demands of progressives who said railroads could afford to treat their workers better.
Biden, a supporter of labor unions, had warned that a rail strike would cost the economy about $2 billion each day and claim 765,000 jobs within the first two weeks of a strike.
Image via Unsplash