President Joe Biden is urging Congress to act "immediately" to avert a nationwide rail strike that could "devastate our economy" weeks before Christmas. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation "immediately" to avert a nationwide rail strike that could "devastate our economy" during the holidays.
Biden urged lawmakers on Monday to officially adopt a tentative agreement, approved by rail freight labor and management leaders in September, to avert the Dec. 9 strike deadline.
"I am calling on 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," Biden said in a statement Monday.
"A rail shutdown would devastate our economy," Biden added. "Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down. My economic advisers report that as many as 765,000 Americans -- many union workers themselves -- could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote in the next few days on the tentative agreement, which has divided rail unions.
"This week, the House will consider legislation adopting the tentative agreement reached in September after months of hard-fought negotiations," Pelosi said in a statement.
Biden celebrated the deal in September that gave union members an average 24% pay increase over five years, improved working conditions and capped healthcare premiums. But some unions voted down the deal because it did not include paid sick leave, which was a major obstacle in the negotiations.
"This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September," Biden said.
"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," he said. "Since that time, the majority of the unions in the industry have voted to approve the deal."
Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen recently approved the plan, as did the yardmasters in the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union. But train and engine service members at SMART-TD turned down the deal, sending it back for negotiations with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management.
In all, eight freight rail unions have approved the agreement, but all 12 must approve it for ratification. A nationwide strike by any of the freight rail unions would prevent others from crossing the picket line and could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.
If Congress takes action as early as this week, lawmakers could force both parties to abide by the contract or extend the "cooling off" period.
"I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement," Biden said. "But in this case -- where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families -- I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal."