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Leaders in Congress Say They Will Act to Prevent Rail Strike

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WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress vowed on Tuesday to pass laws averting a nationwide rail strike, saying they agreed with President Biden that a piece stoppage throughout the holidays next month would disrupt shipping and deal a devastating blow to the nation’s economy.

The rare bipartisan promise to act got here as among the nation’s largest business groups warned of dire consequences from a rail shutdown. Mr. Biden, who had promised to be probably the most pro-union president within the country’s history, said the federal government must short-circuit collective bargaining on this case for the nice of the country as a complete.

“It’s not a simple call, but I feel we’ve to do it,” he told the highest 4 lawmakers from each parties during a gathering on the White House on Tuesday morning, because the Dec. 9 strike deadline loomed. “The economy is in danger.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would vote Wednesday on a tentative agreement that Mr. Biden’s administration had helped negotiate between rail corporations and the unions earlier this 12 months. The agreement raised wages but lacked provisions for paid medical or family leave.

Late Tuesday, facing substantial frustration amongst progressives who demanded that the offer include paid leave, Ms. Pelosi said she would also bring up a separate proposal so as to add seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement. It’s unclear whether Republicans within the Senate would conform to such an addition, however the plan to carry a vote illustrated the degree of discontent amongst pro-union liberals concerning the agreement Mr. Biden had struck.

“They demand the fundamental dignity of paid sick days. I stand with them,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of Latest York, said on Twitter. “If Congress intervenes, it ought to be to have staff’ backs and secure their demands in laws.”

Senate leaders said they’d work to pass laws to avert the strike quickly after it passes the House, as expected. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, told reporters that “we’re going to wish to pass a bill,” suggesting that Republicans didn’t intend to attempt to block such a move. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, said, “I feel it’ll pass.”

If it does, it’ll be bittersweet for Mr. Biden, who has built a decades-long political profession by stressing his support for unions of their battles against management. Aides said the president had been reluctant to override the desire of union staff, but ultimately modified his mind when three of his cabinet secretaries told him that negotiations had broken down and a strike seemed inevitable.

Officials said Mr. Biden concluded that the consequences of a strike, including a whole lot of hundreds of lost jobs, can be too damaging. Frozen train lines would snap supply chains for commodities like lumber, coal and chemicals, and delay deliveries of automobiles and other consumer goods, driving up prices even further.

The American Trucking Associations, an industry group, recently estimated that counting on trucks to work around a rail stoppage would require greater than 450,000 additional vehicles — a practical impossibility given the shortage of kit and drivers.

Understand the Railroad Labor Talks

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Averting a shutdown. Congressional leaders vowed to stop a nationwide rail strike, agreeing with President Biden that it could freeze a critical piece of the economy and potentially fuel further inflation in america. Here’s what to know:

Why are rail staff threatening to strike? Unions representing tens of hundreds of staff said they planned to strike if a labor agreement with the freight rail corporations employing them wasn’t reached. The staff are mostly concerned with their grueling, unpredictable schedules that make it difficult to attend medical visits or family events.

What was in that proposal? Under that agreement, recent contracts would come with a 24 percent increase in wages over five years and a payout of $11,000 upon ratification. Staff would also receive a further paid time without work in addition to the power to attend medical appointments without penalty.

What’s at stake for the economy? Rail freight is the centerpiece of the worldwide supply chain. A strike would decelerate the circulation of key goods inside america and with overseas trading partners. A disruption to the rail transport of crude oil, gasoline and diesel, meanwhile, could push up gas prices and drive further inflation.

“There can be those that disagree and there will definitely be those that are frustrated at this decision,” said Celeste Drake, the deputy director for labor issues on the National Economic Council. “But you understand, in the long run that is the president standing with all Americans.”

This was not the resolution the president had hoped for.

Mr. Biden’s call for Congress to act followed months of negotiations by the administration’s top labor officials with the railway corporations and their unions, who’ve been locked in a bitter dispute over wages, sick leave, work schedules and other quality of life issues.

Negotiations in September, led by Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, ended with the tentative agreement that might raise wages by nearly 25 percent between 2020, when the last contract expired, and 2024. But it surely has proved contentious amongst rail staff who argue that it doesn’t go far enough to resolve what they are saying are punishing schedules that upend their personal lives and their health.

Eight unions voted to support that agreement, but 4 didn’t. The laws into consideration would impose the deal on all 12 unions, effectively forcing union employees to proceed working.

With the railroad corporations unable to succeed in agreements with all of their unions, Mr. Biden decided to force a deal on the parties. Some union leaders backed the move as obligatory, but others said rank-and-file members can be indignant at Mr. Biden for blocking their ability to demand a greater deal.

Under the Railway Labor Act, union employees who refuse to work after Congress acts can be conducting an illegal “wildcat” strike and could possibly be replaced by the businesses.

Greg Regan, the top of the AFL-CIO’s transportation department, said that while the rail staff’ frustration was legitimate, the choices available to their unions and to the White House are heavily constrained by the Labor Act. He said the key rail carriers grasp these limits well and exploit them as a source of leverage.

“I totally understand the frustration with the White House and Congress taking the vote out of working members’ hands, stopping them from utilizing their biggest leverage,” Mr. Regan said. “I do think that among the anger is lost on where it ought to be directed — on the railroads.”

After winning the White House, Mr. Biden was quick to oust Trump appointees whom union officials considered hostile and to scrap Trump-era rules that that they had opposed. A pandemic relief bill that Mr. Biden signed early in his presidency ticked off several labor priorities, including a whole lot of billions of dollars in aid to cities and states, a boon to public-sector unions, and tens of billions to complement failing union pension funds. The climate, health care and tax bill Mr. Biden signed in August includes incentives for builders of unpolluted energy projects to pay union-scale wages.

Steve Rosenthal, the previous political director for the AFL-CIO and a longtime union strategist, said asking Congress to step in was an “awkward” moment for the president.

“He starts with an infinite amount of excellent will and trust among the many labor movement,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “I might should guess that in some ways, it’s tougher for him because he does understand the ins and outs of the method higher than most.”

Though many union members are more likely to be upset by the prospect of congressional motion, some union leaders may quietly prefer that intervention to are available in December relatively than in January, when the House comes under Republican control and should be more more likely to back a skimpier deal.

Lawmakers in each parties appeared able to support the move, with reservations. Some Republicans objected that the Biden administration was asking Congress to take motion on something it must have handled, while other lawmakers acknowledged they were hesitant to get entangled in a labor dispute and force staff to just accept an agreement they found inadequate.

But it surely appeared that the specter of the economic damage of a strike, as inflation stays high, was enough to push some lawmakers toward supporting the resolution.

“I wish that the president were more hands-on with this issue and in a position to handle it without coming to Congress,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio. “But I don’t think we must always be irresponsible and leave the likelihood on the market of a serious strike.”

Within the hours before Ms. Pelosi announced she would hold a second vote on paid sick leave, some lawmakers said they’d not support a measure ending the specter of a strike if it doesn’t include stronger paid medical leave advantages for staff.

“At a time of record profits within the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail staff have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on Twitter.

By law, Congress has the authority to intervene in a rail labor dispute in a wide range of ways, including by enacting a deal directly through laws — whether it’s the agreement that some unions have already got voted down, or a less generous proposal that a presidential board issued over the summer.

The president has previously argued against congressional motion in railway labor disputes, arguing that it unfairly interferes with union bargaining efforts. He was one in every of only six senators to vote against the laws that ended the 1992 strike.

Ms. Pelosi also expressed frustration on Tuesday about being asked to overrule the desires of union staff who need a higher deal.

“I don’t like going against the power of unions to strike,” Ms. Pelosi said. “But weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike. Jobs can be lost. Even union jobs can be lost.”

Matt Shay, the president and chief executive of the National Retail Federation, a lobbying group for retailers, warned that failing to resolve the labor dispute can be “devastating for our economy,” adding: “It’s the worst possible time for this to occur.”

The railroad industry immediately threw its support behind Mr. Biden’s call for laws.

“Nobody advantages from a rail work stoppage — not our customers, not rail employees and never the American economy,” Ian Jefferies, the chief executive of the Association of American Railroads, which represents major carriers, said in a press release. “Now could be the suitable time for Congress to pass laws.”

Noam Scheiber contributed reporting from Latest York, and Jordyn Holman from Chicago.

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