BREAKING: President Biden Signs Bill to Avert Rail Worker Strike – 5 Things You Need to Know

UPDATE 12/02/2022 11:30AM EST President Joe Biden has officially signed into law legislation that will avert a rail worker strike.

rail worker strike

UPDATE 12/02/2022 11:30AM EST

President Joe Biden has officially signed into law legislation that will avert a rail worker strike.

The bill would make the strike illegal and prevents workers from walking off the job as the busiest shipping season of the year looms. A strike could have cost the US economy around $2 billion a day, and brought multiple vital services to a halt.

Biden said early Friday before signing the bill, ““The bill I’m about to sign ends a difficult rail dispute and helps our nation avoid what, without a doubt, would have been an economic catastrophe at a very bad time in the calendar.”

They did not include paid sick leave as part of the legislation, which is what the workers were pushing for. It remains to be seen whether or not they will be granted their request through other means.

UPDATE 12/01/2022 4:15PM EST

The US Senate has passed legislation to avert a rail worker strike.

This comes after the House already passed the legislation, and it will now go to President Joe Biden to sign.

The legislation does not contain the sick leave union workers were pushing for and is considered a staggering loss for both union workers and progressive legislators who were opposed to Biden’s call to intervene.

The President has promised to continue to fight for paid sick leave.

This is a developing story.

Original story continues below:

If you’ve been paying attention, the rail worker strike is not new news. But recent news headlines make it seem like something sudden and surprising.

In reality, this potential strike has been a long time in the making.

Now, President Joe Biden has urged Congress to intercede to avoid a potential strike that would hit next month and could cripple the US economy.

Suddenly everyone’s talking about union busting, and drinking water, paid sick leave and reasonable work schedules.

So what’s all the hype? Why should the United States citizen care about a potential rail worker strike?

Here are 5 things you need to know about this important moment in history – and what the impacts could be if Congress intervenes in the negotiations.


5. Here’s What the Rail Workers are Fighting For

In essence, the dispute with rail workers is about working conditions. Like most strikers, the workers feel that they are being subjected to unreasonable conditions and are using their union power to push for better.

The New York Times explains, “Rail workers have said their top concerns are the grueling, unpredictable schedules that take a toll on their personal lives and their health. Many have complained that extended time on the road and long stretches of on-call work make it difficult to see a doctor for an illness or injury, or to be present at family milestones like a child’s birthday.

Rail carriers say employees can generally attend to these needs by taking paid vacation. The workers say their employers limit their options for taking paid time off in practice — for example, by narrowing the windows in which they can take vacation or rejecting a requested personal day.”

4. Biden Urges Congress to Intercede: What is Union Busting?

Biden has urged Congress to intervene in the looming rail worker strike, and it’s dealing his “pro-union” reputation a major blow that could come back to haunt him in 2024. Biden’s concerns are valid – a strike could be devastating to the economy and country as a whole – but union-busting will forever be seen as a betrayal of the worker according to critics.

Union-busting is defined as, “Union-busting is an attempt by management to prevent employees from exercising their legal right to unionize.”

It’s illegal for management to engage in this behavior, but not for Congress.

Union leaders have spoke out vehemently against Biden’s plan to push Congress to intervene.

The Guardian reports, “‘Joe Biden blew it,’ said Hugh Sawyer, treasurer of Railroad Workers United, a group representing workers from a variety of rail unions and carriers. ‘He had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days. The Democrats and Republicans are both pawns of big business and the corporations.’

Matt Parker, a locomotive engineer and chairman of the Nevada State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said: ‘The overly simplistic approach that the administration has taken to this whole issue shows how out of touch they are with the plight of railroad workers.’”

3. What Could Happen to the US Economy and Drinking Water if Rail Workers Strike?

The question then is – why does Biden care so much? Why not just let the strike play out, let the union do what it does best, and stay out of it?

Because the effects of a railway strike could be devastating.

According to Federal data, railways transported just under 30% of US freight across the country, including vital commodities like coal, lumber, oil and chemicals. That makes it the second biggest freight mover in the US, just behind trucking at 40%.

The American Trucking Associations wrote a statement in September stating that the country would need more than 460,000 additional long-haul trucks per day if the nation’s freight rails shut down. This would be impossible to achieve given the already problematic trucker shortage.

The strike would hit just before the holidays, devastating goods shipments and disrupting the global supply chain. Everything from Christmas presents to vital chemicals to treat water supply systems would be affected. The strike would drive inflation even higher and send oil prices skyrocketing in the US once more.

Of course, all strikes come with negative consequences for the public. After all, that’s a union’s leverage. If they stop doing their work, it affects customers. When it affects customers, it affects the bottom line of the company they’re putting pressure on. Without those potential negative consequences, unions lose their teeth and bargaining power. So knee-capping the union strikes is the kind of anti-worker move that many voters thought Biden above.

2. What is the Tentative Deal Being Discussed With the Union?

The New York Times explains, “The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, said in September that new contracts would include a 24 percent increase in wages in the five years from 2020 through 2024. There would also be a payout of $11,000, on average, when the agreement is ratified, the association said.

In addition, the agreement gave workers one additional paid day off and an ability to attend medical appointments without penalty, labor unions said, measures that are intended to ease what workers said was a rigid scheduling system that didn’t allow them to take care of their health or take personal time they needed.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers said the deal would also freeze workers’ monthly health care contributions, ensuring those costs would not increase during the next round of contract negotiations.”

Some groups voted to approve the deal, while others rejected it as inadequate, setting up the looming December strikes if a better deal wasn’t reached.

Now, though, Congressional leaders say they’re ready to intervene.

They may be hoping to force one side or the other to blink and start the deal-making process and avoid the need to intervene, but they have the legal power to do so if the strike nears without a resolution in sight.

1. Labor Disputes Matter to All American Workers

The question “who cares” about the strike should be answered with a resounding “everyone.”

After all, labor disputes affect all American workers.

Whether a person belongs to a union or not, American policy for workers is determined in negotiation rooms. Unions are at the forefront of workers rights and often lead the charge into tomorrow’s working conditions for even non-unionized workers.

Beyond that, the potential devastation for a foundering economy at an extremely vulnerable point in time could have ripple effects down the line.

While the rail worker strike may not seem like it should be front page news, it’s one of the most important issues facing Americans today. And all they can do is wait and see whether the unions, rail companies or Congress says “boo” first.