President Joe Biden is pushing for Congress to pass legislation forcing rail unions to accept contract terms that do not meet all of their demands to avert a railroad strike.
But rail workers are not happy about it.
What is Biden doing?
On Monday, Biden urged Congress to exercise its power under the Railway Labor Act of 1926 to prevent rail workers from striking, which would cause significant economic disruptions.
Biden wants workers to accept a labor contract the White House helped broker, which the administration celebrated in September.
But since then, multiple unions have rejected it because the contract does not address their most pressing concerns: paid time off and sick leave. Four rail unions out of 12 have rejected the contract, and their membership represents the majority of unionized rail workers. To avert a strike, all 12 unions would have to agree to the terms of the contract. That is because the unions have agreed not to cross picket lines.
Without congressional intervention or an agreement, rail workers will strike beginning on Dec. 9.
How did unions respond?
Unions are accusing Biden, who has called himself “the most pro-union president in American history,” of betraying his loyalty to unions.
“The Tentative Agreements that the majority of union members had voted down are now being touted by President Biden, despite that none of them contain any sick time whatsoever,” said Gabe Christenson of Railroad Workers United.
“The ‘most labor-friendly President in history’ has proven that he and the Democratic Party are not the friends of labor they have touted themselves to be,” he continued. “These wolves in sheep’s clothing have for decades been in bed with corporate America and have allowed them to continue chipping away at the American middle class and organized labor.”
Moreover, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division said in a statement that it is not enough for Biden to “share workers’ concerns” — especially if he demands that Congress ignore them.
“A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the Railroad Workers’ concerns. It both denies Railroad Workers their right to strike while also denying them the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike,” the group said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the House would vote on legislation to force the unions to accept the terms of the labor contract.
Still, the White House is not being particularly honest about the situation. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned a strike as “unacceptable” and suggested the unions that have not agreed to the contract are being unreasonable because “eight out of the 12 unions voted to ratify this tentative agreement.”
“That’s a majority of the unions,” she declared.
What she did not clarify, however, is that a majority of unionized rail workers are represented by the four unions that have rejected the agreement.