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Biden Averts Railroad Strike, Helps Workers Win Better Pay, Prevents Economic Train Wreck

Sleepy Joe? In the wee hours this morning, President Joe Biden announced that the railworkers and their bosses have reached a labor agreement that will avert a shutdown of the nation’s vital railways:

The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people. It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years. These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.

I thank the unions and rail companies for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy.

I am grateful for the hard work that Secretaries Walsh, Buttigieg, and Vilsack, and NEC Director Deese put into reaching this tentative agreement. I especially want to thank Secretary Walsh for his tireless, around-the-clock efforts that delivered a win for the hard working people of the US rail industry: as a result, we will keep Americans on the job in all the industries in this country that are touched by this vital industry.

For the American people, the hard work done to reach this tentative agreement means that our economy can avert the significant damage any shutdown would have brought. With unemployment still near record lows and signs of progress in lowering costs, tonight’s agreement allows us to continue to fight for long term economic growth that finally works for working families [President Joe Biden, statement on tentative railway labor agreement, 2022.09.15].

President Biden played a crucial role in pushing the negotiations toward an agreement rather than an economy-crippling strike:

A verbal agreement between the two sides was reached at about 2:30 am ET according to sources, and the final hours were spent getting the details worked out.

That concluded about 20 hours of talks between the unions’ leadership and the railroads’ labor negotiators hosted by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. They began their meeting Wednesday morning with the clock ticking down to a strike that had been set to start at 12:01 am ET on Friday.

President Joe Biden called in personally to talk to negotiators around 9 pm ET Wednesday, according to a person familiar with negotiations. Biden stressed that catastrophic harm could come to families, businesses and communities if the rail system shut down. Sources within the unions were giving Biden’s call credit for helping to get the deal completed without a strike.

“We’re very proud of what was accomplished,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the conductors union and one of the leaders involved in the marathon session. He thanked Biden and Labor Department officials involved in the talks for the deal.

“Everybody pulled together to make sure that we could get our members what they deserved,” he said [Chris Isidore, Vanessa Yurkevich, and Jeremy Diamond, “Railroad Strike Averted After Marathon Talks Reach Tentative Deal,” CNN, 2022.09.15].

What do the workers get for their efforts and the President’s? Better pay for vital work that couldn’t stop during the pandemic (and hey, while I’m thinking of it, what did Kristi Noem ever do to make sure that all those workers she proudly claims she kept on the front lines of work during the pandemic got extra compensation for the extra risk they took to keep South Dakota open?):

The new contracts provide rail employees with a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including immediate average payouts of $11,000 upon ratification, according to the Association of American Railroads.

A spokesman for the labor unions told CNBC the groups also negotiated an extra paid day off for workers and that the deal paves the way to revisit attendance policies in the future.

The spokesman called it a historic win, but cautioned that all tentative agreements are subject to ratification by the unions’ membership, a process that could take at least a week [Leslie Josephs and Lori Ann LaRocco, “Railroads and Labor Unions Reach Tentative Deal to Avert Strike,” CNBC, 2022.09.15].

And what do we get? Just economic crisis averted:

“Rail moves a lot of the foundational, basic goods that we don’t think about day-to-day,” said Rachel Premack, editorial director at FreightWaves, which covers supply chains. “They’ll move sand and gravel that would then be crushed into concrete for roads or for laying home foundations. Railroads move the chemicals used to purify water or to compromise fertilizer for crops, soybeans that could become food for humans or [animals] that are then food for humans. It’s a lot of early-chain-type goods.”

…Replacing freight with other forms of transportation is not easy if workers do walk out. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told Vox in an interview that one train has the freight capacity of 400 semi-trucks. “I don’t know of a shipper who just has 400 semis sitting in a garage ready to be accessed,” he said. He noted that for agriculture, the timing couldn’t be worse because of harvest season, adding more urgency for a deal.

…Premack drew a comparison to the delays and bottlenecks at West Coast ports over the last several months — as well as a rather scary distinction. “It isn’t like, ‘Oh, no, my Peloton isn’t coming. It’s like, ‘My bread isn’t going to be made because there’s no grain moving or flour moving,’” she said. “It’s a bit scarier. We can survive without getting our new couch in, but we can’t really survive without purified water” [Emily Stewart and Li Zhou, “What’s at Stake in the Freight Rail Labor Fight,” Vox, updated 2022.09.12].

Good government matters. Good Presidents matter. Thank President Joe Biden for once again doing his job and saving the economy.

3 Comments

  1. Jake 2022-09-15 09:16

    Your last sentence, Cory, says it all. America can breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing goods/product will flow rhru the country; thanks to a caring, people serving president.

  2. O 2022-09-15 09:27

    This situation paints over the real story of corporate greed. Rail transport had downsized its workforce to increase profits through stock buybacks. Then during the pandemic, that workforce was pushed to work with only one unscheduled day off a month. Because available cash had been put into stock buy backs, there was “no money for raises or to increase the workforce to meet pandemic demands, so government handouts were requested (and somehow not translated into more workers or wages/benefits of a magnitude to avert a strike).

    Corporate greed and gross mismanagement which enriched shareholders and CEOs almost shut down a vital industry. The US government should not have been negotiating a contract, they should have been nationalizing that industry for pennies on the dollar.

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-15 16:11

    Railroads don’t have a sterling reputation when it comes to its relationships with its employees.Warren Buffet aside, they don’t have much of a record as corporate citizens. Anywhere else in the word they’d be socialized as our passenger service is under AM Track.

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