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President Asks Congress to Avert Rail Strike

President Asks Congress to Avert Rail Strike

President Biden yesterday asked Congress to intervene to avert a national freight rail strike on December 9. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a short time later in response to the president’s request, “This week, the House will take up a bill adopting the Tentative Agreement — with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms — and send it to the Senate.”

The Tentative Agreement reached in September would give union members a 14 percent pay raise, and rail workers whose pay had been frozen would get a higher percentage increase along with boosts in medical care coverage. The Biden administration was credited at the time by both rail management and unions with brokering the Tentative Agreement to avert a national strike. Since that time, the Tentative Agreement has been voted down by four of the 12 railroad unions representing a majority of the union members. Rail workers said they are frustrated that the brokered deal lacks paid sick days or other substantial changes to attendance policies that penalize workers for taking time off for illnesses.

Congress has the option to adopt or make changes to the Tentative Agreement; impose a cooling-off period for the parties to continue negotiating an agreement; or force both sides to enter binding arbitration. Some union groups have been lobbying Congress to add paid sick days to the Tentative Agreement, while other customer groups have asked Congress to enact the deal originally recommended by a Biden-appointed board that does not grant workers paid sick days.

Some 400 business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Congress yesterday, saying the possibility of a rail strike is of “grave urgency.” The letter called on Capitol Hill to intervene before the strike deadline if a deal is not reached to “ensure continued rail service.” ILMA previously has written to congressional leaders on the need to prevent a shutdown in freight rail service.