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Biden Asks Congress to Force Rail Unions Into Deal as Strike Threat Looms

President Joe Biden called on Congress Monday to pass a law mandating that railroad workers and companies accept an administration-brokered deal in a bid to prevent a devastating strike before a Dec. 9 deadline.

A strike would lead to nearly 765,000 Americans losing their jobs within two weeks of it first going into effect, and have impacts across the American economy, Biden said in a statement. Eight of the 12 major rail unions have already ratified the agreement — which was initially negotiated by the administration in September — but the remaining four took issue with paid sick leave policies, rejecting the agreement despite a historic 24% raise from 2020 to 2024, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” said Biden. “But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

If Congress does not act, and the two sides are unable to come to an agreement, a strike could take place as soon as Dec. 9, the WSJ reported. Railroad companies and other business groups have been lobbying Congress heavily to use their power under the Railway Labor Act to force the agreement.

“A majority of the rail labor unions have ratified agreements with the nation’s freight railroads based on the PEB-recommended framework,” a spokesman for the National Railway Labor Conference, a collective bargaining association representing Class I freight lines, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “These agreements, which were the product of good faith negotiations, represent the appropriate resolution of the bargaining round.  We support President Biden’s call for Congress to promptly implement the agreements for the remaining unions in order to avoid a work stoppage.”

The President and CEO Ian Jeffries of the Association of American Railroads, a trade group representing North American freight rail companies, and Amtrak mirrored the NRLC’s sentiment in a statement Monday.

“No one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not rail employees and not the American economy,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Now is the appropriate time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the twelve unions.”

“Congress should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9th so we can avoid disruption,” said Biden. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that the House would “consider legislation… with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms,” in a statement Monday.

The White House as well as SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, two major unions who respectively voted to reject and ratify the agreement, did not immediately respond to a DCNF request for comment.

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