On Friday, President Joe Biden signed a resolution to prevent a strike on the nation’s freight railroads. The resolution was based on an agreement between rail unions and freight train firms.
Several unions opposed the Congress-approved bill since it did not include paid sick leave, while Democrats opposed any delay in shipment as unacceptable.
Biden added, “A train stoppage would have decimated our economy.”
The Association of American Railroads, a trade organization representing railroad carriers, released research estimating a train strike would cost the U.S. economy $2 billion per day.
Vice President Biden said it was a tough call and that the Obama administration would keep fighting for paid sick days for employees.
It was the correct thing to do at the time, but it was a difficult choice for me,” Biden said.
The Railway Labor Act gives Congress the power to mediate conflicts between railway companies and labor organizations.
The unions’ main concern, that employees would be unable to take time off for medical reasons, was not addressed in the agreement that Vice President Biden urged Congress to approve earlier this week.
The SMART-TD International Union of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers stated in a statement that the request for sick leave was motivated less by personal desire than by economic need.
Members of the SMART-TD union voted against the draft deal.
In a statement, SMART-TD stated, “No American worker should ever have to choose between coming to work sick, exhausted, or psychologically ill and facing punishment or being fired by their employer.” However, this is precisely what happens every day on the nation’s greatest freight railways.
The deal was pushed through quickly since the strike ban period between train unions and freight businesses were slated to expire on December 9.
On Thursday, before the 80-15 vote, Biden had Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh update Senate Democrats on the railroad labor accord.
Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture and a participant in the negotiations stated in a statement that “a rail closure would have had enormous and long-lasting repercussions on American food and agriculture and would have been catastrophic to the nation’s economy.”
Biden signed the deal in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House, accompanied by Walsh, Buttigieg, and Vilsack.
Unions representing railroad workers and freight businesses have been in talks since 2019.
The union’s preliminary agreement was adopted and ratified by eight of the twelve unions, but to become official, the deal has to be supported by all twelve unions, which together represent 115,000 employees.
This Monday, the House decided to formalize the compromise agreed upon in September and added seven days of paid sick leave. The White House stepped in to negotiate when workers requested 15 days off and recommended unions abandon a demand for paid vacation in exchange for an extra personal day off.
Workers would receive a 24% raise over the five years from 2020 to 2024, as well as an extra personal day and protection from the rail carriers’ punitive attendance policies so that they can take time off for medical needs without fear of discipline, according to the tentative agreement that Biden signed.
There weren’t enough yes votes in the Senate to mandate seven days of paid sick leave for employees.