House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Nov. 28 that the House will proceed this week with legislation to adopt a tentative agreement reached in September between railroad companies and rail unions after President Biden and hundreds of organizations urged action to avert a “crippling” shutdown.
The agreement, which provided a 24% pay raise for rail workers as well as improved health care benefits and medical leave, was approved by labor and management negotiators in September but has since failed to be approved by all railroad worker unions.
Biden said the Secretaries of Labor, Agriculture, and Transportation have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management and now believe that “there is no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table.” As such, they have recommended Congressional action.
“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden stated. “Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down. My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans – many union workers themselves – could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”
Biden noted that some in Congress want to modify the deal to either improve it for labor or for management, but “any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown.”
“Congress should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9th so we can avoid disruption,” he stated.
Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek applauded President Biden and his administration “for recognizing the severe consequences a railroad shutdown would impose on agriculture and the broader economy and calling for an immediate resolution.”
While an actual rail strike would certainly halt economic activity, Steenhoek said even the threat of a strike will halt economic activity. “Agriculture cannot thrive without a predictable and reliable supply chain, of which our rail industry is an integral part.”
Pelosi said Congress is “reluctant” to bypass the standard ratification process for the tentative agreement, “but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed Pelosi’s reluctance in overriding ratification procedures but said Congress “must use it powers” to adopt a deal as the economic impact of a shutdown “would hurt American agriculture and millions of other working people and families.”
He added, “There is no time to waste on political gamesmanship or the search for a more perfect resolution.”