The Associated Press reports, Biden: Tentative railway labor deal reached, averting strike:
President Joe Biden said Thursday that a tentative railway labor agreement has been reached, averting a strike that could have been devastating to the economy before the pivotal midterm elections.
Railroads and union representatives had been in negotiations for 20 hours at the Labor Department on Wednesday to hammer out a deal, as there was a risk of a strike starting on Friday that could have shut down rail lines across the country.
Biden made a key phone call to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at 9 p.m. as the talks were ongoing after Italian dinner had been brought in, according to a White House official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed negotiations. The president told the negotiators to consider the harm to families, farmers and businesses if a shutdown occurred.
What resulted from the back and forth was a tentative agreement that will go to union members for a vote after a post-ratification cooling off period of several weeks.
“These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned,” Biden said. “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.”
A strike would also have disrupted passenger traffic as well as freight rail lines, because Amtrak and many commuter railroads operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads. Amtrak had already canceled a number of its long-distance trains this week, and said the rest of its long-distance trains would stop Thursday ahead of the strike deadline.
Following the tentative agreement, Amtrak said it was “working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures.”
The five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses that a Presidential Emergency Board recommended this summer. But railroads also agreed to ease their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions’ concerns about working conditions.
Railroad workers will now be able to take unpaid days off for doctor’s appointments without being penalized under railroad attendance rules. Previously, workers would lose points under the attendance systems that the BNSF and Union Pacific railways had adopted, and they could be disciplined if they lost all their points.
The unions that represent the conductors and engineers who drive the trains had pressed hard for changes in the attendance rules, and they said this deal sets a precedent that they will be able to negotiate over those kinds of rules in the future. But workers will still have to vote whether those changes are enough to approve the deal.
The threat of a shutdown had put Biden in a delicate spot politically. The Democratic president believes unions built the middle class [they did!], but he also knew a rail worker strike could damage the economy ahead of the midterms, when majorities in both chambers of Congress, key governorships and scores of important state offices will be up for grabs.
That left him in the awkward position on Wednesday. He flew to Detroit, a stalwart of the labor movement, to espouse the virtues of unionization, while members of his administration went all-out to keep talks going in Washington between the railroads and unionized workers.
As the administration was trying to forge peace, United Auto Workers Local 598 member Ryan Buchalski introduced Biden at the Detroit auto show as “the most union- and labor-friendly president in American history” and someone who was “kickin’ ass for the working class.” Buchalski harked back to the pivotal sit-down strikes by autoworkers in the 1930s.
In the speech that followed, Biden recognized that he wouldn’t be in the White House without the support of unions such as the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, saying autoworkers “brung me to the dance.”
But without a deal among the 12 unions in talks back in Washington, Biden also knew that a stoppage could halt shipments of food and fuel at a cost of $2 billion a day.
Far more was at stake than sick leave and salary bumps for 115,000 unionized railroad workers. The ramifications could have extended to control of Congress and to the shipping network that keeps factories rolling, stocks the shelves of stores and stitches the U.S. together as an economic power.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking aboard Air Force One as it jetted to Detroit, said a rail worker strike was “an unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people.”
Biden faced the same kind of predicament faced by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 with coal and Harry Truman in 1952 with steel — how do you balance the needs of labor and business in doing what’s best for the nation? Railways were so important during World War I that Woodrow Wilson temporarily nationalized the industry to keep goods flowing and prevent strikes.
Note: I believe the historical analogy this reporter appears to be unaware of is the national rail strike in 1946, and again in 1950. Wages and Working Conditions: The Railroad Strike of 1946:
On May 17, 1946—the day before the scheduled railroad walkout—President Truman signed Executive Order 9727 for the government to seize and operate the railroads. The next day, the labor leaders agreed to postpone the strike for another five days. On Wednesday, May 22, Truman proposed an 18.5 cent raise for rail workers, but this failed to sway the union leaders. The following day, negotiations with labor leaders in the White House stalled.
Without the railroads, America was brought to a standstill. Freight trains stood idle in yards, baggage filled stations, and passengers were stranded.
On May 24, at 10:00 pm, President Truman took to the airwaves and addressed the nation from the White House on the railroad strike emergency. He called on the striking railroad workers to return to their jobs as a duty to their country.
“If sufficient workers to operate the trains have not returned by 4 p.m. tomorrow,” Truman warned in his radio address, he would call on the Army to operate the trains—he would get the country running again and break the strike. Newspapers published the text of the president’s speech the next day and reported that General Dwight D. Eisenhower—then Army Chief of Staff—had been recalled from his Georgia vacation to meet with Secretary of War Robert Patterson.
Truman requested that Congress be in session the next day—Saturday, May 25—and planned to address the body at 4:00 pm. John Steelman was still conducting negotiations with labor leaders Whitney and Johnston at the Statler Hotel, just north of the White House. In the House chamber, Truman called for temporary emergency legislation to authorize the president to draft the striking workers into the Armed Forces. At that point in his remarks, Les Biffle, Secretary of the Senate, handed the president a message. Truman continued: “Word has just been received that the railroad strike has been settled, on terms proposed by the President”—a compromise offer of a 16 cents per hour wage increase retroactive to January 1, 1946, and an additional 2.5 cents per hour beginning May 22, in consideration of withdrawal of all rule change demands for one year. Even though the strike was over, the House of Representatives passed the bill to draft the striking workers. It was defeated in the Senate.
With that compromise, the railroad strike was over, the workers were back, and the trains were running. Labor leaders denounced Truman as a strikebreaker. Alexander F. Whitney, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Trainmen, told reporters: “We lost our cause.” In San Francisco, P. O. Peterson, general chairman of the engineers on the Southern Pacific Railroad, told a newspaperman: “Our position still is that the President has just betrayed American labor—and the American public, as well.”
“I was the servant of 150 million people,” Truman later reflected. “I had to do the job even if I lost my political career.”
Four years later during another contract dispute, in August 1950, Truman orders army to seize control of railroads:
On August 25, 1950, in anticipation of a crippling strike by railroad workers, President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order putting America’s railroads under the control of the U.S. Army, as of August 27, at 4:00 pm.
Truman had already intervened in another railway dispute when union employees of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway Company threatened to strike in 1948. This time, however, Truman’s intervention was critical, as he had just ordered American troops into a war against North Korean communist forces in June. Since much of America’s economic and defense infrastructure was dependent upon the smooth functioning of the railroads, the 1950 strike proposed by two enormous labor organizations, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the Order of Railway Conductors, posed an even greater threat. In July, Truman ordered the formation of an emergency board to negotiate a settlement between the railroad unions and owners. The unions ultimately rejected the board’s recommendations and, by August 25, seemed determined to carry out the strike.
In a public statement that day, Truman insisted that “governmental seizure [of the railroads] is imperative” for the protection of American citizens as well as “essential to the national defense and security of the Nation.” He used the same justification for seizing control of steel plants when the United Steel Workers union struck later in the year.
The railroad strike lasted for 21 months. Finally, in May 1952, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, the Order of Railway Conductors and another union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, accepted the Truman administration’s terms and went back to work.
Truman exceeded his executive authority by seizing industries for the national defense, i.e., the war effort in Korea. 1952 Court Rules Steel Seizure Illegal: On June 2, 1952 the Supreme Court upheld the view of the steel companies and ruled the seizures illegal. SHEET & TUBE CO. VS. SAWYER  Opinion.
In the present case, the Biden administration has honored its commitment to unions and helped to negotiate a favorable tentative agreement which averts a national rail strike without resorting to the heavy-handed tactics of President Truman. “Give ‘Em Hell” Joe Biden deserves accolades for his skills in negotiating a deal in this labor dispute. It is another win for “Dark Brandon.”
Back to the AP:
Union activism has surged under Biden, as seen in a 56% increase in petitions for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board so far this fiscal year.
With the economy still recovering from the supply chain disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, the president’s goal was to keep all parties so a deal could be reached. Biden also knew a stoppage could worsen the dynamics that have contributed to soaring inflation and created a political headache for the party in power.
Eddie Vale, a Democratic political consultant and former AFL-CIO communications aide, said the White House pursued the correct approach at a perilous moment.
“No one wants a railroad strike, not the companies, not the workers, not the White House,” he said. “No one wants it this close to the election.”
Sensing a political opportunity, Senate Republicans moved Wednesday to pass a law to impose contract terms on the unions and railroad companies to avoid a shutdown. [Like Truman’s executive orders.] Democrats, who control both chambers in Congress, blocked it.
[By] 5:05 a.m. Thursday, it was clear that the hard work across the government, unions and railway companied had paid off as Biden announced the deal, calling it “an important win for our economy and the American people.”
Yes it is, with no thanks to the anti-union and anti-labor Republicans.