Biden Wants Congress to Head Off Rail Work Stoppage

The four railroad labor unions that rejected a contract proposal may end up having that very contract forced upon them by Congress.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called on Congress to take action to avoid a national railroad work stoppage that could occur as early as Dec. 9 if lawmakers do not act.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) issued a statement that said the House is ready to drafy legislation to head off a railroad work stoppage.

Biden’s statement called Congressional intervention the best course of action, saying unions and railroad management agree with that.

 “This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September,” Biden’s statement said. “On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry.”

Biden’s statement said the secretaries of labor, agriculture and transportation have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management and have concluded that a negotiated settlement is unlikely to be reached.

Members of eight of the 12 railroad labor unions that agreed to the tentative contract in September have voted to ratify that agreement.

In the past couple weeks various trade associations representing railroad shippers have called on Congress to intervene to prevent a railroad work stoppage, saying it would harm the economy.

Biden noted his pro-labor beliefs made him reluctant to “override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. 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.”

Railway Age Washington correspondent Frank Wilner wrote on the magazine’s website that “the behind the scenes chatter is that carriers and labor cannot find a way out of this stalemate” but neither side wants a work stoppage.

Wilner noted that most unionized railroad workers who voted on the contract favored it, including members of the second largest union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Members of the largest railroad labor union, the SMART-Transportation Division, rejected the contract by a narrow margin.

Wilner noted that a Congressional settlement of the contract dispute would insulate the leaders of unions whose members voted to reject the contract.

Another consideration was that Republicans will take control of the House in early January and Democrats want to resolve the rail labor contract dispute while they control both houses of Congress.

In her statement, Pelosi said the bill being drafted in the House  will not contain “poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms.”

Under federal railway labor laws, contracts in the railroad industry never expire. Instead, the contracts can be amended, usually about every five years.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992. There have been four railroad work stoppages since the end of World War II with the longest being four days.

In all four work stoppages, Congress voted to end them by imposing new contract terms.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: