Biden ‘confident’ that US can avoid rail strike if Congress intervenes

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders to discuss legislative priorities for the rest of the year, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2020, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders to discuss legislative priorities for the rest of the year, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2020, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he was “confident” that the US can avoid a crippling strike by railroad workers if Congress acts on his request to pass legislation forcing adoption of an agreement his administration helped negotiate in September.

Speaking in the cabinet room at the start of a meeting with House and Senate leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties, Mr Biden said the decision to intervene was “not an easy call” but stressed that Congress “has to act” because the US economy would be risk if railroad workers were to walk off the job.

The president added that he hopes the White House and Congressional leaders can “work together” to pass legislation to fund the government through the end of the 2023 fiscal year, including appropriations for Covid relief and defence assistance for Ukraine.

“We're going to find other areas of common ground, I hope, because the American people want us to work together,” he said.

Mr Biden’s remarks come less than 24 hours after he called on Congress to “immediately” pass legislation forcing railroad unions and operators to adopt the September agreement “without modification or delay” in order to prevent freight and passenger railroad networks across the US from having to shut down.

In a statement, the president said a strike by rail workers would “devastate” the US economy.

“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,” he said.

Mr Biden added that he was “reluctant” to override the normal process by which labour unions ratify collective bargaining agreements because of his self-described status as a “proud pro-labour” leader. As a senator, Mr Biden was one of a handful of US legislators to oppose a similar course of action when Congress voted on a bill to avert a railroad strike in 1992.

But the president said he believes Congress “must use its’ powers” to force adoption of the agreement because “the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families”.

“At this critical moment for our economy, in the holiday season, we cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached, and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown,” he added.