Pelosi: House Will Consider Intervening to Avert Rail Strike

Congress will consider legislation this week to avert a rail strike, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday shortly after President Biden called on Congress to act.

“This week, the House will consider legislation adopting the Tentative Agreement reached in September after months of hard-fought negotiations,” Pelosi said.

The window for the unions and major rail freight carriers to reach a deal before the December 9 strike deadline is shrinking. Such a strike could cripple the nation’s economy, causing huge disruptions to the U.S. supply chain at the start of the holiday season. A strike could also halt passenger rail travel and threaten the nation’s water supply, according to the Washington Post.

Lack of paid sick time and strict attendance policies have emerged as sticking points for four of the twelve unions that represent most U.S. freight railroad workers. Four unions have voted down tentative agreements. All twelve unions must vote individually to ratify their contracts. If one union chooses to strike, it could cause a domino effect, with all twelve unions striking in solidarity.

“I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators — without any modifications or delay — to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown,” Biden said Monday. 

This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September,” he added. “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 warned that a rail shutdown would “devastate our economy.” 

“Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down,” he said. “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 concluded: “Congress has the power to adopt the agreement and prevent a shutdown. It should set aside politics and partisan division and deliver for the American people. Congress should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9 so we can avoid disruption.”

Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had discussed the issue with members of Congress “in case resolving the issue falls to them.” She said Congress has gotten involved in the issue 18 times in the past 60 years.

However, the press secretary said during the briefing earlier on Monday: “The best option that we believe, that the president believes, is still for the parties to resolve this themselves and to do this really in short order.”

Congress could adopt the tentative agreement, it could extend negotiations to allow both parties to reach an agreement or it could require both parties to enter arbitration with a third-party mediator. 

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