President Biden faces new pressure just weeks before November’s election to settle a labor dispute which threatens freight railroad lines and the country’s supply chains.
He plans to appoint a team of arbitrators to a Presidential Emergency Board as early as Monday to negotiate a settlement between the rail companies and 12 labor unions that have been unable to reach a new deal on pay, benefits and working conditions after two years of negotiating.
Railworkers and labor activists now count on the White House for an arbitration board to support their demands and keep Mr. Biden’s promise to be the “most pro-union president and leading the most pro–union administration in American History .”
However, rail companies rejected many union demands for better pay and benefits as well as work reforms. If Biden’s arbitration team cannot break the impasse, up to 115,000 rail workers are poised to strike in mid-September, just weeks before the Nov. 8 elections.
A rail strike could cause significant disruptions to the country’s pandemic-addled supply chains and be political disastrous for Mr. Biden. He is already experiencing low approval ratings among voters who blame him, his Democrats and high gasoline and inflation prices.
“The U.S. business community faces enormous challenges today from record inflation, labor shortages, and ongoing supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark warned in a recent letter to Mr. Biden, urging him to resolve the rail dispute. A breakdown could be catastrophic for the U.S. economy and consumers, as well as revert us back to our historic supply chain problems during the heights of the pandemic .”
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Rail worker unions are seeking a pay increase of 47% over five years, citing record-high inflation, the publication Railway Age reported.
People familiar with the negotiations said that while the exact details are kept under wraps but workers want more predictability and to eliminate a plan that would reduce manpower by making some trains operate as one-man teams. This proposal was described as “terrifying” to workers.
Rail workers also complained of working long hours and having to take fewer days off. They were also paired up with untrained, inexperienced workers who had been hired on the streets.
Rail firms claim that workers’ wages are too high and assert that inflation will eventually drop. They claim they are being outsourced to the trucking sector, and that their hauls of coal are decreasing. This has resulted in lower revenue.
The Biden administration must negotiate the widening gap to prevent a strike. Unions and labor activists will be closely watching.
The Democrats are keen to retain the support of workers unions as Republicans adjust their agenda to appeal to working-class people and attract the loyalty of rank-and-file members.
Mr. Biden led efforts to strengthen Democrats’ union ties by inviting union leaders and promising to increase organized labor. In April 2021, he signed an executive decree establishing a White House Task Force for Worker Organizing and Empowerment. The task force was given to Kamal Harris, Vice President.
“Biden is able to demonstrate his solidarity with unions and railroad workers.” Paula Pecorella follows the rail labor dispute at More Perfect Union. More Perfect Union is a labor organization and website that holds corporate accountability. One way he could do this is to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board with members that will take into account the dangerous conditions railroad workers are currently facing in America. They will be able to appoint friendly, sympathetic people who can offer them fair contracts .
The board will have 30 days to hear from both sides and another 30 days after that for the rail worker unions and the rail companies to consider recommendations from the arbitration board.
” If they don’t reach a contract, workers can go on strike.” Ms. Pecorella stated.
The last rail strike occurred in 1992 under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush. Bush White House stated at that time that this crippling strike had cost $1 billion per hour in wages lost and reduced production. The strike was ended by Congress, who passed a bill that prohibited strikes and lockouts. It also established a last-ditch arbitration process to resolve the dispute.
One of the 12 unions involved in the current labor dispute, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, made up of more than 57,000 locomotive engineers, conductors, brakemen and firemen, voted on Tuesday to authorize a strike and other unions are likely to follow absent a deal.
Officials from the BLET union said
Rail carriages have “stonewalled” at the bargaining tables.
“In conclusion, it is irrelevant to whether any rail workers unionized want to strike legally. This was stated by Dennis R. Pierce, BLET National president. They want good benefits and meaningful wage rises. They are looking for jobs that allow them to live a full life