Rail workers unions blasted President Biden Monday after he pressed Congress to force the organized labor groups to accept a tentative agreement in order to avert a strike.
“Joe Biden blew it,” Railroad Workers United Treasurer Hugh Sawyer said in a press release hours after the president told House and Senate leaders one of his top priorities is to stop the looming labor strike.
“He had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days. The Democrats and Republicans are both pawns of big business and the corporations,” Sawyer added.
The White House argues that the impending strike threatens to unleash an economic nightmare on Americans before Christmas. Four out of twelve unions representing rail workers have refused to ratify a tentative agreement negotiated in September with the help of the Biden administration.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, the third-largest rail union in the US, said in a statement Tuesday that it was “deeply disappointed” with Biden’s decision to appeal to Congress to force an agreement.
“The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is deeply disappointed by and disagrees with United States President Joseph R. Biden’s statement, calling upon Congress to pass legislation that would adopt tentative agreements between Railroad Workers and railroads that do not include paid sick days for Railroad Workers,” the group said in a statement.
“It is not enough to ‘share workers’ concerns,’” the union representing about 23,000 railroad maintenance workers continued. “A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the railroad workers’ concerns.”
Organized labor is one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituencies, and Biden has vowed on several occasions to be the “most pro-union president” in history.
Under the federal Railway Labor Act of 1926, Congress can force train workers off the picket line by passing legislation enshrining the terms of the provisional agreement.
The White House argues congressional action is necessary to force through the deal because as many as 765,000 Americans could be put out of work in the first two weeks of a rail strike, among other devastating economic and safety ramifications.
The Association of American Railroads estimates that a strike could cost the US economy more than $2 billion per day in lost output.
“It’s not an easy call, but I think we have to do it,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday, flanked by Senate and House leadership from both parties.
“The economy is at risk,” he added.
The House plans to vote on legislation implementing the September agreement on Wednesday.
The agreement would give workers 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020 and an additional day of paid leave per year as well as unpaid time off for doctor’s appointments and medical procedures, among other provisions.