President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation to avoid a Dec. 9 rail shutdown, which could further damage a shaky U.S. economy during the holiday season.
Congress should act "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, amid labor strife.
The House will follow suit, vowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"This week, the House will take up a bill adopting the Tentative Agreement — with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms — and send it to the Senate," Pelosi wrote in a statement, The Hill reported.
"It is my hope that this necessary, strike-averting legislation will earn a strongly bipartisan vote, giving America's families confidence in our commitment to protecting their financial futures."
On Monday, more than 400 groups requested that Congress intervene in the railroad labor standoff which threatens to idle shipments of food and fuel, and strand travelers while inflicting billions of dollars of economic damage.
A rail-traffic stoppage could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoke inflation and cost the American economy as much as $2 billion per day by unleashing a cascade of transport woes affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail sectors.
"A rail shutdown would devastate our economy," Biden said. "Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down ... 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 hailed the contract deal that includes a 24% compounded wage increase over a five-year period from 2020 through 2024, along with five annual $1,000 lump-sum payments.
Workers in four unions have rejected the tentative deal, while workers in eight unions have approved it.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been involved in discussions with the rail industry, unions and agriculture industry stakeholders.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, praised Biden's call to Congress to act and said no one side was fully happy with the compromise contract deal.
"But the responsible thing to do is avoid the strike," said Wicker.
The Association of American Railroads said "congressional action to prevent a work stoppage in this manner is appropriate ... No one benefits from a rail work stoppage — not our customers, not rail employees and not the American economy."
In a letter Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, American Petroleum Institute, National Restaurant Association, American Trucking Associations, and other groups warned that impacts of a potential strike could be felt as soon as Dec. 5.
Biden said Congress "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 9th so we can avoid disruption."
"The risks to our nation's economy and communities simply make a national rail strike unacceptable," says the letter to congressional leaders first reported by Reuters, warning a strike could halt passenger railroad Amtrak and commuter rail services that "would disrupt up to 7 million travelers a day."
Back in August, Biden's Presidential Emergency Board released the framework for the tentative deal forged in September among major railroads and a dozen unions representing 115,000 workers. Those carriers include Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway Inc's BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Kansas City Southern.
Unions and railroads have until Dec. 9 to resolve differences. If the parties cannot find a resolution, workers could strike or railroads could lock out employees — unless Congress intervenes. Also, railroads would halt hazardous materials shipments at least four days ahead of a strike deadline.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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