WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – President Biden called a tentative railway labor deal announced Thursday “a big win for America.”
The agreement between union and railroad executives averts a strike Friday that would have disrupted passenger traffic and freight rail lines across the country. However, the workers still have to decide whether the changes meet their demands.
“They’re still standing,” President Biden said during a meeting in the Oval Office Thursday with the key negotiators. “They should be home in bed, 20 straight hours. I want to thank both business and labor.”
During subsequent remarks in the Rose Garden, President Biden said the agreement “is a great deal for both sides.” It includes raises and bonuses for 115,000 unionized railroad workers, along with the ability to take unpaid sick days without facing penalties.
“They earned and deserve these benefits,” the president said.
President Biden said the deal can also help the railway companies by improving recruitment and retention efforts.
“They’re really the backbone of the economy,” he said.
Economists predicted a strike could halt shipments of food and fuel at a cost of up to $2 billion a day in lost productivity, and Congress was ready to act.
“If the trains stop running, our economy grinds to a halt,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS.
On Wednesday, a group of Republicans, including Wicker, tried to pass a joint resolution forcing both sides to adopt recommendations from a presidential emergency board, which some unions didn’t support. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, blocked the GOP effort over sick leave and scheduling concerns.
“These unfair and unsafe working conditions would be allowed to continue,” Sanders said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, stressed Thursday the resolution is not off the table since the workers still have to vote on whether to approve the deal.
“If they don’t, then Congress must step in,” Grassley said.
But Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who led the negotiations, shot down the idea.
“There’s no need for that,” Walsh said. “We came to an agreement.”
Union members plan to vote in several weeks.