After President Biden pushed Congress to halt a costly union strike, the “Pro-Union” President found himself in an awkward position of having to repair his image as organized labor’s biggest supporter. Biden signed into law a bill that takes collective bargaining rights out of their hands and forces rail workers to accept a contract without the measures they were demanding.
The bill imposes a four-year contract on 115,000 unionized freight railroad workers
which gives workers’ pay increases, more flexibility to take time off and one paid personal day. However, no paid time off for sickness which is what the rail workers fought for. Unions in the labor movement are voicing their frustration over the way the deal went down.
“Forcing people to work under conditions they have not agreed to is supposedly unconstitutional and it will lead to massive instability,” said Sara Nelson, President of the flight attendant’s union, who has strike restrictions similar to those of the rail workers.
Carl Wood, former National Representative at Utility Workers Union and Commissioner at California Public Utilities Commission, and Electrician penned a Labor Perspective for People’s World headlined: Railroad Struggle ‘Reminds Us That Interfering In The Right To Strike Is Never OK.’ Wood writes: It’s never been clearer who the ruling class of this country is than when Congress and the President respect big business’s rights – but are quick to sacrifice those of Workers. A strike of railroad workers could bring the national economy to a halt, including stopping the flow of millions of dollars a day in profits to the railroad companies. But let’s keep in mind that it’s big business —not workers—that has crashed the nation’s economy at least three times in recent memory. There was the dot com bubble, driven by venture capitalists in 2002. In the Great Recession of 2008, it was the subprime loan industry. And this year monopoly price gouging—especially in the oil industry—is inflicting inflation pain on the nation. In none of these cases did Congress act against the culprits.
Statement from AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler on the Senate vote on the rail contract: “I commend and thank rail workers and their unions for tenaciously taking on some of the biggest corporations in America over the last three years to reach a contract. While rail workers won significant wage increases and other important gains, it’s deeply disappointing that 43 senators sided with multibillion-dollar rail corporations to block desperately needed paid sick days. Despite today’s action, the fight is far from over. The labor movement will continue to mobilize and push forcefully until every rail worker—and all America’s workers—has the paid sick leave they need and deserve.”
Senior administration officials said the $2 billion a day high stakes rail strike threatened to endanger travel, critical supplies and commerce during the holiday season. The administration said while they are aware that some union members are unhappy with the president’s decision to push for an intervention in the strike, he made that call because of the devastating impact it would have had on working Americans, including union members.
“This isn’t the president versus workers or the president versus a strike,” said Celeste Drake, Biden’s top labor adviser. “This was the president standing with all of America against a rail shutdown. This was to keep the rails running and make sure communities have clean drinking water, that families see bread on the shelves when they go to the grocery store. The president will maintain his reputation as the most pro-union president ever in the long run and he has promised to secure paid leave for all working Americans.”
At the bill signing ceremony, Biden sounded torn. Lawmakers faced a tough vote, he said, adding “It was a tough vote for me. But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs.” Union officials and allies contend the president could have used more leverage to reach a deal that included paid sick leave.