President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are moving to prevent a looming shutdown of the nation’s freight railroads with the House preparing to take up legislation this week to impose a settlement over the objections of some unions.
Biden said in a statement Monday that lawmakers should “immediately” codify the agreement he helped broker in September between unions and railroads “without any modifications or delay,” after some labor groups voted to reject it.
“We cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached, and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown,” the president said.
Biden’s intervention underscores the administration’s growing concern about the possibility of a work stoppage on freight rail lines. A strike could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy by crippling supply chains, disrupting passenger rail travel and preventing key materials from reaching water treatment plants.
A strike also would severely hamper automakers and dealers as car inventories remain low amid production cuts caused by the two-year-old microchip shortage.
Unions and railroads have until Dec. 9 to avoid a strike, and a negotiated agreement now appears unlikely.
Of a total of 13 labor agreements among the 12 unions representing different types of rail workers, nine have been ratified and four were struck down by members. Tensions rose after the largest union representing about 28,000 workers, mostly conductors, voted it down, with 51 percent against, in results released on Nov. 21.
Congress can intervene to stop a strike under federal law. Pelosi said the House would consider legislation this week to adopt the tentative September agreement.