Joe Biden Makes Trains Run On Time
Railroad strike averted, just to piss off Republicans.
The White House this morning announced it had brokered a tentative agreement between railroad unions and management, preventing a national rail strike that could have thrown supply chains into chaos and harmed the economy. The actual contracts will take some time to be ratified, but the threat of a strike, which could have started as soon as 12: 01 a.m. Friday morning, is off the table.
In a statement, President Joe Biden called the agreement "an important win for our economy and the American people" and said the rail workers will "get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned." He also noted that railroad companies will be better able to retain and recruit workers, which is a pretty big deal considering that the work policies that nearly led to a strike have led thousands or railroad workers to leave the industry altogether. (We won't get into how much of that attrition was pushed by the owners to reduce labor costs, because this is a nice time story.)
With the economy continuing to grow and create new jobs, the prospects of a major disruption like a rail strike was the last thing Democrats wanted going into the midterms. More importantly, according to two anonymous insiders, the Washington Post reports that the deal
includes new leave policies, a significant concession by train carriers to workers who had demanded greater flexibility to be able to miss work for medical emergencies without being fired or punished[.]
Those attendance and scheduling policies had been the biggest concern of unions representing engineers and conductors. And as the Post reports, those concerns were especially important to Biden, too:
As he pressed for a deal, Biden became personally animated about the lack of leave, and he brought up repeatedly that he did not understand why workers could not be granted more flexible schedules, according to one of the people.
We know how cliché it is to keep making comparisons to the previous person in the office, but hearing that Joe Biden was especially worked up about the plight of workers is a hell of a nice change from, say, a president who obsessed over designing barriers at the border for maximum pain and cruelty.
Negotiators from unions and railroad management basically spent most of Wednesday locked up at the Labor Department with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; Transportation Secretary Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were also involved in the talks. The Post reports that, according to an anonymous insider, Biden "remained closely involved in the talks, and phoned Walsh and the negotiators at 9 p.m. Wednesday to encourage them to secure the tentative pact."
Reuters reports that the parties negotiated for 20 consecutive hours; perhaps to make the point more clearly, the railroad execs could have been locked into a moving locomotive for 12 hours at a time, sent home to rest 12 hours, and then called up for another 12-hour shift with no advance notice. If they have a family emergency, they could just be fired.
As the deadline tonight got closer, some rail services were already being scaled back in anticipation of a strike; freight lines paused shipping of hazardous materials,
including chlorine for water purification and ammonia for fertilizer, as well as shipments of refrigerated food and other goods that use rail and at least one other mode of transport. Their goal was to prevent cargo from being stranded in unsafe locations.
Amtrak also announced yesterday that it would cancel some long-distance routes starting today, although commuter rail service in the Northeast would continue as scheduled. With the tentative agreement in place, the passenger service says it's now working to resume the cancelled trains and contacting affected passengers.
All in all, a pretty good day for labor, and for Joe Biden too!
Also, it looks like, contrary to myth, you don't need to be a fascist to make the trains run on time.
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