Biden calls on Congress to head off potential rail strike

  • Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik, File)

OMAHA, Neb. — President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers would take up legislation this week to impose the deal that unions agreed to in September.

“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement. “Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down.”

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In a statement, Pelosi said: “We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement — but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.”

Pelosi said the House would not change the terms of the September agreement, which would challenge the Senate to approve the House bill without changes.

The September agreement that Biden and Pelosi are calling for is a slight improvement over what the board of arbitrators recommended in the summer.

The September agreement added three unpaid days off a year for engineers and conductors to tend to medical appointments as long as they scheduled them at least 30 days in advance.

The railroads also promised in September not to penalize workers who are hospitalized and to negotiate further with the unions after the contract is approved about improving the regular scheduling of days off.

Hundreds of business groups had been urging Congress and the president to step into the deadlocked contract talk and prevent a strike.

Both the unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress while contract talks continue.

If Congress acts, it will end talks between the railroads and four rail unions that rejected their deals Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September.

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