(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Thursday took a political victory lap after railway companies and unions reached a tentative labor agreement overnight — averting a strike that threatened to paralyze the nation’s supply chain and transportation rail service.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Biden called the agreement a “big win for America” as the White House highlighted how he used his influence to avoid a crisis less than two months before the midterm elections.
“To the American people, this agreement can avert a significant damage that any shutdown would have brought,” Biden said. “Our nation’s rail system is the backbone of our supply chain.”
Biden said “every good you need” from clean water to food to liquefied natural gas gets delivered via rail.
“This agreement allows us to continue to rebuild a better America with an economy that truly works for working people and their families,” he said.
Before delivering remarks, Biden met with the negotiators who brokered the railway labor agreement in the Oval Office.
Administration officials hosted contract talks all day Wednesday hoping to broker a deal, negotiating for more than 20 consecutive hours, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said on Thursday. He described the deal as “hard-fought” and “mutually-beneficial.”
A White House official told reporters on Thursday that Biden called into Labor Department-led talks around 9 p.m. on Thursday to say a shutdown of railways was unacceptable and underscored the far-reaching economic consequences a strike would have. At 2 a.m., the official said, Walsh called the White House and said things were coming together. One union had to wake up their board to get sign off, the official added.
Biden thanked both sides for working in “good faith” to reach an agreement.
“In fact, the negotiators here today, I don’t think they’ve been to bed yet,” Biden said.
Unions will now vote on the agreement.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) — the two largest rail unions and the final remaining union holdouts — confirmed the tentative agreement in a statement on Thursday.
The agreement includes one key sticking point throughout the negotiations: policies that allow workers to take a sick day or attend to a doctor’s appointment without being penalized.
“We listened when our members told us that a final agreement would require improvements to their quality of life as well as economic gains,” BELT and SMART-TD said in their joint statement.
Biden said on Thursday the workers “earned and deserved these benefits.”
“This agreement is validation of what I’ve always believed: unions and management can work together, can work together for the benefit of everyone,” he said.
Congress debated stepping into the fray to avoid the strike this week. Republican Sens. Wicker and Burr on Thursday attempted to push through a resolution that would have forced unions to accept the deal. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blocked the measure, arguing workers have the right to strike over working conditions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the tentative agreement on Thursday morning, stating Congress was ready to step in but “thankfully this action may not be necessary.”
“We congratulate the unions and railroads for coming to an agreement, because it is in the national interest that essential transportation services be maintained,” she said.
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