Sep 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden declares tentative rail agreement a "win"

President Biden shakes hands with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh after speaking about the railway labor agreement on Sept. 15. Also pictured (left to right): Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su, OMB Made in America Director Celeste Drake, and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking in the Rose Garden on Thursday, President Biden thanked the negotiators who brokered a last-minute deal averting a railroad strike that would have crippled the nation's still recovering supply chains.

Why it matters: Biden's handling of the negotiations between the rail companies and their unions marked a pivotal moment for the administration, which had to balance its pro-labor stance with the need to avoid an economically disastrous strike ahead of the midterms.

  • "Together we reached an agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruptions of our economy."
  • "Today is a win," he said. "This agreement is validation of what I've always believed — unions and management can work together."
  • As he returned to the Oval Office, he answered a shouted question about grocery prices being up more than 13 percent this year. "Rail's moving and it's not going to go up," Biden replied.

Catch up quick: Biden himself got involved in the talks, making a "crucial call" to the negotiating parties last night at around 9 p.m., according to a source familiar with the situation.

  • Negotiations in Washington went on for 20 straight hours on Wednesday, the president said. "The negotiators here today I don't think they've been to bed yet."
  • The key sticking point for the holdout unions had been sick leave, something that reportedly struck a nerve with the president, the Washington Post reports.
  • "Biden had grown animated in recent days about the lack of scheduling flexibility for workers, expressing a mixture of confusion and anger that management was refusing to budge on that point," the paper reports.

What's next: The 12 railroad worker unions need to vote to approve the tentative deal, which includes a provision for some unpaid time off for workers who need routine or preventative medical care, according to a statement from one of the unions.

  • The deal sets an important precedent for these unions, which have historically not bargained for leave at this level of negotiations.

Yes, but: The deal does not eliminate a scheduling system put in place by the railroad companies, called Hi-Viz, which workers have said is particularly grueling. And the agreement only provides union members with a single paid sick day.

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