Dec 2, 2022 - Economy

Biden signs rail agreement into law, thwarting strike

Photo of Joe Biden's face among silhouettes

President Biden speaks at a campaign rally on Nov. 7, 2022 in Bowie, Md. Photo: Nathan Howard via Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed into law legislation to force a rail labor agreement, blocking workers from striking ahead of the busy holiday season.

Why it matters: Some railroad workers have argued the deal doesn't adequately address concerns over workplace conditions, most notably the lack of paid sick leave.

Details: The Senate passed the legislation on Thursday but rejected a House-drawn measure that would include seven days of paid sick leave for workers.

  • The provision's failure is a loss for many union members and progressive lawmakers who have slammed the fact that rail workers have no guaranteed paid sick days.

Between the lines: The rail workers' battle is emblematic of some of the most critical worker issues of the post-pandemic era — revolving not around money, per se, but worker leverage, quality of life and paid sick leave, Axios' Emily Peck writes.

  • The contract was brokered by union leadership, and they had a tough time selling the deal to rank-and-file members. Many workers are angry about how they've been treated in recent years — particularly during the pandemic.

The other side: The White House pointed to elements of the deal that it views as a win for workers, including a 24% pay bump, no increase in health insurance costs and one additional day of paid time off.

What they're saying: "Our nation's rail system is literally the backbone of our supply chain," Biden said before signing the bill. "So much of what we rely on is delivered on rail."

  • "Without freight rail, many of the U.S. industries would literally shut down," he added.
  • Biden said he would continue to fight for paid sick leave.

The big picture: The bill caps off a tense few months during which the Biden administration has had to balance its pro-labor stance with the need to avoid an economically disastrous strike ahead of the holiday season.

Worth noting: The rail industry has been struggling with a worker shortage for months.

Go deeper: Railroad workers are fed up but hoping to avoid a strike

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