What is in the law signed by Biden to prevent the railroad workers’ strike?
The President called on Congress to pass legislation that would outlaw the proposed industrial action ahead of the holidays.
Fears of a December railroad strike were quashed on Friday when President Biden signed into law a bill that would make the action illegal. The forced compromise came after talks between railroad operators and unions broke down.
During negotiations between several rail workers’ unions, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on the introduction of paid sick leave for employees. This proved a decisive issue for the unions and a strike was scheduled for 9 December unless a compromise could be found.
However Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would outlaw the strike and the President signed it into law on Friday. Shortly before doing so, Biden said:
“The bill I’m about to sign ends a difficult rail dispute and helps our nation avoid what, without a doubt, would have been an economic catastrophe at a very bad time in the calendar.”
Congress was able to force the two sides into an agreement under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the legislature the power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can use this authority to intervene in labor disputes if the matter would affect trade.
The bill passed includes a 24% pay increase for rail workers, to be spread across five years. Workers will also receive five annual payments of $1,000.
Alternative bill would have introduced paid sick leave for workers
The bill which ended up on Biden’s desk on Friday morning was not the only one proposed in Congress to stop the strike. On Wednesday the Democrat-led House of Representatives also approved an alternative bill which would have added seven days of paid sick leave.
Had the Senate voted in favour of the bill then Biden would have been able to impose the conditions, giving a significant victory for workers. However the proposal failed to get the required 60 votes in the Senate and the bill was defeated.
“I know this was a tough vote for members of both parties. It was a tough vote for me,” Biden said upon signing the bill. “But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs, to protect millions of working families from harm and disruption and to keep the supply chain stable around the holidays.”
However Ian Jefferies, American Association of Railroads CEO, was unimpressed with the deal made: “None of the parties achieved everything they advocated for… Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address our employees’ work-life balance concerns.”