Biden signs bill forcing rail unions to accept agreement, averting crippling strike
President acknowledges rail union deal does not include paid sick leave, says 'that fight isn't over'
President Biden on Friday signed bipartisan legislation to avoid a railroad workers strike, congratulating Congress for working with his team to avoid "what could have been a real disaster."
Lawmakers and industry representatives had warned that a threatened strike by transportation unions ahead of the holidays could have had catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy. The newly enacted law codifies a July deal negotiated by rail unions and the Biden administration that would raise workers pay by 24% over a five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification.
The agreement passed by Congress was approved by eight of 12 transportation unions involved in negotiations. The four dissenting unions, representing about 100,000 rail workers, said the deal was unfair because it included insufficient paid-sick leave time. They had asked for seven paid sick days, but Congress did not include their demand in the bill, despite an effort from progressive lawmakers and even some conservatives like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to amend the legislation.
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The president praised the wage increases for rail workers as "historic" and promised to continue fighting for paid sick leave benefits for workers.
"Look, I know this bill doesn't have paid sick leave, that these rail workers and, frankly, every worker in America deserves. But that fight isn't over," Biden said before signing the bill.
He also thanked Republicans and Democrats for coming together on a "tough vote" that ultimately kept supply chains operational in the weeks before Christmas.
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"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 supply chains stable around the holidays," Biden said.
A rail worker strike would have left millions of Amtrak and commuter rail passengers stranded, frozen up to 30% of U.S. cargo shipments and cost the U.S. $2 billion a day, according to reports.
FOX Business' Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.