Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg hedges on how the Biden administration would respond should a strike occur.
Legal Insurrection has been following the developments related to a potential rail strike since this summer.
In the fall, I wrote that Biden brokered a deal with the unions, handing out gobs of cash to prevent the strike from occurring before the November election.
As predicted, now that the election is over, the rail labor dispute is careening toward a December strike.
Joe Biden faces the prospect of a crippling strike by railroad unions that could stall transport of fuel, corn and drinking water, dramatically complicate holiday season train travel, and dent the US president’s political standing.
If an agreement is not reached by December 9 at the latest, the world’s largest economy could see nearly 7,000 freight trains grind to a halt, at a cost of more than $2 billion a day, according to the American Association of Railroads.
Biden himself has got “involved directly” in the negotiations aimed at averting a work stoppage, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
“I don’t want to get into details at this time, but he has been involved,” she said.
Several of the railroad unions rejected the Biden-backed agreement.
Four freight rail unions, with a combined membership of close to 60,000 rail workers, have voted down the five-year contract agreement brokered by the Biden administration back in September. The latest rejection came Monday from the largest of the unions, representing some 28,000 conductors, brakemen, and yardmen.
Eight other unions have ratified the deal, but they too could be pulled back into this labor dispute. That’s because if one union decides to strike, all of the unions, representing about 115,000 freight rail workers, will honor the picket lines.
It turns out, many of the members who ratified the deal were not happy with the terms.
Only 54% members in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the second largest rail union, voted for the deal. Union members across the industry who opposed the proposed deal did so knowing that Congress might vote to order them to stay on the job or return to work under terms of a contract that could be even worse than the ones they rejected.
Quality-of-life issues are at the core of the labor dispute.
“Honestly, this vote is about the frustration that the railroads have created with [their attendance policies] and the deterioration of quality of life as a result for our conductors,” said Jared Cassity, the national legislative director at SMART Transportation and a conductor.
“It’s about attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time. A lot of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our membership. It’s destroying their livelihoods.”
There is a growing awareness of the potential impact of a strike on the already struggling economy.
Railroad tank cars play a crucial role in transporting gasoline for motor vehicles, according to CNN. Additionally, several chemicals used in the refining process of crude oil arrive by rail, as does the ethanol that goes into gasoline. The cost of a gallon of gas, without the added ethanol, could increase by 16 cents.
…Grain is one of the top commodities transported by rail, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. During a strike, grain would be loaded into rail containers awaiting to be shipped, CNN reported. If other food ingredients are unable to reach food processing plants, domestic food prices and global food markets will be disrupted by a strike.
Fresh from providing potentially libelous commentary on the Colorado Springs shooting, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg hedged on answering what the administration would do if a strike should occur.
If the two sides can’t reach a deal, Congress could step in and force an agreement by imposing contract terms. Such an intervention would prevent a strike that could cost more than $2 billion a day, according to estimates by the Association of American Railroads.
The question is whether Democratic lawmakers are prepared to go against their political allies — unions.
When asked whether the Biden administration would back rail workers in the event of a strike, Buttigieg did not answer directly.
“I don’t want to get into a scenario over battle lines that haven’t fully been drawn yet,” he said, “but I will say is that we certainly believe in collective bargaining.”
Clearly, we have extremely unserious people in positions of authority when we really need thoughtful, rational, and effective leadership. Let’s pray for a Christmas miracle.DONATE
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