The White House scrambles to avert a looming railroad strike

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According to three people familiar with the matter, White House officials are holding emergency meetings to stave off a national railroad strike just days away from shutting down much of the country’s transportation infrastructure.

Officials in the Biden administration have begun preparing for a possible shutdown, warning that a strike could seriously damage the US economy while also warning that it could harm Democrats in the upcoming 2022 midterm election, two of the leaders said Persons. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh attended meetings chaired by the White House National Business Council last week, and President Biden is also personally following the matter, the two people said. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg is also trying to mediate the impasse.

The standoff pits two of President Biden’s top priorities against each other. The president has been a staunch defender of union workers but does not want a collapse in the country’s transportation infrastructure that would disrupt commuter and passenger travel.

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The administration has little time to act: the nationwide railway closure is due to come into force on Friday, and workers and management are stuck in a dead end over difficult issues such as sick leave and penalties for not working.

The freight industry has warned that the first national rail strike in decades would paralyze 30 percent of the country’s freight services and “suspend most passenger and commuter trains”. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, a division of Teamsters, announced a tentative agreement with national rail companies on Sunday, leaving just two of the 12 unions without an agreement. But these are the country’s two largest rail unions, representing 57,000 engineers and conductors.

Concerns about the political implications of a work stoppage also extend to parts of the administration. Farm groups have called for a quick deal as their operations could be severely impacted. The government has already been criticized for its handling of the country’s transport infrastructure, which was rocked by supply chain crunches last year and a spike in cancellations and delays at the country’s airports this year. Some administration officials fear squandering Biden’s economic victories in August, which helped boost Democrat poll numbers.

The Federal Railroad Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, has estimated that failure to reach an agreement could cost the US economy up to $2 billion a day in lost economic output. US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark said Monday a strike would be an “economic disaster” with “catastrophic economic implications,” and called for urgent action to resolve the standoff.

“The last thing they want right now is a major strike in a key sector like this,” said Dean Baker, a White House ally and economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal think tank. “I think Biden is going to push really hard to get a deal. He’ll probably push the employers’ side, but I’m sure he’ll push the union side as well… although it’s debatable how much he’ll be willing to push the workers.”

Still, the President has made support for unions a top priority throughout his tenure. Many Biden employees understand workers’ complaints about poor working conditions and unfair treatment by management, and refuse to lean too aggressively on union leaders to end the strike.

It’s about the recommendation of the Presidential Emergency Board, which is chaired by three Biden-appointed people. The board, in a 124-page report, outlined wage increases and annual bonuses that fell between union and management demands, and was generous enough to unseat 10 of the unions, who represent a subset of railroad workers who don’t run trains.

But the remaining two striking unions are furious at the board’s lack of convincing proposals on certain working conditions that they say are “destroying the lives of their members” such as: B. Penalties for each time-out. Engineers and conductors have been fired for going to routine doctor’s appointments or family funerals, workers’ groups said, and may be on call for up to 12 hours straight for 14 consecutive days. They are also not granted sick days.

“We’re facing a strike because the railroad refuses to allow a single sick day,” said Ron Kaminkow, a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, one of the unions that failed to reach an agreement. “It’s about the phone ringing at 2am to be at work by 4am after only 10 hours of rest. It’s about not knowing when you’re going to get home and being punished with disciplinary action up to and including dismissal if you have to see a doctor.”

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