Biden Maneuvers to Try to Avoid Devastating Rail Strike
Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary, and White House officials hosted union and company leaders in Washington on Wednesday in an attempt to broker a deal before Friday, when a federally imposed “cooling off period” for negotiations expires. Workers could go on strike immediately, though they will not automatically do so.
The talks have become bogged down over the unions’ complaints about the working conditions faced by employees who power the nation’s second-largest mode of freight transport — including long shifts scheduled on short notice and penalties for calling in sick or going to the doctor. Mr. Biden’s aides have discussed whether the president could take some form of executive action to guarantee better conditions for rail workers.
White House officials would not elaborate on what actions the president’s economic team had discussed, and it remains unclear what power Mr. Biden has to resolve issues that are largely under the purview of private companies.
Mr. Biden could push Democratic leaders in Congress to pass legislation that either extends the cooling-off period or forces unions and employers to accept contract recommendations issued last month by an emergency board established by Mr. Biden this summer.
But Mr. Biden is not former President Ronald Reagan, who famously ordered striking air traffic controllers back to work in 1981 and fired those who did not comply. He is, instead, fond of calling himself the “most pro-union president in history.”
“This is an issue that can and should be worked out between the rail companies and the unions,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday, adding, “not by Congress.”