White House Efforts to Avert Impending Railroad Strike

White House officials are holding emergency meetings in a desperate battle to avert a national rail strike days away from shutting down much of the country’s transportation infrastructure, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Biden administration officials have begun preparing for a possible shutdown, warning that a strike could seriously damage the U.S. economy, while also warning that it could hurt Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, two of them said. the people. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh attended meetings led by the White House National Economic Council last week, and President Biden is also following the matter personally, the two people said. Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg is also involved in breaking the deadlock.

The stalemate pits two of Biden’s top priorities against each other. The president is an adamant defender of union workers but does not want a breakdown in the country’s transportation infrastructure that would disrupt commuter and passenger services.

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The government has little time to act: the nationwide shutdown of the track will take effect Friday, and labor and management are at an impasse over difficult issues such as sick leave and penalties for absenteeism.

The freight industry has warned that the first national rail strike in decades would halt 30 percent of the country’s freight traffic and “close most passenger and commuter rail services.” The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, a division of the Teamsters, announced a tentative agreement with state rail companies on Sunday, leaving only two of the 12 unions without a deal. But those are the country’s two largest railway unions, representing 57,000 engineers and conductors.

Concerns about the political ramifications of a labor freeze also extend to parts of the government. Farming groups have pushed for an early agreement as their operations could be heavily impacted. The government has already faced criticism over its handling of the country’s transport infrastructure, which was plagued by supply chains last year and this year by a spike in cancellations and delays at national airports. Some government officials fear they are wasting August Biden’s economic victories that helped boost Democrat polls.

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

“The last thing they want right now is a major strike in an important industry 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 will push very hard to get a deal. He will presumably push the employer side, but I’m sure he’ll push the union side as well…although the question is how hard he will be willing to put pressure on the workers.”

Still, the president has made supporting unions one of the top priorities during his administration. Many Biden employees are sympathetic to workers’ complaints about poor working conditions and unfair treatment by management, and are reluctant to lean too aggressively on union leaders to end the strike.

It is the recommendation of the presidential emergency council, which is led by three of Biden’s appointees. The board outlined pay increases and annual bonuses in a 124-page report that fell between union and management demands, and was generous enough to peel off 10 of the unions that represent a subgroup of railroad workers who don’t operate trains.

But the remaining two unions on the brink of strike are outraged by the board’s lack of strong proposals regarding certain working conditions that they say “devastate the lives of their members,” such as penalties for taking of leisure. Labor groups say engineers and conductors have been fired for going to routine doctor’s appointments or funerals of relatives, and may be available for up to 12 hours without a break for 14 consecutive days. They also don’t get sick days.

“We are facing the potential of a strike because the railroad refuses to grant a single day of sick time,” 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 2 a.m. to be at work at 4 a.m. after only 10 hours of rest before. It’s about not knowing when you’re coming home and being punished with discipline until you’re discharged when you have to go to the doctor.”

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