America’s rail workers are one step closer to a deal and what they deserve
The United States appears to have narrowly avoided a crisis that could have severely damaged its economy.
Railroad companies and unions representing railroad workers reached a tentative agreement to avert a strike, which the Biden administration reportedly helped broker. Unions were threatening industrial action if there was no deal, which, because workers are essential to rail service, would have derailed the economy. (Perhaps this sounds familiar to British readers, accustomed to rail strikes this summer.)
A point of contention between the two sides was whether workers could take unpaid time off to attend medical appointments without fear of punishment. In the end, the workers won that right in negotiations on Wednesday night.
During the talks, Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, blocked a Republican proposal that would have forced unions to accept recommendations from a nonpartisan panel that did not include pay raises or furloughs to surrender. at doctor’s appointments. Martin Walsh, the US Secretary of Labor, moderated talks between industry leaders and unions on Wednesday. Joe Biden was in contact with Walsh during the negotiations and was reportedly “lived up” by the lack of furloughs and flexibility for workers.
We don’t know if Biden’s animation came from worker outrage or worries about the economy if strikes continue. What matters is that Biden recognized that the solutions to both were the same: empower workers. If workers are essential to maintaining the stability of the economy, they deserve to be paid fairly. They certainly deserve the right to go to the doctor without fear of reprisal. And they deserve to have a president who supports that right.
There can be consequences for unions if a president does not side with workers; in 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, sparking greater public animosity toward unions across the country.
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It remains to be seen whether union members support the deal. But Biden’s personal engagement in the talks shows his administration is not disparaging or belittling working people. That’s not all, but it’s something that approaches progress.
[See also: Joe Biden’s speech: Trump and “Maga Republicans” are a threat to democracy]