President Joe Biden hailed a “victory for the tens of thousands of railroad workers who worked tirelessly during the pandemic” early Thursday morning at a meeting with trade union leaders and railroad companies hosted by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. announced the agreement after an overnight negotiating session between labor bargainer.
A quarter of the way into the 21st century, it’s a little shocking that a railroad network that most Americans wouldn’t mind thinking about still forms the nation’s economic backbone. But the showdown isn’t the only time in history that a labor dispute in this important industry has sparked national turmoil and resulted in significant political drama. No country can function properly without freight railroads.
While this controversy may focus on railroads, it is also emblematic of broader tendencies in industrial relations in modern America: from retail to healthcare to transportation, seeking the greatest possible profit. This is because they are actively downsizing their businesses and seeking livable working conditions. and ask the union for help.
The effects of the rail strike would have been dramatic. About 30% of America’s freight moves by rail. If a gigantic train containing 240 wagons does not move, the country will need to find an unrealistic 80,000 truck drivers to make up the shortfall. strike will send auto gas prices skyrocketing again. This is because refineries struggle to get enough crude oil from rail transport. Recently harvested crops can become stranded, fail to reach processing plants and rot. Food and other items may have run out in stores and prices have risen again, adding to the current plague of inflation. New and used cars are more expensive when factories can’t get the parts they need for the assembly line. And ports that were clogged during the pandemic could fill up again, posing a major problem for the U.S. economy and quickly sending shockwaves around the world.
The weeks-long strike may have once again highlighted the vulnerability of the supply chain networks that are the foundation of modern life, and how quickly serious damage can occur.
These painful results, which affect all Americans, explain why the talks in Washington brokered by Walsh were so important and urgent.
Negotiations to avoid a strike lasted 20 hours and reached an agreement around 5 a.m. Thursday, sources familiar with the matter told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Phil Mattingly. “Important calls have been made” to Mr. and negotiators, the sources added, urging both sides to recognize the damage to families, businesses and communities if the rail network were shut down.
Biden’s team worked to avoid a political nightmare
Railroad closures didn’t just threaten the daily lives of millions of Americans. This prospect has been a big deal for Biden and the Democrats. First, they know their bright chance to stem the Republican wave in the midterm elections could be dashed by another devastating shock to the economy that drives prices even higher and shatters any sense of normalcy. Because there is Biden promised recovery. A further spike in inflation from the railroad strike could force the Federal Reserve to extend its aggressive interest rate strategy. Interest rates are expected to rise further next week, increasing the chances of an overadjustment that could plunge the economy into recession.
The president, buoyed by the passage of a crucial congressional bill, is aggressively pitching the story that America is on the move again and its economy is ready to roar. Rail his strike would quickly undermine his credibility in pitching that story.
More broadly, the railroad controversy has separated Biden between two competing elements of his political identity. He is the most pro-union president in decades. He needs campaign support to boost voter turnout in November and doesn’t want to see him pressuring workers to accept bad deals. Success hinges on keeping inflation down and preventing Republicans from gaining a majority on Capitol Hill, which could make him a domestic lame duck.
Republicans have ignited the railroad controversy as they try to pull back the interim debate from the controversy over the Supreme Court’s overturn of abortion rights. The Senate tried to pass a bill to avoid the strike, but it failed.
“President Biden should have already worked this out himself. Democrats must let this pass,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted.
But some Democrats don’t want to put pressure on unions. The Republican bill was ultimately blocked by his two-time progressive Senator Bernie Sanders as the Democratic presidential nominee. A Vermont independent company has accused a railroad company of making billions in profits while imposing inhumane working conditions and rewarding its CEO with millions of dollars.
“Salary is not the key issue in the current negotiations. The working conditions in the industry are absolutely unacceptable and almost unbelievable,” Sanders said, adding that the number of sick leave offers for some employees is 10%. criticized the lack and the system requiring it. Many people are called out to work on trains 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A long-awaited crisis
Arthur Wheaton, director of labor research at Cornell University’s ILR Labor Institute, said years of cost cutting and consolidation in the rail industry predated the pandemic, leading to the current impasse.
“Railway companies are working hard to cut headcount and aggressively cut headcount so that they can get more investment from Wall Street, as a way to increase profits and increase their return on investment. We worked hard,” said Wheaton. But that job cut could exacerbate conditions for workers already facing long hours and raise safety concerns given the dangerous cargo some trains carry. The ‘on-call’ system mentioned by .
“It’s not sustainable for your family, and it’s not sustainable for your health long-term. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, I have to wait,’ go to bed knowing you won’t have to work for the next 12 hours.” you want to be able to See if the phone rings,” said Wheaton.
Fear of railroad closures prompted Congress to move with extraordinary speed to end the work stoppage in just two days in 1992, amid severe economic ramifications including job cuts at mines that could no longer ship coal. It would have been the first major strike in the industry since. The strike shut down nearly all goods and passenger rail lines in the country and, much like the current drama, threatened to turn into a political storm in the election year.
One of the questions with this new debate is whether an ever more polarized parliament can agree on terms to end industrial action, or whether the outbreak of such an economic crisis will force rival lawmakers to choose. The question is whether there will be room for
Throughout 20th- to 19th-century American industrial history, railroad strikes were frequent due to low wages, reduced pay, or difficult and dangerous conditions. Often they were crushed by government and industry magnates, sometimes in violent scenes. It also established the leverage exercised in negotiations between Washington’s unions and company bosses.
The threat of long-term railway closures, both then and now, has caused such dire economic consequences that this controversy is ultimately a major issue that the country’s leaders will be asked to finally settle. It becomes a political issue and needs to be resolved for yourself and everyone else.