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Biden administration reaches tentative deal to avert rail strike

President Biden became "personally animated" about the need for improved rail workers' benefits. A tentative agreement took shape soon after.


The importance of a possible railroad strike is difficult to overstate. American commerce is heavily dependent on freight trains, and if tens of thousands of rail workers were to walk off the job, the implications on supply chains would be dramatic.

It’s why the White House took the threat of a strike very seriously. It’s also why it’s good news that officials’ efforts appear to have succeeded. NBC News reported:

The White House has struck a tentative deal to avoid a rail strike that threatened major disruptions across the United States, with freight workers securing a key demand under its terms, President Joe Biden said Thursday morning. The tentative pact highlights the labor movement’s growing influence under an administration that has cast itself as a staunch ally of labor, and comes after business groups and political officials warned that a strike would disrupt passenger services and cripple supply chains.

As part of the agreement, reached in the early hours this morning, rail workers will receive long-sought benefits. NBC News’ report added that employees “will for the first time be able to take unpaid time off work for routine preventive medical care, union leaders said in a statement. There will also be exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures — a key sticking point in negotiations. The new agreement provides rail workers with an additional paid personal day a year without the fear of discipline.”

At this point, some readers are probably asking themselves, “Aren’t these benefits that rail workers should’ve already had?” As it turns out, the Democratic president, who took on a direct role in the process, had the same question.

A Washington Post report noted, “As he pressed for a deal, Biden became personally animated about the lack of leave, and he brought up repeatedly that he did not understand why workers could not be granted more flexible schedules, according to one of the people.”

Fox Business hosts marveled on the air this morning, with one saying that Biden, as part of his hands-on efforts to negotiate an agreement, “expressed concern for the workers and their families, not really for the rail companies.”

I guess that was intended as criticism?

This came on the heels of a Wall Street Journal editorial — which was published last night, but which appeared in this morning’s print edition — which asked whether the president was capable of negotiating a deal and averting a strike.

Late this morning, a tweet from Biden appeared to take a degree of satisfaction answering the editorial board’s question.

It’s worth emphasizing that the agreement is tentative, and unionized workers will still need to approve the deal. That said, it now appears the strike that was set to begin tomorrow will not happen.