Video: Joining “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the potential rail strike are Joseph Schofer, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, Gregory DeYong, associate professor of operations management at Southern Illinois University, and Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at University of Illinois. (Produced by Andrea Flores)
(CNN) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday he is “confident” a rail strike will be avoided while meeting with the top four congressional leaders, adding that Congress “has to act to prevent” a rail strike.
“I asked the four top leaders in Congress to ask whether they’d be willing to come in and talk about what we’re gonna do between now and Christmas in terms of legislation and there’s a lot to do, including resolving the train strike,” Biden said while meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“It’s not an easy call but I think we have to do it,” Biden said. “The economy is at risk.”
On Monday, Biden called on Congress to “immediately” pass legislation to avert a railroad shutdown by officially adopting a September tentative agreement approved by labor and management leaders. Rank-and-file members of four unions have rejected the agreement and are prepared to go on a railroad strike on Dec. 9 without either a new labor agreement or congressional action.
Biden, a longtime labor ally, along with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and other administration officials helped unions and management reach a tentative deal averting a freight railroad strike in September.
A railroad strike could clog supply chains and lead to a spike in prices on necessities such as gasoline and food — dampening an economy that many fear is heading toward a recession. It could also cost could cost the US economy $1 billion in its first week alone, according to an analysis from the Anderson Economic Group.
Michael Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, one of the four unions whose members voted no on the deal, said Tuesday that Biden has let the union and its members down.
“We’re trying to address an issue here of sick time. It’s very important,” Michael Baldwin, the president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom.” “This action prevents us from reaching the end of our process. It takes away the strength and the abilities that we have to force bargaining or force the railroads into a situation to actually do the right thing.”
Pelosi said Tuesday the chamber could vote as soon as Wednesday on legislation to adopt the September tentative agreement and avert a possible rail strike. Once passed, Senate action could occur later this week or next, several Senate sources have told CNN. The Senate is expected to have the votes to break a filibuster on the bill to avert a potential railway strike, the Senate sources also said. There are likely to be at least 10 Republicans who will vote with most Senate Democrats to overcome a 60-vote threshold.
After the meeting, McConnell expressed openness to backing the legislation, and told reporters “We’re gonna need to pass a bill.”
But any one senator can slow the process down as timing agreements to move along legislation typically require unanimous consent from all 100 members of the chamber. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, criticized the proposed deal to avert a rail strike on Tuesday.
“You have workers all over this country who work for the railroads, people who are working at dangerous jobs in inclement weather, have zero paid sick leave. That is outrageous,” Sanders told reporters. “I think it’s incumbent upon Congress to do everything that he can to protect these workers, to make sure that the railroad starts treating them with the respect and the dignity that they deserve.”
Sanders would not commit to voting for or against the legislation, and did not answer when asked if he would object to moving the legislation quickly through the Senate. Any one member can delay a quick vote and potentially put off final action until after the Dec. 9 deadline to avert a strike.
Some Republicans are still skeptical of congressional intervention, arguing they would rather the issue be dealt with administratively.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a frequent swing vote, told CNN that the measure “deserves careful consideration.”
“I’m going to wait and listen to the debate at lunch today before reaching any kind of conclusion,” she said.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of GOP leadership, also told CNN she was still evaluating the plan.