Federal Government Intervenes After Rail Workers Threaten Strike

Daniel Perodin, Staff Writer

On Dec. 2, President Joe Biden signed a law ending a battle between rail unions and the freight rail industry. The law ensures a 24% salary increase and one more day of paid leave for the rail workers. In return, workers will not be able to strike as they had planned.

The compromise was created because workers threatened to strike on Dec. 9. A strike could slow down the economy significantly, especially given the increase in shipping around the holiday season. To prevent this, Biden told Congress to approve a compromise between the rail unions and the freight industry. After Congress passed the law, Biden signed it. As seen in this case, government intervention usually occurs when the impacted industry has significant implications for national safety and the economy. 

“We saw this during the Reagan years with the air traffic control. Imagine airplanes in the air and no one directing the traffic. Even though they were advocating for better working conditions like hours of sleep, we did need them at work,” Miami Palmetto Senior High American History and Economics teacher, Armando Gonzalez said.  

The rail workers protested the demanding schedules they must endure. Some workers, such as conductors and engineers, are on standby 24/7. Their situation is worsened because nearly one-third of rail jobs were cut in the last six years, leaving the remaining workers with a greater burden.

“Usually the workers want rights they do not have and want to join unions to become stronger while owners are against unions because they do not want to give in,” Gonzalez said.

To the disappointment of the unions, some key provisions were scrapped amid partisan negotiations in Congress. 

“With the railroad stations they wanted paid sick days and they did not get that concession,” Gonzalez said.

The Democrat-controlled House passed a bill that contains seven days of paid sick leave. However, when the bill reached the Senate, the paid leave had to be sacrificed if the bill were to gain Republican support. Both sides had to forfeit something, with Republicans giving up a provision that would have extended the no-strike period. This is the first time in 30 years that Congress has acted to settle a dispute between rail unions and corporations. With a growing labor movement in the U.S., more intervention may follow soon.