A locomotive doing its part of making the supply chain work (photo by Berry Craig)

Rail union presidents praise worker solidarity and Team Biden for historic tentative agreement

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

“I intend to be the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” Joe Biden promised in Labor Day remarks last year.

By word and deed, he’s well on his way.

Today, he and Marty Walsh, his union card-carrying labor secretary, helped hammer out a tentative national agreement between freight railroad owners and the unions that represent rail workers.

The agreement, subject to ratification by the workers, averted a strike that would have harmed the economy. But it's also an historic deal for rail workers, according to a joint statement from Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART Transportation Division; and Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

According to the statement, the agreement “includes wage increases, bonuses, and no increases to insurance copays and deductibles. For the first time our Unions were able to obtain negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies.”

In addition, the agreement includes “the highest general wage increases over the life of the agreement in over 45 years.”

The AFL-CIO has been circulating a petition in support of the rail workers. “While seven rail companies have made $146 billion in profit since 2015, how are the rail workers, who actually make sure we get the supplies we need, faring?” asked the introduction. “Some 45,000 of their jobs were cut. They haven’t had a raise in nearly three years. Many are on-call 24/7 and only get one day off per month.”

In a statement today, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said “the entire labor movement stands in solidarity with freight rail workers in their fight for the basic quality of life they and their families deserve. Despite all the obstacles, these essential front-line union members keep America and our economy moving forward.”

The “tentative agreement with management ... was reached thanks in large part to the creative and productive role the Biden administration played in these negotiations,” according to Shuler. “Whatever the outcome of the ratification votes, we know which side we’re on. We will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our members in the fight for dignity and justice on the job.”

Ferguson and Pierce said the agreement wouldn’t have been reached without the solidarity shown by rail workers and “the hard work of President Biden, Labor Secretary Walsh, Deputy Secretary Julie Su, and others in the administration. Congressional leaders, including Senators Schumer, Durbin, and Sanders, along with Speaker Pelosi listened to [union]...requests and stayed out of our dispute, allowing for an agreement to be reached across the bargaining table, rather than through legislation.”

All those lawmakers are Democrats.

On the other hand, Congressional Republicans tried to force an agreement on the unions that would have heavily favored the railroad owners. If the workers struck in protest over the raw deal, the GOP lawmakers were primed to blame Biden.

You can bet if Trump, demonstrably the most anti-union president since Ronald Reagan, if not all the way back to the ‘twenties trinity of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, would have sided with the railroad owners and GOP legislators.

“These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned,” said Biden in a statement in which he added that the deal was good for both sides.

With Trump, rail workers would have gotten the shaft.

Now what is Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan's mantra? Oh yeah, “Elections have consequences.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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