President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month's deadline in the stalled contract talks, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers would take up legislation this week to impose the deal that unions agreed to in September.
"Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy," Biden said in a statement. "Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down."
On Monday, the Association of American Railroads trade group praised Biden's action. AAR's president and CEO, Ian Jefferies, echoed that sentiment, acknowledging that "no one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not rail employees and not the American economy."
Continuing, Jefferies said "now is the appropriate time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the twelve unions."
Under those agreements, Jefferies explained, workers will be taken care of. "The highest wage increases in over five decades, 24% over the term of the contract," he listed. "[And] 14.1% effective immediately with an average payout of approximately $16,000 immediately to employees whose contracts are ratified.
"This will result in a total wages and [compensation] of approximately $160,000 for the average rail employee by the end of the contract's term," Jefferies continued. "And most importantly, or equally importantly, [the agreement] will maintain first-in-class healthcare at an employee cost-share that is dramatically lower than that compared to other industries."
While most of the 12 unions have fully ratified contracts, the current negotiations appear to be focused on non-wage working conditions and benefits.
If a deal isn't reached, Congress will move to implement the tentative agreement announced in September.