ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, US — US President Joe Biden called on Congress to immediately pass legislation to adopt a tentative agreement between railroad unions and management to avoid a strike that would lead to a national rail shutdown, crippling many industries, particularly agriculture.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said on Nov. 28 that the House will proceed with legislation this week to adopt the agreement reached by negotiators in September with no changes to the terms.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) commended Biden and Pelosi, noting that a shutdown would hurt US agriculture.

“A rail strike or lockout would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in harmful consequences to our national and global food security,” said NGFA President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Seyfert. “NGFA urges Congress to deliver a bipartisan bill to the president’s desk well in advance of the Dec. 9 deadline.” 

The crisis dates back several months, when railroads and rail workers failed to reach an agreement on new labor contracts. The Biden administration in July established an emergency board to investigate the dispute. As a result, representatives of the railroads and unions reached a tentative deal in September, subject both to a cooling off period and ratification by the unions.

In total, eight of 12 labor unions have ratified the labor agreement, which provides employees with a 24% wage increase over five years (ending in 2024) and preserves what the American Association of Railroads (AAR) called “best-in-class health care coverage.” The unions voting down the agreement took issue with the level of the pay increase given current inflation levels as well as a failure to address demands to make work schedules more flexible.

If Congress acts, it will end the ongoing talks between the railroads and the four rail unions that rejected their deals.

Biden had said he was reluctant to override the views of the people who voted against the agreement but noted that a rail shutdown would “hurt millions of other working people and families.”