President Joe Biden has long presented himself as pro-labor. He’s long enjoyed the support of labor unions and many union members have, in turn, supported him throughout the years.
However, as president, he represents more than labor unions. One of the “perks” of the job is that you’re likely to get blamed for anything that happens.
Which might be why he’s knee-deep in a railroad labor dispute and why he’s looking to railroad the railroad workers.
I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators – without any modifications or delay – to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.
This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September. On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders, and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry.
The deal provides a historic 24% pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs.
All that might be true, but the problem is that the union’s membership rejected the deal. For them, the big issues were staffing issues and paid time off.
None of that was addressed by the deal initially spearheaded by the Biden administration.
This brings us to a number of issues.
I’m not a huge fan of unions, especially because unions are notorious for making people join whether they want to or not. While 28 states are “right to work” states, four of the six largest by population aren’t. That includes New York and California, two massive shipping states.
That means people are forced into union membership, with a portion of their pay taken from their checks before it ever gets to their hands.
Of course, that’s just part of the problem with the unions.
Yet many of these people are also those who voted against the contract. It didn’t meet their needs and they voted accordingly. After all, if they’re going to be forced to be a member, they can at least make sure the union reflects their wishes.
Further, let’s remember that Biden has voiced opposition to right-to-work laws that prohibit mandatory union membership.
For all the ways many may not like unions, it shouldn’t be difficult to see that we don’t need the White House trying to dictate what deals private entities should accept. They’ve done it before—Biden actually voted against such a measure in 1992—and that sets the stage for such things.
Now, in the interest of fairness, there is a reason for the Biden administration to be concerned. A railroad strike would be a major blow to an already struggling economy, one the White House would be hard-pressed to blame on its more traditional foes such as foreign powers or Republicans.
Hence the desire to roll in and force a deal through legislation—legislation he opposed when he was in the Senate.
That doesn’t change the reality that the unions and the railroads are still private actors. If Congress makes a habit of forcing private entities to reach deals the voting members of those entities don’t like, what’s to stop them from expanding their reach to include other private agreements?
Yes, there will be repercussions if there’s a strike, but the Biden administration has already illustrated that they’re not in tune with the union membership on this one. It’s best that they sit the rest of this one out.
Plus, let’s be honest, had the White House done that to begin with, even if there had been a strike, it would likely have been over by now and everyone would already be moving on. Instead, the White House managed to meddle and delay things until we’re right in the middle of the holiday shopping season.
What could possibly go wrong now?
He may have a reputation as being pro-union, but he didn't even wait until the end of the week after inauguration to screw over the pipelayer union that openly supported him, by arbitrarily shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline.
Tangentially, I couldn't help but laugh at their shock and surprise about his doing so, after stating several times that he would do so as soon as possible after being elected.
While I'm not a particular fan of unions, there's a fairly long history of White House intervention in union disputes in strategic industries.
Eisenhower, IIRC, intervened in a steelworker's union dispute, as did Kennedy; and I have (even) hazier memories of Truman intervening as well.