President Joe Biden, while continuing his Middle East trip on Friday, issued an executive order blocking a freight railroad strike for 60 days. This is an about face for a president who many credit with providing the push for small labor movements popping up across the country.
In his own words, Biden repeatedly pledged to be “the most pro-union president…in history.” It appears, however, he’s even more “pro-reelection.”
With the executive order, which had to be in place by Monday to quash the strike, the president clearly put the union on weaker ground with its demands. By forming an arbitration board to settle the contract dispute, the executive order kept 115,000 workers from going on strike.
But the greater good won out, which could be blocking the disruption of billions in goods and exacerbating the already serious issue of supply chain difficulties.
This would have grounded as much as 30% of freight in the U.S.
That greater good may be, however, avoiding shortages that would inevitably lead to higher prices. This at a time when inflation, not the other diversions the White House tried to foist onto the American public, is far and away the number one concern on voters’ minds.
The railroad industry operates under different federal labor law than most other organized workers. That gives the president the ability to avert a strike, at least short-term, with the executive action implemented Friday.
Biden said the labor dispute could “substantially interrupt interstate commerce.” And, of course, raise prices.
The executive order created a Presidential Emergency Board which was given 30 days to arbitrate an agreement acceptable to both sides. If unsuccessful, another 30 days is designated as a “cooling off” period to buy more time to settle issues.
That takes the process to mid-September.
At that point, the lack of an agreement could result in either the 12 railroad workers unions deciding to strike or the railroad companies locking out workers. This would likely lead to Congress being asked to step in and impose a deal.
If it falls to Congress, the workers will undoubtedly be forced to settle for less than hoped. And while that may be a fair ending, it is hardly in step with being the most “pro-union” president in history. For Biden, expediency wins out over principle again.