Business & Lobbying

Top Democrat says deal to avert rail strike ‘entirely possible’ before Friday deadline

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) speaks to reporters as he leaves the Capitol following the last votes of the week on July 1
Greg Nash

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Wednesday that a deal to avert a railway strike remained “entirely possible” ahead of a midnight deadline Thursday. 

Failure to secure a new contract between railroads and the unions representing their workers could result in more than 115,000 rail workers going on strike Friday, when the “cooling-off” period imposed by the Biden administration ends. 

The White House and lawmakers have been scrambling this week to avert a strike, which could kneecap swathes of the U.S. economy and exacerbate inflation. 

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), speaking at The Hill’s Infrastructure Summit, said an eleventh hour deal was still in play. 

“I’ve been talking to the White House pretty regularly. They are fully engaged. They’re engaged with both sides in the dispute, and you know, we’re doing everything we can to avert … a final confrontation at midnight tomorrow night,” DeFazio said.  

“I think it’s entirely possible we get a negotiated settlement,” he told The Hill’s Bob Cusack.

DeFazio said unions had scaled back their demands from five paid sick days to five unpaid sick days, which he said was a reasonable request given the profitability of railroads. 

Republicans moved Wednesday to force unions to accept contract recommendations put forward by the Presidential Emergency Board, which Biden created to avert a strike.

However, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stood up on the Senate floor to block speedy approval of the legislation, arguing that railroad companies are making huge profits and should start treating their workers more fairly.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded in a tweet, saying: “If a strike occurs and paralyzes food, fertilizer and energy shipments nationwide, it will be because Democrats blocked this bill.”

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said at the Hill summit that he believes the rail unions should accept the Presidential Emergency Board’s offer.  

“We need to do everything we can to avoid a strike,” said Graves. “I would like to see all parties accept the resolution, the recommendations, that would be the best avenue forward.” 

However, Graves was less optimistic that the dispute would be resolved by Thursday’s deadline. 

“Unfortunately, I think Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] is going to punt this thing down the road, and she’s going to … try to extend the cooling-off period until after the election, which would be the most devastating thing ever,” he said. 

If the cooling-off period were extended, he said the negotiating process would essentially start from scratch with a new timeline. 

The Hill’s Infrastructure Summit was sponsored by Schneider Electric and Project Management Institute.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden Mitch McConnell Peter DeFazio Peter DeFazio railway strike Sam Graves Sam Graves

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