Reported by Josh Wingrove, Nancy Cook, and Ian Kullgren for Bloomberg.
President Joe Biden’s allies are counting on political dividends from the agreement he brokered to avert a disastrous railroad strike, yet there’s still a risk the deal falters before November’s elections.
Biden, who ran for office on a pledge to keep the nation’s proverbial trains running on time, managed to keep engineers and rail yard workers at their jobs — at least for now. The tentative agreement reached Thursday between unions and railroad companies means a strike that would have wreaked havoc across the US economy won’t happen for weeks or months, if ever.
“If the strike had gone through and the supply chain had been interrupted, inflation would have spiraled even more than it is — it would have been a disaster for the Democrats,” said Ed Rendell, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. “That’s all been avoided by the settlement.”
Biden’s personal involvement in negotiations showed that a president who’s often called himself the biggest union advocate to occupy the White House can throw his weight around with both labor and employers. And the deal comes as Biden’s approval rating had already begun to rebound after a series of accomplishments, including major legislative victories, giving Democrats fresh hope for midterm elections they looked set to lose just months ago.
But any broader political gains pale in comparison to the damage Biden would have suffered from a work stoppage. And he’s not yet clear of the risk; rank-and-file union members — who tend to be less supportive of the president than their leaders — don’t yet know the terms of the agreement and it’s not certain to be adopted.
“I’m inclined to vote no, whether I read it before I vote or not,” said Matt Parker, a union locomotive engineer from Nevada.
Parker said many union members were incensed by a proposal from an emergency board Biden appointed that they considered disrespectful toward workers.
“That really inflamed a lot of people,” Parker said.
If the agreement holds, it will fit neatly into a White House campaign message for voters that the president and his party have achieved tangible improvements to American families’ lives and have at least begun to combat inflation, the biggest political liability for Democrats.
“Part of this is ‘crisis averted,’ which is helpful for Democrats and the administration,” said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist.
The deal also helps strengthen Biden’s ties with labor, which he regards as his political base. Union leaders hailed his role in the talks.
“The administration brought a full-court press to try to resolve this issue,” said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades department.
Biden has signaled that union members should accept the proposed contract, calling it a “good deal” for labor in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” to be broadcast on Sunday.
The week began with a 12:00 a.m. Friday deadline before a possible work stoppage and the two sides far apart. As talks between the unions and railroads faltered on Tuesday, Biden’s team delivered an ultimatum, according to senior administration officials: make a deal by 5 p.m. or be in Washington the next morning.
Read more here.