Crisis Averted As Biden Shows Leadership

[ Posted Thursday, September 15th, 2022 – 15:00 UTC ]

President Joe Biden has averted a major crisis by getting the freight rail carriers to agree to a compromise with their Union workers. Details of the compromise are still slowly trickling out, but the big achievement was getting the railroad companies to allow workers to schedule doctors' visits without being penalized for taking time off (unpaid time, mind you). Biden was reported to have been angry that the rail companies hadn't budged an inch on the time-off policy, so this is a clear victory not just for the workers but also for Biden and his team.

A rail strike would have been devastating, if it had lasted for more than a few days. Supply chains would have completely broken -- there just aren't enough trucks to carry all that freight on the roadways. Store shelves would have been bare. Fuel and water supplies would have been in danger (although emergency contingency plans were already in place to ensure clean water was still delivered to where it needed to go). Prices would likely go up. It would have been a big hit on the American economy and would have had all sorts of ripple effects which lasted far beyond the actual duration of the strike. It would have been a disaster, plain and simple.

It would have been devastating for President Biden and the Democrats as well, on the political stage. It would have become the lead news story (finally kicking the obsession over a royal funeral out of first place), complete with footage of the worst outages and supply-chain interruptions the media could find. It would have reeked of political incompetence. And it would have been a godsend to the Republicans, because they'd have a dandy new thing to focus the voters on, instead of playing defense on the abortion issue. They've already been robbed of the "high gas prices" fear, as gas prices have fallen (by $1.35 a gallon) for three solid months now and are now just above the point they were before Russia invaded Ukraine. Republicans would paint Biden as weak and incompetent and the economy in ruins.

Now, however, Biden and the Democrats can use the issue to their benefit (momentarily, at least -- a strike which didn't happen is going to fade from the news almost immediately). Biden got his cabinet secretaries involved in the negotiations early, he persevered and got an acceptable agreement between the two sides, and the crisis was averted. Biden even personally called in to the marathon meeting yesterday, as the participants were getting some dinner. He has been engaged in the process from the start.

As I wrote yesterday, Biden had to be careful to appear unbiased and neutral. But he's been a big Union supporter for so long that everyone could tell where his sympathies were. Biden got angry at the refusal of the rail companies to budge on their Draconian system (of employee attendance points which did not allow any workers time off to see a doctor or even get an operation), but this fact didn't become public until after the agreement was announced. Now rail employees will be able to take sick days without being penalized or even fired for doing so. I have no doubt that Biden and the Unions pointed out to the rail bigwigs that this would be a pathetically easy battle for them to win in the arena of public opinion. It's pretty indefensible to penalize an employee for having an operation, after all.

In the end, the rail companies caved on the issue... well, maybe "caved" is overstating it. The Unions had started by asking for paid sick leave, but they reportedly only got one measly day of it. The exact number of unpaid days that will be allowed still hasn't been made public (as of this writing), but they will at least be allowed. Rail workers will be able to schedule a doctor's appointment without being penalized at work for doing so. That is an enormous "quality of life" issue.

Perhaps the thing which shows Biden's leadership the best is that Congress was not required to act. Because railroads have been so vital to the nation's economy for so long, there are specific laws dealing with how they are allowed to organize and strike, some of them more than a century old. When a strike looms, Congress is allowed to step in and essentially dictate terms to both sides. Republicans had pushed for them to do this, by forcing the Unions to accept the status quo of "no sick days at all." Which Congress has the power to do, and which would have made any strike illegal.

They didn't have to do so. It didn't come to that. Because the crisis was averted in time. They didn't even take it down to "the eleventh hour"... it was more like only the ninth or tenth hour. They could have dragged the negotiations throughout all of today, but instead we started the day with the news that an agreement had been reached.

As I mentioned, this will likely quickly be forgotten by the public at large. The crisis didn't happen, so it's really "the absence of bad news" more than anything. But it will add to the growing evidence that Joe Biden is delivering pretty much what he promised when running for the job -- calm competence. No drama, just results. No tantrums, no public shaming, just dealing with things in a professional manner to achieve a result everyone can live with. The most Labor-friendly president in a generation stood up for the workers and secured some basic human rights for them -- the right to see a doctor and not get fired for doing so. In a word, Biden is delivering exactly what the nation needs in a crisis: leadership.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Crisis Averted As Biden Shows Leadership”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Very nice.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I have to say, though, that the rail companies' stance on sick days sounds too ridiculous to be believed. How do they get away with it!?

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    A lot of u.s. companies have put a lot of money into busting and besmirching unions for a very long time. union powers are at a very low ebb, in spite of improving public opinion. Quite a few somewhat severe labor practices have gone unchallenged recently as a result.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I see.

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