Biden says tentative union labor agreement reached, averting railroad strike

President Joe Biden believes unions built the middle class. He also knew a rail worker strike could damage the economy ahead of midterm elections.

That left him in the awkward position of espousing the virtues of unionization in Detroit, a stalwart of the labor movement, while members of his administration went all-out to keep talks going in Washington between the railroads and unionized workers in hopes of averting a shutdown.

But after a long night, the talks succeeded and Biden announced Thursday that the parties had reached a tentative agreement to avoid a shutdown that would go to union members for a vote. The Democratic president hailed the deal in a statement for avoiding a shutdown and as a win for all sides.

"These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned,” Biden said. “The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come."

It looked far more tenuous for the president just a day earlier. United Auto Workers Local 598 member Ryan Buchalski introduced Biden at the Detroit auto show on Wednesday as “the most union- and labor-friendly president in American history” and someone who was "kickin' ass for the working class." Buchalski harked back to the pivotal sitdown strikes by autoworkers in the 1930s.

In the speech that followed, Biden recognized that he wouldn’t be in the White House without the support of unions such as the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, saying autoworkers “brung me to the dance.

But back in Washington, officials in his administration at the Labor Department were in tense negotiations to prevent a strike — one of the most powerful sources of leverage that unions have to bring about change and improve working conditions.

Without the deal that was reached among the 12 unions, a stoppage could have begun as early as Friday that could halt shipments of food and fuel at a cost of $2 billion a day.