News & Commentary

November 29, 2022

Iman Masmoudi

Iman Masmoudi is a student at Harvard Law School.

In Today’s News & Commentary, President Biden and Congress seek to impose an agreement on rail workers to prevent shut-down despite some unions’ rejection of the deal, and workers at Amazon’s largest air hub are organizing while facing enormous corporate opposition.

Yesterday, President Biden released a statement calling on Congress to intervene in the railway labor dispute which has continued for months. The deal, which was negotiated under the RLA in September, provides 24% wage increases and improved health care benefits. Most unions have since voted to approve the deal, but those in opposition (4 of the 12 unions) say it does little to protect sick leave or family care. The statement lamented the President’s “reluctan[ce] to override the ratification procedures” especially as he considers himself “a proud pro-labor President.” The statement ended by calling on Congress to ratify the deal by legislation in order to prevent “hurl[ing] this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown.”

For its part, the House responded immediately and Speaker Pelosi announced they would vote on a bill adopting the agreement this week as well as sending it to the Senate. The NYTimes reports that the result in the Senate is unclear, since the bill would require bipartisan support. The vote will pit the Democratic party members of the executive and legislative branches against the wishes of many in the labor movement. Speaker Pelosi called the decision “difficult,” and both she and the President made statements about the weakness of the protections. However, the President stated that his concern for workers more generally, and the impact a strike would have on them, motivated his decision. In 1992, then-Senator Biden was one of only six senators to vote against a bill that similarly ended a rail labor dispute that culminated in a strike.

Workers at Amazon’s air hub outside Northern Kentucky International Airport are leading a unionizing effort despite a bitter anti-union corporate atmosphere. The organizers have already filed two unfair labor practice charges against Amazon for its display of anti-union messages and other opposition. The JFK8 union remains the only Amazon union, but organizing pushes at a half-dozen other locations continue despite recent setbacks. The workers are pushing for higher compensation for more hazardous work, increased time off, and union representation during disciplinary actions.

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