Members of four of 12 unions rejected the agreement that rail companies and union leaders negotiated with Biden’s help earlier this year. House lawmakers on Wednesday voted to approve a bill that would block the strike. A bill to mandate paid sick leave also passed the House but faces possible obstruction in the Senate.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that while Biden “of course” supports paid sick leave, his priority is to secure a deal, and “he understands there are not 60 votes in the Senate to make that happen.”
“His No. 1 priority is to get this done,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that without it, a strike could have “devastating” economic repercussions.
“This is something that would have a direct effect on those union families,” she said. “It would have a direct effect on communities across the country, it would have an impact on farms, on jobs, on agriculture.”
Jean-Pierre said union and labor leaders agreed that Biden was a “pro-union president,” a label she said he takes seriously. “He is the most pro-union president in history, and he’s worked tirelessly to secure victories for unions and for workers since he was first elected to sent to the Senate,” Jean-Pierre said.
She pushed back against skepticism over the administration’s negotiation efforts and said the president “made it possible for the unions to secure a tentative agreement in September for higher pay.”
“We don’t think anything went wrong,” she added. “We’ve been directly involved, engaged in supporting negotiations and averting a shutdown, and we’ve been doing this for months.”
Biden met with congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday to urge them to move the legislation forward.
Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was in touch with rail unions and companies but its focus was now on legislation to avert the strike.