White House defends Biden on unions amid push for rail deal rejected by workers

Karine Jean-Pierre
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik/AP

White House defends Biden on unions amid push for rail deal rejected by workers

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The White House defended President Joe Biden’s decision to push for a rail deal in Congress that rank-and-file union workers have opposed.

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.

But warning that a shutdown would have catastrophic economic repercussions, Biden has urged senators to move quickly to get a bill to his desk as soon as possible.

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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.”

Biden, who has called himself the most pro-union president in history, has come under fire for his efforts to halt the labor strike on terms several of the unions have rejected.

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.”

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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.

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