(The Center Square) – Railroad workers from across the country are threatening a strike if their demands for higher wages are not met. Illinois lawmakers are picking sides.
Rail Workers United, a group supporting railroad workers in various unions from all across the country, said workers have not received pay raises in over three years.
“Without a better contract for all railroad crafts, service will continue to suffer as rail carriers extract wealth and buy back their shares at the expense of the economy as a whole,” the group said.
Now the union is threatening a strike.
“I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators,” President Joe Biden said in a statement this week. “The deal provides a historic 24% pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs.”
Illinois state Rep. Michael Halpin, D-Rock Island, on the House floor Tuesday announced his support for the workers.
“The [Biden] administration wants Congress to step in and prevent these workers from exercising their right to strike,” Halpin said. “Frankly, I am truly disturbed and frustrated with this news.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about the strike as Illinois is a major hub for all Class 1 railroads. He is siding with Biden in urging Congress to intervene.
“Railroads are extremely important, especially right now because we are having trouble with barges on the Mississippi [River],” Pritzker said. “We have got to do something. We can not have a situation in which the supply chain is cut off because there is a mass railroad strike.”
Halpin said that is exactly what a strike is meant to accomplish.
“Strikes are unpleasant, they are disruptive, and they cause friction, and that is exactly the point,” Halpin said. “Strikes demonstrate the economic power of workers’ labor by withholding it.”
Business groups from across the country have urged Congress to intervene.
If an agreement is not reached, a strike could happen as early as Dec. 9.