WASHINGTON — In an early move pushing against her party’s leaders, Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola said Tuesday she is currently unwilling to support the Biden administration’s attempts to block a freight rail strike set to begin Dec. 9.
The Biden administration helped negotiate a tentative agreement between rail workers and management to prevent a strike. The deal includes a pay raise and health care benefits. Though eight of 12 unions involved in negotiations have ratified the deal, the four representing the most workers are continuing to push for concessions from rail companies, including paid sick leave.
To avert a potential strike, President Joe Biden has implored Congress to impose the the tentative agreement using the Railway Labor Act of 1926. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will deliver the necessary votes in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Peltola, who ran a “pro-union” campaign with support from labor groups including the Alaska AFL-CIO, told “Meet the Press Now” on Tuesday that she is currently a “no” vote on blocking the strike.
“I am very concerned that the negotiation concluded without getting where we needed to be in terms of sick leave. I think not having sick leave and not being able to go to a doctor or get care is an untenable situation,” Peltola said.
“I just don’t think it’s right or fair to expect workers to go to work sick as a dog without having a few days to recover,” she said.
Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the rail strike.
In a Monday letter, 400 business groups urged Congress to avert the strike, saying that it would be “extremely damaging.” The rail shutdown could cost an estimated $2 billion in lost economic output per day, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Asked about the potential economic losses on “Meet the Press,” Peltola responded, “I think it could also cause catastrophic damage to the nation’s economy if we are expecting a whole sector of employees to work sick.”
“I think making sure that freight workers have their immunity built up and can be a healthy workforce, I think that that’s critical to the economy as well,” she said.
To earn her vote to support blocking the strike, Peltola said she would need assurance that rail workers could take paid sick leave without threats of being fired.
“The rail industry must put the quality of life of their employees over profits. I stand with rail workers,” Tlaib said on Twitter.
Earlier in the day, Peltola spokesman Josh Wilson said that the representative was in communication with Alaska unions to “hear their concerns firsthand” and inform her vote.
The potential strike isn’t expected to impact operations at the Alaska Railroad. But Christy Terry, director of external affairs for the Alaska Railroad, noted that if there is a strike in the Lower 48, there could be disruptions to rail cars that interchange between Alaska and Washington state, which carry commercial goods and could impact mining and oil projects in the state.
Though Peltola is currently breaking with Biden on the rail strike, during her interview with “Meet the Press,” she expressed her support for the president, calling him “a great leader.”
Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time reporter for the ADN based in Washington, D.C. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.
If you would like to make a personal, tax-deductible contribution to her position, you can make a one-time donation or a recurring monthly donation via adn.com/RFA. You can also donate by check, payable to “The GroundTruth Project.” Send it to Report for America/Anchorage Daily News, c/o The GroundTruth Project, 10 Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135. Please put Anchorage Daily News/Report for America in the check memo line.