President Biden claimed Thursday that a tentative deal to avoid a major railway strike means that grocery prices won’t go any higher after increasing an eye-watering 13.5% over the past 12 months.
“Mr. President, grocery prices are up over 13%, what do you tell struggling Americans?” a reporter shouted at Biden during a Rose Garden event celebrating the agreement.
“Rail’s moving and it’s not going to go up,” Biden called back in response.
Although averting a shutdown of railways prevents a major transportation disruption, it’s unclear how the labor deal would halt broader food price increases.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Tuesday that at-home food prices increased 0.7% from July to August — for a 12-month increase of 13.5%, as overall annual inflation remained high at 8.3%.
The railway labor arrangement awards better pay and benefits to workers who transport goods, which could potentially increase consumer prices. The deal has yet to be approved by rank-and-file union members.
Biden announced the deal early Thursday after a 20-hour overnight negotiation session at the Labor Department.
“This agreement is a big win for America,” Biden said. “This is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers and for their dignity and the dignity of their work.”
The president went on, “This is a great deal from both sides, in my view. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies.”
The pact calls for rail workers to get a 24% raise over five years and caps the cost of worker health care expenses. Workers had also demanded sick days and reportedly will receive an additional paid day off per year.
Biden took the victory lap after calling into Labor Department-led negotiations around 9 p.m. Wednesday to say that a railway shutdown was “unacceptable,” according to a White House official.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh led the marathon talks and called the White House around 2 a.m. to report that a tentative deal had been reached, the official said. Biden didn’t participate in that early-morning call.
The president hastily added two events to the White House schedule on Thursday morning — including a brief Oval Office meet-and-greet with negotiators. The president entertained his guests by telling a version of his famous “Joey, baby!” story to underscore his love of Amtrak, even though fact-checkers have debunked the tale.
Rose Garden guests who had participated in the overnight talks told reporters they hadn’t slept and were pleasantly surprised to get an invite to the White House.