As the Biden administration worked to prevent a catastrophic rail unions strike over the summer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg went on vacation and phoned-in to negotiations from 3,500 miles away in Europe, Fox News has confirmed.
“The secretary took a long-planned personal trip from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5,” a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told Fox News. “As usual, while traveling on personal time he remained available and engaged on urgent issues, which in this case meant multiple calls with staff and stakeholders to work on the topic of rail labor negotiations.”
The previously undisclosed trip was first revealed by the Washington Free Beacon, which reported that Buttigieg set off to Porto, Portugal, just one week before Amtrak began canceling long-distance trains ahead of the looming strike. He was working remotely while the Biden administration engaged in tense negotiations to reach a deal that would prevent widespread supply chain disruptions just before Christmas, the department said.
Rail industry representatives had warned that a threatened strike by transportation unions could have caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the economy. Lawmakers worked to codify a deal negotiated by rail unions and the Biden administration that raised workers pay by 24% over a five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification.
The agreement ultimately passed by Congress was approved by eight of 12 transportation unions involved in negotiations. The four dissenting unions, representing about 100,000 rail workers, said the deal was unfair because it included insufficient paid-sick leave time. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed and opposed the deal, including progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and even conservatives like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
Buttigieg had called the agreement “vitally important” and urged Congress to adopt it.
Hawley and Rubio each ripped the secretary over reports of his vacation.
“Nice that Mayor Pete had time to vacation in Europe while forcing rail workers to go without sick days,” Hawley tweeted on news of Buttigieg’s vacation.
“Rail workers just wanted a few days of paid sick leave. President Biden told them to pound sand and his Transportation Secretary vacationed in wine country,” Rubio said on Twitter. “Democrats are no longer the party of the working class.”
But transportation officials insist that Buttiegieg was heavily involved in negotiations to prevent the strike.
“Overall, the secretary’s work toward helping successfully prevent a rail shutdown included dozens of calls and meetings between April and December,” the DOT spokesperson said.
The DOT spokesperson did not say what the reason for Buttigieg’s trip was and did not answer a question about why the trip wasn’t publicly announced at the time. The secretary flew commercial.