The national railway strike is increasingly inevitable

The national railway strike is increasingly inevitable
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A nationwide freight railway strike is seen as increasingly inevitable as four railway unions have rejected a tentative deal with the rail companies.

In September, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh brokered a tentative agreement between rail unions and rail carriers while President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were out of town. Union concerns centered on sick leave and schedules, and Walsh’s work appeared to have averted a strike that could have far-reaching consequences for the American economy. However, the deal has fallen apart and time is running out as a December 9 strike looms.

On Monday, members of the SMART Transportation division, the largest rail union involved in September negotiations, voted against the deal, as reported by Ian Kullgren of Bloomberg Law. Three other unions also rejected the proposed deal, while seven unions accepted the terms.

If railroads and unions fail to negotiate a new deal, Congress could “step in and impose contract terms on railroad workers,” as it did during the last railroad strike in 1992, reported the Associated Press. If none of the potential solutions materialize, a strike would take effect early next month. In this scenario, US consumers could face far-reaching economic turbulence, and congressional intervention would become increasingly likely.

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks during an event at the White House Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Jared Cassity, the deputy legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division, noted that he has lowered expectations about railroads’ willingness to bargain more with unions, saying the opportunity for Congress to get involved gives carriers a lever to refuse concessions, according to Kullgren. . Cassity also hinted that the strike seemed inevitable.


A devastating US freight railroad strike is still possible as major unions split the vote. (UPI)

“I’m not optimistic the railroads will negotiate for more,” Cassity said. “I’m hopeful, but really not that optimistic. And there’s really nothing that compels them to give more at this point.

“We are at the end of the Railway Labor Act, and ultimately the end is a lockout or a strike. This is where we are,” he said.

The Associated Press

Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on September 14, 2022 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Echoing Cassity’s sentiments, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pearce said “Congress staying out of it would obviously give [sic] union leverage,” as noted by CNN Business.

The Associated Press

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, Oct. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Biden and his pro-union Democratic colleagues in Congress face a difficult political situation. A prolonged strike would have negative economic effects on Americans, who are already bearing the brunt of sky-high inflation not seen in decades. If Congress steps in, the terms of its legislation could potentially anger the union workers they claim to defend.

On Monday, a White House official said a strike would be “unacceptable”, according to Kullgren:

As the President has said all along, a shutdown is unacceptable because of the damage it would cause to jobs, families, farms, businesses and communities across the country. A majority of unions voted in favor of ratifying the tentative agreement, and the best option remains for the parties to settle this themselves.

Railroads estimated that some $2 billion would bleed from the U.S. economy daily during a strike, as The Associated Press reported:

The railways transport about 40% of national freight each year. The railways felt that a railway strike costs the economy $2 billion a day in a report released earlier this fall. Another recent report by a chemical industry trade group predicted that if a strike drags on for a month, some 700,000 jobs will be lost as railway-dependent manufacturers close, prices of almost everything will rise even further. and the economy could be pushed into a recession.

And although some companies are trying to shift shipments to trucks, there aren’t enough available. The Association of American Railroads trade group estimated that an additional 467,000 trucks a day would be needed to handle everything the railroads deliver.

The ability to transport crucial chemicals, packaged human food, livestock feed and retail goods would be significantly compromised as families prepare for Christmas and Hanukkah.

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