The Biden White House is bracing for a large railroad worker strike that could bring massive disruptions to the economy right in the middle of the Christmas season.
The threat worsened Monday after the nation’s largest rail union, SMART-Transportation Division, rejected an agreement with railroads that Biden brokered in September.
Rail strike looms
Three other unions had already turned down the agreement over grievances with sick days and scheduling. A strike could happen as soon as December 9, costing the economy $2 billion a day, railroads estimate.
Congress may intervene under the Railway Labor Act to avert a crippling strike, something that hasn’t occurred since 1992.
SMART Transportation Division president Jeremy Ferguson said the dispute can be settled through “negotiations and without a strike,” saying a settlement is “in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”
But another strike is likely since rail companies have Congress at their back and therefore won’t be pressured to negotiate, Jared Cassity, the alternate national legislative director for SMART-TD, said.
“I’m not optimistic about the railroads’ willingness to negotiate for more,” Cassity said. “I’m hopeful, but really not that optimistic. And there’s really nothing that obligates them to give more at this point.”
Biden in a pinch
A protracted strike would likely worsen inflation, disrupt deliveries of Christmas gifts and essential goods like food, and shut down passenger rail service for many commuters, turning public opinion further against an unpopular president. About 40 percent of the nation’s freight is shipped by rail.
The strike threat puts Biden, a self-described union Democrat, in a tough spot. Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of Railroad Workers United, is calling on Biden to side with the workers.
“Give these people what they want. Period. End of story,” he said. “This is what the Democrats could do, and they could be heroes of working-class people in this country.”
But the White House has called the possibility of an economically disruptive strike “unacceptable.”
“As the President has said from the beginning, a shutdown is unacceptable because of the harm it would inflict on jobs, families, farms, businesses, and communities across the country,” a White House official said Monday.