The United States could be facing a rail worker strike as early as next month after four unions reject tentative agreements brokered by the Biden administration, which risks exacerbating supply chain issues and raising costs amid an already fragile economy plagued by inflation.
SMART Trasnportation Division (SMART-TD), America’s largest freight railroad union representing conductors and trainmen, voted 50.87 percent in favor of rejecting a deal that would increase wages by 24 percent over five years, cap health care costs, and grant more sick days among additional payouts. SMART-TD now joins the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) unions who will have until December 9 to reach a deal, afterwhich they can go on strike or be locked out by rail carriers. Congress has the power to intervene and set a contract if one is not reached, which will likely be the case to avoid a industry wide strike.
A statement released by SMART-TD Union President Jeremy Ferguson read that “It’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members. This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”
“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson added, “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the second largest rail union representing engineers, voted 53.5 percent in favor of ratifying the deal along with seven other rail unions. In a statement posted to the union’s website, the BLET stated that “If there is a strike by SMART-TD or any of the other three rail unions that have rejected proposed contracts with the carriers, BLET and the other eight rail unions that have ratified agreements have pledged to lawfully honor their picket lines.” What this essentially means is that its all or nothing.
Rail moves approximately 30 percent of all freight in the US. While a strike is not for certain at this moment, one would have direct impacts on food, fuel, and consumer shipments. For fuel, producers would have to cut back production, which in turn would raise prices.