(NewsNation) — President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to help stop a railroad strike before next month’s deadline to “avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.”
“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy. Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down. My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans – many union workers themselves – could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”President Joe Biden said in a statement
More than 400 groups have also called on Congress to take “immediate steps” to stop the strike that could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments and cost the economy as much as $2 billion per day, Reuters reports.
The urgency comes as rail workers in four unions have rejected a proposed contract. The major sticking points are paid sick leave and more flexible scheduling, NewsNation affiliate The Hill reports. Eight unions agreed to the conditions. Negotiators have until Dec. 9 to come to an agreement.
Congress has the authority to block a strike and push through the tentative agreement reached in September, which would bring the average rail worker compensation to $160,000 including benefits.
Yet union leaders say the “railroads are refusing to meet workers’ demands because they know Congress would likely intervene to block a strike,” The Hill reports, sapping the workers’ leverage at the bargaining table.
Several groups — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, American Petroleum Institute, National Restaurant Association, American Trucking Associations and American Farm Bureau Federation — are arguing the cost of a stoppage to the rail system would be catastrophic to an economy already battered by inflation, layoffs and supply chain woes.
They say it could affect every major economic sector, including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, health care and retail, and could disrupt as many as 7 million Americans’ commutes.
Tech companies have already begun rerouting critical chip supplies to trucking routes in anticipation, CNBC reports.
It is unlikely stoppages would have an impact on holiday shopping, as much of those goods are already in warehouses. Still, delays could be felt throughout the supply chain long into 2023.
The public has said they want to avoid a rail strike, with 71% saying it’s “very important,” according to a poll commissioned by the Association of American Railroads.