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The members of the largest rail union in the U.S. representing rail conductors have rejected a tentative agreement with rail executives according to a release from the union on Monday. Only weeks after a contentious 2022 midterm election and right before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the United States is staring down the proverbial barrel of a full-blown railroad strike, the first since 1992.

Out of all twelve railroad unions, eight have voted in favor of their new contracts which caught national attention in September due to the threat of a strike going into the midterm elections, however, four of the unions failed to ratify the agreements. The four unions have voted to stay on the job until at least the beginning of December while negotiations are held in a last-ditch effort to prevent a catastrophic strike.

If even a single union of the four fails to meet an agreement with management — all twelve will honor the strike according to CNN Business.

This amounts to a complete and total shutdown of American rail transport.

The two unions that have released the results of their ratification vote Monday are a division of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation union (SMART-TD) representing 28,000 conductors and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) with 24,000 engineers CNN reports. These unions make up the two-man crews that man most trains.

The tentative deal that both unions rejected was only reached after an intensive 20-hour negotiation that involved the Biden administration’s Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

An estimate from the Association of American Railroads at that time revealed that a rail strike would cost the American economy an estimated $2 billion per day according to The Western Journal citing CNN.

After an Executive Order from Biden offered the recommended deal from the Presidential Emergency Board formed in July, Biden told the press when the agreement was signed,

“It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years,” he said adding, “These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned.”

The unions that failed to ratify the deal disagree.

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And their main issue is clear: paid sick leave. Jerry Glass, a 35-year veteran of labor negotiations said that the unions had negotiated away paid sick leave to expand other benefits according to dcjournal. Biden’s Emergency Board agreed with the rail lines that paid leave shouldn’t be included in a new contract.

“We understand the concerns voiced by the organizations as to the circumstances that led to this proposal (and several others made in this proceeding). We are simply not in agreement that this sick leave proposal is otherwise warranted or is the appropriate way to address the concerns,” they told rail workers.

Paid sick leave is not “warranted,” they said.

Jonathan Gold, National Retail Federation vice president of Supply Chain and Customs Policy told a roundtable on the rail labor dispute hosted by dcjournal’s InsideSources,


“If you’re not able to get your goods, either finished goods or inputs to production, you could have factories shutting down and farmers that are going to lose out on selling products overseas.”

He added, “You’re going to have families that could be put in danger because they can’t get chlorine to put into clean drinking water systems, so, this is going to be a significant impact across the country.”

Former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood warned that a deal must be reached. “Every nightmare that every citizen in this country went through and had related to COVID and supply chain will come back to haunt us again. That will impact everyone all over again.”