Railroad Workers Union Rejects Contract, Major Strike Again Looms

A major union of railway workers threw cold water on the Biden administration-supported contract that would have averted a potentially crippling national railroad strike.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters (BMWED) said no on Monday to the deal, reigniting fears of a strike that could deepen supply chain problems and strengthen record-high inflation.

Much of the controversy with the rank and file centers on a lack of paid sick leave days, according to union President Tony Cardell. The ongoing dispute focused largely on working conditions and employee pay.

The renewed anxiety comes less than a month after President Joe Biden celebrated what appeared to be a last-minute deal to avoid such a shutdown. The president announced in a Rose Garden event that the agreement was “a win for tens of thousands of rail workers.”

Even now, however, the threat is delayed until after next month’s pivotal elections due to the cooling-down period.

Negotiations will continue between the freight railroad industry and the 12,000-member BMWED, and the nation’s supplies will stay on the rails until at least after the election. However, the danger to U.S. consumers is clear just before the holiday shopping season.

Rail workers continue to express their frustrations over what they call strenuous and sometimes inhumane working conditions.

And even though only one union thus far rejected the proposed contract, the effects would still be crippling as the other unions will not cross a picket line.

Also, the two largest rail unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division, are scheduled to conclude voting by the middle of next month. The pair represent nearly half of all rail workers.

For American consumers, the threat is real. Already stretched supply chains leading to empty shelves and much-delayed deliveries just before the shopping season would cause havoc for an already reeling economy.

The White House predictably responded on Tuesday by calling the rejection “not unusual.” Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that the Biden administration again stands ready to “assist at any time,” and a single union’s rejection does not signal an “immediate rail shutdown.”