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Possible Railway Strike Scheduled for December 9th

In September, the Biden administration worked with freight rail companies and the unions representing rail employees to reach a tentative agreement to avoid a strike. At the time, the workers agreed to put off a strike until the 12 unions voted on the agreement. The proposed terms would raise wages by nearly 25% over the five years that began in 2020 (when the last contract expired). If any of the unions decide to strike, the remaining unions will support them. One large union representing engineers voted to approve the agreement. However, a large union of freight rail conductors has voted down a tentative labor contract. So did three other smaller unions. The rail workers voiced their objections to the proposed contract noting that it does not address the "grueling and unpredictable schedules" that impact their personal lives and health. The long stretches of on-call work make it difficult to schedule doctor's appointments and be home for important family events. In response, the companies say the workers can use paid vacation time. But the workers say that, in reality, the employers limit their ability to take paid time off and reject requests for personal days off. A critical problem pointed to by the workers is chronic understaffing; a federal agency estimates that the rail companies employed 30% fewer workers this year than six years ago.

The U.S. transports about 28 percent of its freight via railways, including industrial needs such as coal, lumber, ore, and chemicals. Should an agreement not be reached, industry officials estimate a strike would cost the economy more than $2 billion per day. In addition, the trucking industry could not cover the additional transportation needed, as there is already a shortage of thousands of drivers. The Secretary of Labor said Congress may need to intervene should the workers strike.