Oct 27, 2022 - Economy

White House under pressure on rail agreement

Illustration of a train with freight cars made of hundred dollar bills.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

More than 300 trade organizations, increasingly anxious about the possibility of a rail worker strike, urged the White House in a letter Thursday to push harder to avert that disaster.

What they're saying: "We can’t overstate how vital it is for retail supply chains, consumers, and the economy — particularly ahead of the holiday shopping season — to avoid a strike here," Caroline Niery, a communications director at the Retail Industry Leader Association, one of the signatories, tells Axios.

Between the lines: The White House busted its tail to get a deal brokered at the 11th hour between the nation's freight rail companies and their unions.

  • But the rank and file members — the workers on the ground — need to ratify that deal, and the process isn't going well.
  • This week the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) declined to ratify the Biden-brokered contract, making it the second of 12 unions to vote no.

The impact: If more unions follow suit, a strike could happen, warns the letter.

  • It was signed by a wide range of groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and an alphabet soup of business trade groups, including folks who represent farmers, manufacturers, meat importers, truckers, the beer industry, chemical makers and more.
  • "Because the White House played such a central role in the process, we believe it can be helpful in continuing to move the process forward in a positive direction," they write.
  • "Otherwise, Congress will be called upon to act."

The other side: "The administration is in contact with the parties, as we always are," White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson told Axios Thursday afternoon.

  • "We stand ready to help, but we also remain clear that a shutdown is completely unacceptable.”
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