Nov 23, 2022 - Podcasts

A major rail strike is back on the table

A U.S. rail strike could hit as soon as December, and just about every part of the economy would feel it. An influential railroad worker union this week rejected a deal that President Biden had brokered back in September, making a strike once again look possible. And this time, it comes just as the holidays are upon us.

  • And, student loan borrowers get another extension.
  • Plus, reframing tomorrow as Thankstaking.

Guests: Axios' Emily Peck and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, November 23rd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what’s on the show: student loan borrowers get another extension. Plus, reframing tomorrow as Thankstaking. But first, a major rail strike is back on the table – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: A major U.S. rail strike could hit as soon as December, and just about every part of the economy would feel it. An influential railroad worker union this week rejected a deal that President Biden had brokered back in September making a strike once again look possible. And this time it comes just as the holidays are approaching. Axios’ Emily Peck is here to catch us up quick on this. Hey Emily.

EMILY PECK: Hey Niala.

NIALA: Can you just remind us what the main things these rail workers are asking for? What's the sticking point here?

EMILY: Yeah, it is a bit deja vu all over again. We were talking about this in September. The White House brokered a deal, it was very dramatic. The deal's pretty good in that there's decent pay raises for these 100,000 or so workers. Everyone seems okay with that.The sticking point is paid sick leave. These railroad workers can't take a paid sick day. And that is why they've rejected the deal.

I spoke to someone Tuesday who said, “I want paid sick leave. I'm not agreeing to a deal that doesn't have it and that's just the bottom line. I'm not gonna do it.” And I think that's a lot of the attitude I'm seeing and hearing workers are angry. They worked really hard during the pandemic when things were short staffed, when demand was very high, lots of cargo was moving. They just weren't paid sick time.

NIALA: So what could this mean for American consumers and the economy as we're thinking about approaching the busy holiday season?

EMILY: I mean, it's not a great time of year to be worried about this kind of thing, right? The one thing I can say to reassure people is that, as one member of the Retail Trade Association told me, Christmas will happen. Most retailers now have all their, you know, inventory in stock. So that's not gonna be an issue. But plenty of other stuff is moving on the rails, chemicals that you need to keep water systems clean, coal, packages move on the rails, you know, UPS packages for business and consumers too. So it would be bad if they actually shut down.

NIALA: Can you give us a sense of the economic impact of this in dollars if this were to happen?

EMILY: Yeah, I mean the numbers are kind of huge and hard to kind of grasp in your head, but the trade association that's negotiating for the freight rail companies has put out an estimate that says the impact of a strike could be more than $2 billion a day. And the chemicals trade association says a long strike, maybe like a month, would push the country into recession.

NIALA: Emily, December 9th is an important date for people to know with this strike because that's when it could happen after that. What is President Biden doing to try to prevent that from happening?

EMILY: The previous times I've spoken to the administration about what they're doing, they tell me they're in touch with the parties and they're working on it. They care a lot about this. Biden’s name is attached to this deal. I think everyone's kind of expecting this, some kind of deal to finally go through at some point.

NIALA: Emily Peck is a markets correspondent for Axios. Happy Thanksgiving Emily.

EMILY: You too.

Student loan borrowers get another extension

NIALA: The Biden administration announced yesterday that student loan borrowers will get yet another repayment extension, which could pause payments until as late as fall of 2023…depending on the outcome of litigation around Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.

I asked the Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel why the pause is being extended again.

DANIELLE DOUGLAS-GABRIEL: The Biden administration is contending with several lawsuits seeking to upend Biden's Student Debt Relief program, and there's been a lot of pressure coming from civil rights groups, from lawmakers and debt relief activists about extending the pause even further amid that ongoing litigation. Cause the idea is, having people repay on loans that a portion of which might be forgiven doesn't really make much sense. So if the administration were to extend the pause a little longer in the hopes that the litigation gets resolved, Supreme Court steps in, cause there are so many lawsuits. Then that would be helpful to borrowers as well as the administration. If you think about all the people who are behind the scenes, collecting the payments, applying the payments, every time there's a change or a turn here and there they also have to pivot to meet the demands and needs of the borrowers. So I think the idea here is to try to make sure the system runs smoothly for all the stakeholders, the borrowers, as well as those who are collecting the payments.

NIALA: That’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, higher education reporter with the Washington Post – and we’ll have a conversation with her next week on where things stand with Biden’s plan for student debt forgiveness.

In a moment: the story behind “Thankstaking.”


Reframing tomorrow as Thankstaking

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

There is an alternative name for tomorrow's holiday–and its popularity seems to be growing.

Thankstaking is the Native American-influenced alternative to Thanksgiving…and Axios’ Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras has the story on what it means. Hey Russ!

RUSS CONTRERAS: How's it going?

NIALA: Tell me where this phrase came from?

RUSS: Well, in the past few years, native American activists, scholars, and artists have been using the term Thankstaking to bring attention to a lot of native issues and to deconstruct the myth around Thanksgiving. Thankstaking is a play off Thanksgiving. Instead of giving, you're actually taking. And many Native Americans believe the Thanksgiving myth misrepresents what happened during this feast and afterwards.

Of course, we all know the story: a group of Native Americans, the Wampanoag tribe, helped pilgrims settle. And there was a feast where the settler, the white settlers, were giving thanks for surviving. But after that, there were wars and this particular tribe was moved off land and you saw the introduction of, violence against native tribes across the Americas. So the term thankstaking is sort of an attempt, somewhat humorous attempt to say, “Hey, wait a minute, who's the giving and who is the taking? Let's have a general conversation about this holiday.”

NIALA: And so in that conversation, what kind of recontextualization are Native Americans hoping everyone understands about the holiday?

RUSS: I talked to Comedy Central TV writer Joey Clift. He's a member of the Cowlitz Tribe in Washington. I asked him what Thankstaking meant to him, and here's what he had to say.

JOEY CLIFT: It's just kind of an opportunity to like under, to like underline this nation's commitment to its native people and the importance of you know, remembering that and not erasing us and not just assuming that after the first Thanksgiving we all disappeared like forest ghosts, and we're still here.

RUSS: I think what's happening now with thanks taking at a time, we're having a racial reckoning after George Floyd, Native Americans are coming at at a moment where they're asserting their sovereignty rights around water, criminal justice, political representation, and there's a general mood in Indian country that things can't go on the way they have been for decades.

And so Thankstaking comes at this pivotal moment where tribes are asserting their sovereignty, where Native Americans are demanding voting rights just like everybody else. And because we come at this every year and schools perpetuate this myth about Thanksgiving, Indigenous people are saying, “Hold on, we need to look at the whole picture and you need to listen to us.”

NIALA: Then I imagine a lot of Native Americans don't like to say Happy Thanksgiving?

RUSS: Some do. Some do say Happy Thanksgiving. A lot of people say Happy Thankstaking as an irony. And let's be clear, a lot of digital people I spoke to still do a feast around the holiday, but they do it as a gathering of friends, and they don't necessarily say that we are reenacting this myth.

A lot of 'em say they get asked that question while they're eating Turkey and they look and say, what do you think I'm doing while they're eating stuffing and mashed potatoes? And then they tell everybody Happy Thankstaking as they walk out the door. A lot of people laugh and some people get uncomfortable.

NIALA: Russell Contreras is Axios’ Race and Justice Reporter. Thanks Russ. Happy Thankstaking.

RUSS: Happy Thankstaking Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! We won’t be bringing you the news tomorrow because of the holiday BUT we’ll have a special short podcast with some of your voices…and some of our team here at Axios as well – with what we’re all thankful for this year. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing stories – we read and listen to every last one.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - and have a wonderful holiday.

“The Revolution with Steve Kornacki” is MSNBC’s newest, original podcast. The six-part series recounts the origin story of partisan politics as we know it today – exploring the catalysts of the 1994 Republican take-over of Congress, including the influence of Newt Gingrich, that changed both political parties forever. Search for “The Revolution with Steve Kornacki” to follow and listen to the series."

Go deeper