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Potential railroad strike threatens U.S. supply chain

Unionized railroad workers are threatening to go on strike later this month in a move that could exacerbate ongoing supply chain issues in the U.S.

Of the 12 unions representing railroad workers, two unions—Teamsters and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)—are threatening to strike. The other 10 railroad unions have ratified or are in the process of ratifying agreements to avoid a strike by the end of November.

The Teamsters, which represents 23,900 railroad workers, announced its demands that emphasized the addition of seven paid sick time days for union workers. Teamsters said that their demands are consistent with the federal classification of railroad workers as federal contractors.

“The railroads need to listen to their workers’ needs and interests and show them some respect,” said Peter Kennedy, director of Teamsters’ strategic coordination and research. “It’s time for them to share a very small proportion of their record profits with the railroad workers in the form of paid sick leave.”

Teamsters claimed that their members receive zero paid sick days, though railroad corporations pointed out that the union previously negotiated those terms in exchange for pay raises and flexible scheduling for time off.

Through mail-in ballots, 56% of Teamsters members rejected a previous proposal brokered by the Biden administration, which included a 14.1% pay raise.

BRS, which represents over 10,000 workers, rejected the same proposal by a 60%-40% vote.

Although a majority of members in both unions voted to reject the proposal, the decision applies to all workers in the bargaining unit. All employees must abide by majority rule including if the union votes to strike.

Strikes are known to cause financial stress for employees, tensions between employer and employee, and public criticism and attention.

A strike by unionized railroad workers could also worsen supply chain issues by delaying or lengthening delivery timeframes for oil and gas or other essential goods like construction supplies or car parts.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.