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Threatened Rail Labor Strike Equals Pain for American Consumers and Political Landmines for Democrats

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Americans are hurting right now. Inflation is out of control while news is breaking that our tech sector is preparing for layoffs. Our nation is in a precarious economic position and the last thing we need is for a threatened railroad strike by unions representing tens of thousands of workers to freeze freight deliveries. Covid-19 brought a massive slowdown in the supply chain and Americans don’t want to experience that again.


Yet, right now, a massive strike by unionized railway workers is likely to happen this Friday if a deal is not struck with the help of the Biden Administration and Congress. CNN reported on September 9, 2022, “the looming possibility of a strike by unions representing more than 90,000 workers at the nation’s freight railroads has businesses nationwide worried.”

A worker strike that paralyzes the supply chain would be devastating for the U.S. economy. It might also be devastating for the Democratic Party if voters blame them for not solving this problem so close to a historic midterm election. The Biden Administration has done some good work to move the parties together, yet that work has been stymied by union holdouts. It might be time for the Democrat controlled Congress to step in and grant the parties more time to work out a deal or suffer dire electoral consequences.

President Joe Biden appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) months ago to work out a compromise between the railroads and unions. When you get into the weeds of the negotiations, it appears that eight out of twelve of the labor unions involved in negotiations have signed off on a deal that would keep supply chains open. The offer on the table by the Emergency Board seems to be fair, as reported, it contains an immediate raise and back pay for hours these union workers toiled since 2020. The deal also contains cash bonuses and another pay hike over the next five years. Even with all this, the strike is looming with some unions wanting more.


To be clear, the workers who showed up during the Covid-19 pandemic deserve high praise for keeping our economy open when everybody else was hiding out at home. Their leadership is doing the rank-and-file workers no great favors if they end up on strike with no pay while at the same time the American people blame them for disrupting the supply chain. The efforts of the Administration may be laudable yet have not produced a deal thanks to the lefty Democrats who hold all the cards in Congress. Democrats control both the executive branch and legislative branch of government, yet if the Democratic moderates who are worried about being voted out of office can’t convince the progressives to give the parties more time to cut a deal, the moderates will be the ones to suffer.

Look at the close Senate races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, and New Hampshire to see Democrats running for office who want to avoid being blamed for supply chain problems, because they were unwilling to push back against union leadership. Also, control of the House may be at stake if Democrats fumble this issue. This is a classic battle within the Democratic Party to see if the moderates or the progressives run the party.

The Biden Administration and Congress need to take stronger action to avoid the consequences of a strike. The CNN report indicated that “a prolonged strike could mean empty shelves in stores, temporary closures at factories that don’t have the parts they need to operate, and higher prices due to the limited availability of various consumer goods.” As we get closer to the midterm elections, it seems like political suicide for the Biden Administration not to do everything they can to avoid a strike, because Democrats will experience the political pain of failure.


This is one issue where Congress can help solve a problem. They can pass legislation granting the sides more time to cut a deal. If the progressives make the situation worse by voicing support for holdout unions, thereby sabotaging a deal, then the American people will be clear on who the good guys and bad guys are in this fight. The idea that a handful of union leaders can hold the whole United States economy hostage, while forcing the agreeing members of unions out of work, seems to make no sense. 

Come election day, the supply chain issues may become a wedge issue if the White House and Congress can’t play a productive role in helping to bring together unions and railroad companies to sit back down at the table and negotiate a deal. If not, consumers and moderate Democrats will pay a high price.

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