Pete Buttigieg warns nation doesn’t have enough trucks to handle rail strike

‘We don’t have enough trucks!’ Pete Buttigieg says rail strike – which could see 60,000 workers walk out before the holidays and cost economy up to $2 BILLION a day – is ‘not acceptable’ and must be prevented

  • Buttigieg addressed potential rail strike after unions rejected new contracts
  • ‘A shutdown is a scenario that is not acceptable,’ said Transportation Secretary
  • Unions representing 60,000 workers rejected deal brokered by White House
  • They want more concessions on scheduling and paid sick leave
  • It raises the risk of a strike, which could begin as soon as December 5
  • Rail shutdown would severely disrupt economy and cost $2 billion a day  
  • Congress has the power to end a strike and impose terms on rail workers

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that a potential national rail strike ‘is not acceptable’ after unions representing more than half the country’s freight rail workers rejected new contracts and threatened a walkout in early December.

‘Our goal right now is to make sure that doesn’t happen,’ Buttigieg said of a rail strike in an interview with NewsNation host Leland Vittert, which will air in full on Tuesday night’s episode of On Balance.

‘We’re urging the parties to get to the table and to do whatever it takes to prevent a shutdown. A shutdown is a scenario that is not acceptable,’ added Buttigieg in a preview clip of the interview.

One of the biggest rail unions rejected its deal with management on Monday, joining three others that have failed to approve contracts over concerns about demanding schedules and the lack of paid sick time. 

That raises the risk of a strike, which could start as soon as December 5, and which industry groups estimate would cost the economy $2 billion a day and severely disrupt supply chains for food, raw materials, and retail goods.

'We're urging the parties to get to the table and to do whatever it takes to prevent a shutdown. A shutdown is a scenario that is not acceptable,' Buttigieg said of a potential rail strike

‘We’re urging the parties to get to the table and to do whatever it takes to prevent a shutdown. A shutdown is a scenario that is not acceptable,’ Buttigieg said of a potential rail strike

‘It would not be good,’ said Buttigieg of a potential rail strike. ‘We don’t have enough trucks or barges or ships in this country to make up for the rail network.’  

Industry groups have said that although some businesses would try to shift shipments over to trucks, there aren’t nearly enough of them available. 

The Association of American Railroads trade group estimated that 467,000 additional trucks a day would be needed to handle everything railroads deliver. 

The likelihood of a strike that would paralyze the nation’s rail traffic grew on Monday when the largest of the 12 rail unions, which represents mostly conductors, rejected management’s latest offering that included 24 percent raises and $5,000 in bonuses. 

With four of the 12 unions that represent more than half of the nation’s 115,000 rail workers holding out for a better deal, it might fall to Congress to impose one to protect the US economy.

Those four unions have rejected deals the Biden administration helped broker before the original strike deadline in September. 

The unions agreed to try to hash out a contract before a new December 5 strike deadline. But those talks have deadlocked because the railroads refuse to add paid sick time to what they’ve already offered. 

With four of the 12 unions that represent half of the 115,000 rail workers holding out for a better deal, it might fall to Congress to impose one (file photo)

With four of the 12 unions that represent half of the 115,000 rail workers holding out for a better deal, it might fall to Congress to impose one (file photo)

Biden touted a September deal to avert a strike that his administration helped broker, but four major unions are now deadlocked on the terms as the new strike deadline approaches

Biden touted a September deal to avert a strike that his administration helped broker, but four major unions are now deadlocked on the terms as the new strike deadline approaches

Federal lawmakers have the power to impose contract terms, and hundreds of business groups have urged Congress and President Joe Biden to be ready to intervene.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated to reporters on Monday that Biden believes ‘a shutdown is unacceptable’ but that ‘the best option is still for the parties to resolve this themselves.’

The last time US railroads went on strike was in 1992. That strike lasted two days before Congress intervened. 

An extended rail shutdown has not happened for a century, partly because a law passed in 1926 that governs rail negotiations made it much harder for workers to strike. 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said a rail strike ‘would cause enormous disruption’ although retail stores are well stocked for the crucial holiday shopping season. 

It’s not clear what a strike would mean for packages because FedEx and UPS, which both rely on rail to some degree, haven’t commented in detail.

‘Fortunately, this year’s holiday gifts have already landed on store shelves,’ said Jess Dankert with the group that represents more than 200 major retailers. 

‘We don´t see, you know, canceling Christmas and that kind of narrative,’ Dankert said. ‘But I think we will see the generalized disruption of really anything that moves by rail.’

An extended rail shutdown has not happened for a century, partly because a law passed in 1926 that governs rail negotiations made it much harder for workers to strike

An extended rail shutdown has not happened for a century, partly because a law passed in 1926 that governs rail negotiations made it much harder for workers to strike

Even getting close to the deadline could cause problems because railroads will freeze shipments of dangerous chemicals and perishable goods ahead of time. 

And commuters could be stranded if there is a strike because so many passenger railroads operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads.

Just about every industry could be affected because so many businesses need railroads to deliver their raw materials and completed products, and there aren’t enough trucks to pick up the slack.

Although the potential strike only relates to freight rail workers, roughly half of all commuter rail systems rely at least in part on tracks that are owned by freight railroads, and nearly all of Amtrak´s long-distance trains run over the freight network.

Back in September, Amtrak cancelled all of its long-distance trains days ahead of the strike deadline to ensure passengers wouldn´t be left stranded in remote parts of the country while still en route to their destination.

And major commuter rail services in Chicago, Minneapolis, Maryland and Washington state all warned then that some of their operations would be suspended in the event of a rail strike.

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