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Will a Rail Strike be the “Black Swan” of the 2022 Midterm Election?

Will a Rail Strike be the “Black Swan” of the 2022 Midterm Election?

Biden administration takes a break from Trump-Rage to negotiate with the union.

Last July, I noted that a looming rail strike that could see over 100,000 railroad employees walk could severely stress the strained supply chain.

Should a strike occur, there are some supply chain statistics to keep in mind. About 1/3rd of American exports are transported to rail. Freight rail is part of an integrated network of trains, trucks and barges that ships around 61 tons of goods per American every year. Many of those goods include essentials, like energy and food.

As of July 12, over 99% of union workers have voted to authorize a strike.

The Biden administration demonstrated its typical level of competence and effectiveness in dealing with this crisis. Which is to say, a rail strike is now poised to be a “black swan” event ready to lay an egg during the upcoming midterm election.

A potential nationwide freight rail strike is looming, threatening to cripple the U.S. economy ahead of the holiday shopping season and November’s midterm elections.

Roughly 115,000 rail workers could walk off the job as soon as Sept. 16 if they cannot agree to a new contract with railroads.

That’s the first day workers could legally strike after a White House-appointed panel released collective bargaining recommendations aimed at ending years of contentious negotiations.

Five of the 13 unions representing rail workers have reached tentative agreements with railroads to enact the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) recommendations, which call for 24 percent pay raises, back pay and cash bonuses.

But the bulk of railroad workers belong to unions that haven’t yet agreed to a deal. It’s also unclear whether workers would vote to ratify PEB recommendations that don’t address their concerns about punishing hours and rigid schedules that make it difficult to take time off for any reason.

The administration is taking a break from Trump-Rage, as Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is meeting with the National Mediation Board to resolve the situation.

The involvement of the NMB and now Walsh himself indicates how seriously the Biden administration is taking the threat of a railroad strike, which could come as soon as next week. It’s also a sign that contract negotiations between the employers and the organizations that represent their roughly 150,000 workers are not going as well as the White House may have hoped.

Negotiators will meet again with the NMB Thursday and Friday in hopes of reaching a tentative agreement before Sept. 16, when a so-called cooling-off period will end and unionized workers will have the option of walking off the job.

…If the parties cannot find common ground, Congress will have the option of mandating railroad employees to return to work. Some unions believe employers are holding out for lawmakers to do so.

Even if negotiators can reach tentative agreements for all 13 unions by Friday, they would still need to be ratified by the unions’ respective members — a process that could take weeks and likely surpass the Sept. 16 cut-off. A strike at that point would be unlikely unless members vote the tentative agreements down.


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In fairness the rail workers are looking at an offer of a 24% pay hike which seems to indicate significant under payment at present. Perhaps paying these folks what they are worth and stop treating them as disposable cogs would be wise.

    healthguyfsu in reply to CommoChief. | September 9, 2022 at 11:33 pm

    Don’t like anything within the modern landscape of obsolete and self-interested unions, but if it takes them to remind those with a short memory AGAIN how bad those in power are at their jobs then so be it.

    Olinser in reply to CommoChief. | September 10, 2022 at 1:21 am

    Or they’re just being typical public sector union parasites and effectively trying to blackmail the government by demanding ridiculous raises with a threat of crashing the economy.

    The plant I work at is union. I have absolutely ZERO respect for them. They fight tooth and nail to try and keep the absolute worst employees (some of them that even the other UNION EMPLOYEES don’t want to work with), and because they have a set pay scale, actual top performers can’t get raises even if they produce twice the numbers of other operators on the same machine on different shifts. Their only option if they want to get paid more is to quit and get a different job.

    A 24% raise is insane. AND THEY’RE TURNING IT DOWN because they think they have leverage.

    Just like the baker’s union a couple years back that tried to demand higher wages because they thought that they had leverage over the company, and the company instead declared bankruptcy and fired them all.

    The union does what is best for THE UNION, which is NOT the same thing as what is best for the actual workers.

      CommoChief in reply to Olinser. | September 10, 2022 at 10:01 am

      By and large I don’t really see a need for unions in the 21st century. The original purposes and goals have long since been achieved; wage and hour laws, child worker restrictions, workplace safety regulations, retirement plans, unemployment insurance and so on.

      What remains is basically a grift for union bosses and free cash flow to d/prog causes attached to collective bargaining. Personally, I don’t believe anyone should be forced to be a member in order to be employed. The members, their leadership and some large employers oppose even a middle ground of union presence and collective bargaining with the members on one hand with individual salary negotiations for non members in parallel.

      That said when a 24% raise is on the table that indicates, at a minimum, that the employer recognizes they have been under paying their workforce and need to increase compensation to retain them. Market conditions drive wage rates and if those conditions were conducive to keep compensation levels steady they wouldn’t offer it.

      These workers do have some leverage and they are using it. What’s wrong with people getting paid what the market says they are worth?

        healthguyfsu in reply to CommoChief. | September 10, 2022 at 7:55 pm

        They should just hire some mullahs from Iran to lead their negotiations. Save money by disbanding the union and get whatever they want from this government while scoring some woke points in the same deft stroke.

      Mt. Fuji in reply to Olinser. | September 10, 2022 at 10:45 am

      My experience with unions as a civil service employee (on the way to early retirement) is that they are in bed with management 99% of the time. They are corrupt, vile and lazy. They will fight to keep the bad actors employed or even worse defend those bad actors and actually help them move up into management positions. The union reps in your workplace will tell you one thing to your face, and then say something totally different via email and actually sabotage your case. I have fought with the AF for YEARS about the bad habit of disability discrimination in management, and the union helped me out 5% of the time.
      Now, about the railroad strike, I think it is about how the employees are ran into the ground by poor management, and the kicker is the thought of single man crews. Single man crews on trains is about the stupidest idea EVER, and it shows the managerial disdain for the employees AND public safety. It boils down to greed and making sure the shareholders are well taken care of no matter what the cost to everyone else.

No worries, it is all Trump’s fault, and the DOJ has the emails and documents to prove it. And Russia!

Subotai Bahadur | September 9, 2022 at 7:17 pm

If Biden and the Democrats are involved in the negotiations [and note that I am not on the side of the railroads in this due to the changes they have made to schedules and working hours, the same changes that have been tried and failed before], we can guaranteed that this will be as screwed up as a cross-threaded, left-handed, football bat. Probably will not be running again till after the putative elections. In fact, the strike may be the basis for them cancelling or “delaying” the elections because of the “national emergency”.

Subotai Bahadur

    Sounds like the John Doe persecution in Wisconsin on Walker supporters now nationalized.
    Is there a good, defensible reading why the Republican office holders don’t speak up about this and other abuses like the Jan 6 political persecution? “Participatory democracy” is all good when it is Hillary Clinton or Antifa or BLM saying it and burning down the cities, but Joe Smith who walks into the capital building when a police officer opens the door and lets them in gets a federal case thrown at them.

      Subotai Bahadur in reply to MDP. | September 9, 2022 at 11:06 pm

      Could it be that the Republican officeholders are more afraid of the Left than they are dedicated to the Constitution? Just tossing it out there.

      Subotai Bahadur

        Considering their past corruption and greed, they’re likely scared of being exposed. (No GOP politican is more vulnerable to extortion than McConnell.)

        The GOP establishment is about as dedicated to the Constitution as Biden, Pelosi, Obama and Clinton are. It’s all about their $$$$$$$$$$.

      The Gentle Grizzly in reply to MDP. | September 10, 2022 at 8:21 am

      Is there a good, defensible reading why the Republican office holders don’t speak up about this and other abuses like the Jan 6 political persecution?

      Because they lack balls? Because each of them have been shown their dossiers by the Fibbies and so are saying nothing? That they are no better than the Fibbies?

    Why did someone down vote this, is it not true?

      Another Voice in reply to MDP. | September 9, 2022 at 10:05 pm

      Obviously someone who fails to state an opposition position yet gets satisfaction signing in to negate the up votes. Even Geologist can’t get away with a bit of Snark!

      healthguyfsu in reply to MDP. | September 9, 2022 at 11:35 pm

      We have a pile of useful leftists that run around the side down-ticking. Just enjoy that you are getting under the skin of Fatty and his cohort of banned minions.

I have a friend that makes 6 figures as a conductor. He is low in the seniority and gets bumped around between Waycross GA, Savannah GA, and Jacksonville FL. He live a half hour to one location and a hour and a half to the other two. He makes great money for only having a high school education. He is against the strike as he is struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. He has 6 kids where he drives a GMC 3/4 ton 9 passenger van and his wife drives the big Suburban. Kids are expensive on a few different levels.

    healthguyfsu in reply to Tsquared79. | September 10, 2022 at 7:57 pm

    All of those places are relatively low cost of living and 6 figures with no student loan debt is a winning situation for having kids.

    Does his wife not work? I’m confused how he lives paycheck to paycheck otherwise.

Coal is moved by rail. There’s a coal-fired electric plant in Centralia, WA. The empties are sent back east through the rail line passing through Skykomish – I watch that on the YT Railfan channel sometimes. Staggering the number of cars and amount of coal those plants burn. I don’t know whether the coal deliveries are “just in time” inventory or Centralia has a stockpile. Long term, a rail strike would affect the grid.

Morning Sunshine | September 9, 2022 at 10:29 pm

It’s also unclear whether workers would vote to ratify PEB recommendations that don’t address their concerns about punishing hours and rigid schedules that make it difficult to take time off for any reason.


sounds like the same issues with GOOD teachers – you cannot pay them enough to deal with the crap from parents, school boards, and administrations. So instead of dealing with the crap, the PTB whine about teachers not getting paid enough; and we loose good teachers.

    Yep. It’s not about the pay, but the myriad other issues. Of course, the unions always seem to want better pay rather than addressing the issues with the profession.

      LibraryGryffon in reply to Dathurtz. | September 10, 2022 at 10:56 am

      I’m guessing because they can’t get a dues hike on non-financial benefits.

      These days, choosing the most cynical option seems the best bet.

This will reek of collusion.

Don’t be fooled. Railroad workers make bank. My father was a Conductor for 20yrs and pulled in fantastic money for the work. Just more of Brandon’s beloved Unions using their fellow travelers much like the teachers unions to extort massive pay raises.
Total win for Brandon. If the Union extorsion works Brandon can crow about how awesome he is. If they go on strike he can go all Dark Brandon and have another Red Speech to show what a stud he is.

    healthguyfsu in reply to diver64. | September 10, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    Don’t think Dark Brandon will play that well if he goes that route while Americans suffer from a supply chain and energy crisis. Also, I don’t think crowing “his awesomeness” about just keeping things going as they are with high inflation and supply strains will really give him much, if any, traction.

    I think you may be too pessimistic…or optimistic depending on what team you play for.

If you’re not familiar with the way these strikes work. The government will force them back just like they have done since WWII.

“Black Swan” means unexpected, unusual, and unpredictable, not merely disruptive. These are swan, swan events: common, predictable, only difficult because reality has an attitude. Indeed, they are pet swan events, captured and kept by the Brandons, now acting surprised that swans act like swans.

OwenKellogg-Engineer | September 11, 2022 at 8:36 am

Hmmm, a rail strike just before winter and coal won’t be able to be delivered to power plants…..

In all fairness, they haven’t had a Contract since 2019. So, 24% over 8 years? Seems pretty poor considering inflation. Carriers said “Labor does not contribute to profits.” Does that sound like a wise tactic?