Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the White House is trying to avert a potential railroad strike that would produce a devastating ripple effect across the nation.
In a preview released Tueday of an interview on NewsNation, Buttigieg talked with Leland Vittert, who asked if the Biden administration would support rail workers if negotiations are unsuccessful and they ultimately strike.
"Our goal right now is to make sure that doesn't happen," Buttigieg said. "And 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. We got through the worst of the days in terms of the shipping backlogs, we've made headway on trucking, but if we don't have a healthy, functioning, strong rail system …"
"Can the American economy deal with it if it happens?" Vittert said.
"It would not be good," Buttigieg said.
"Catastrophic?" Vittert said.
"We don't have enough trucks or barges or ships in this country to make up for the rail network," Buttigieg said.
The sobering analysis from Buttigieg comes as the possibility of a strike rises.
According to The Associated Press, one of the largest rail unions rejected a deal Monday and joined three others that have also rejected contracts and raised the strike risk. Sticking points were issues such as demanding schedules and lack of paid sick time. A strike could start as soon as Dec. 5.
About 40% of the nation's freight is transported by rail each year. In a report issued this year, the railroads estimated that a strike would cost the economy $2 billion per day. If the strike continued for a month, some 700,000 jobs would be lost as manufacturers who rely on railroads shut down and the prices of everything would increase even more, according to a recent report from a chemical industry trade group.
Due to the possibility of serious damage to the economy, Congress is expected to intervene and work out contract terms for railroad workers, according to the AP. The last railroad strike in the U.S. happened in 1992 and it lasted for two days before Congress stepped in.
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