Business & Lobbying

US voters want to avoid rail shutdown at all costs: poll

FILE – Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. Businesses are increasingly worried about the renewed threat of a railroad strike after two unions rejected their deals, and they want the White House and Congress to be ready to intervene. A coalition of 322 business groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, urging him to make sure the deals he helped broker last month get approved because a railroad strike would have dire consequences for the economy. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik, File)

The vast majority of U.S. voters want to avoid a rail strike that would rattle the nation’s economy, according to a poll commissioned by the Association of American Railroads. 

The survey, conducted by Forbes Tate Partners, found that 92 percent of voters believe it’s “important” for the U.S. to avert a strike, including 71 percent who say it’s “very important.” Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said that a rail strike would worsen inflation. 

Roughly 115,000 freight railroad workers could go on strike as soon as Dec. 9 if labor unions cannot reach a contract agreement with railroads that satisfies workers’ demands for paid sick leave and more flexible scheduling. 

Four of the 12 unions have not ratified a deal, including train and engine workers at SMART-TD’s transportation division who last week narrowly voted down a tentative agreement reached in September with the help of the Biden administration.

Railroads transport nearly one-third of all U.S. freight. A national rail shutdown in early December would wreak havoc on supply chains and halt commuter rail lines in the middle of the busy holiday season. 

The railroad group’s poll found that 72 percent of voters say the tentative agreement is fair when told that it will bring the average rail worker compensation to $160,000 including benefits. 

The same percentage of respondents said that Congress should step in to ensure that rail service isn’t disrupted. Lawmakers have the authority to block a strike and force through the tentative deal.

“Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy,” Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement last week.

Union leaders say that railroads are refusing to meet workers’ demands because they know Congress would likely intervene to block a strike. That’s sapped some of their leverage at the bargaining table.

“The railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement last week. 

The Association of American Railroads poll was conducted Nov. 9-16 among 1,000 registered voters. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

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