Shippers are preparing contingency plans as negotiations between the railroads and railway workers’ unions remain at an impasse.

In support of further discussions, PPAI has joined with hundreds of trade organizations in a letter to the White House encouraging the Biden Administration to continue working with both parties in the dispute to reach a satisfactory resolution.

The Letter

Last week, PPAI, along with 321 local, state and federal trade associations, called on the White House to continue to work with the railroads and railways to ratify the tentative agreement based on recommendations from a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) established in July.

“It is paramount that these contracts now be ratified, as a rail shutdown would have a significant impact on the U.S. economy and lead to further inflationary pressure,” the letter reads. “We continue to urge that the contracts be ratified to provide stability and predictability to the system. Your involvement can only help make that happen and ensure there is no interruption to rail service.”

The Dispute

In September, the Biden Administration helped railway workers unions and railroad operators reach a tentative agreement based on recommendations presented by a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) established by the White House in July. It did not include all of the railway workers’ most pressing demands, however. Remaining concerns include:

  • The lack of sick time
  • Dangerous working conditions
  • Unpredictable hours

The agreement will only be ratified when all 12 of the unions involved in the discussions accept its terms. So far, only six have signed on.

  • In October, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), one of the largest unions involved in the despite, voted to reject the agreement.
  • Last week, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen also voted to scrap the agreement.
  • The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, representing the freight railroads, rejected BMWED’s revisions to the agreement.

Richard Edelman, counsel for BMWED and its chief spokesperson dispute, told CNBC, “The railroads consistently underestimate the frustration and anger of the workers. Workers can’t take it anymore.”


A strike is not necessarily imminent. Both of the unions who rejected the tentative agreement have agreed to retry negotiations. However, one the unions has set a November 19 deadline.

  • The four unions that have not yet approved the deal are expected to do so over the coming month.
  • The engineer and conductor unions, who have not yet voted, have the most concerns regarding quality of life.

If no agreement is reached, the U.S. Congress may step in under the Railway Labor Act. The legislature can impose the recommendations of the PEB or order negotiations to continue while the trains operate as normal.