House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Monday suggested that Congress would move to stop a rail strike “if needed,” as the possibility of a walkout of freight rail workers remains possible.
Up to 15,000 rail workers could go on strike as soon as this week if union leaders are unable to agree on a new contract with railroads, which would shutter operations throughout a major national rail network that moves one-fifth of all grain shipments. The strike, if it occurs, would have a significant effect on the U.S. economy, throwing the supply chain off balance and driving up the price of bread and other goods.
The rail workers can strike on Friday, when a cooling-off period expires.
Congress does, however, have the ability to step in and block the strike — which Hoyer says is a possibility.
“There is a role for Congress if in fact they fail to reach an agreement,” Hoyer told Bloomberg.
“Obviously a railroad strike at this point in time would be extraordinary detrimental to our economy and the American people. And we want to avoid that. The president has certain authorities that he can exercise. The Congress can also pass legislation. We are very focused on this and we want to avoid a crippling railroad strike,” he added.
The majority leader said he is “hopeful” that the remaining unions can reach an agreement, but noted that Congress “can pass legislation as well if needed.”
“But we want to avoid a railroad strike. We want to resolve these differences,” he added.
Ten of the 12 unions have struck deals on a contract, according to Bloomberg. The remaining two — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers — make up 90,000 employees.
The potential strike has been top of mind for some Biden administration officials. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was scheduled to travel to Ireland on Monday, but put off the trip to stay in the U.S. and assist with the situation, according to Politico Pro.
“The parties continue to negotiate, and last night Secretary Walsh again engaged to push the parties to reach a resolution that averts any shutdown of our rail system,” a Labor Department spokesperson told the outlet on Sunday. “This followed on dozens of calls from the President’s Cabinet and top Administration officials, and months of Administration efforts.”
Amtrak is already making plans for the possible walkout — the company on Monday said it is implementing “phased adjustments” to prepare for the possible “interruption.”
“Amtrak is closely monitoring the ongoing freight rail -- rail labor contract negotiations. The negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce. While we are hopeful that parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun phased adjustments to our service in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption later this week,” Amtrak said in a statement, according to CNN.