Biden says his administration is engaged in negotiations to avert a rail strike

By Nandita Bose

NANTUCKET, Mass. (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Thursday that his administration was involved in negotiations to avert a looming U.S. rail strike that could shut down supply chains across the country, but added that he has not been directly involved in the matter yet.

Speaking to reporters outside a fire station on Nantucket Island, Mass., during a visit over the Thanksgiving holiday, Biden declined to provide details on how the talks went because it was “in the middle of negotiations.”

“My team has been in contact with all the parties and in (a) room with the parties, and I have not been directly engaged yet because they are still talking,” Biden said.

More than 300 groups, including the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, called on Biden last month to get involved to help avoid a strike that could idle food and fuel shipments and cause billions of dollars in damage on an already struggling national economy.

Earlier this week, several of these groups renewed calls for Biden and Congress to act quickly to prevent a strike or employer lockout ahead of the holiday season.

A halt in rail traffic could freeze nearly 30% of U.S. freight shipments by weight, fuel inflation and cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion a day by triggering a cascade of transportation problems affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.

On Monday, workers at the largest U.S. railroad union voted against a tentative contract agreement reached in September, raising the possibility of a strike by the end of the year.

Unions have criticized the railways’ sick leave and attendance policy and the lack of paid sick days for short-term illness. There are no paid sick days under the provisional agreement. Unions asked for 15 paid sick days, and the railroads settled on a personal day.

The Biden administration helped avert a service disruption by hosting last-minute contract negotiations in September that led to the tentative contract agreement.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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