More than 300 groups urge Biden involvement to avoid rail shutdown

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 300 groups including the National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers on Thursday urged President Joe Biden's involvement to help avoid a potential rail strike that could have significant impacts on the U.S. economy.

On Wednesday, a second union voted against ratifying a national tentative agreement reached in mid-September, raising prospects of a labor disruption later this year.

"There are concerns that others may follow," the groups wrote. "If that were to be the case, we could witness a strike that would shut down the entire freight rail system."

The White House did not comment on the letter but said the "administration is in contact with the parties, as we always are. We stand ready to help, but we also remain clear that a shutdown is completely unacceptable."

Previously six of 12 unions have voted to approve the deal. The unions represent 115,000 workers at railroads including Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern.

The letter, which was also signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, American Petroleum Institute, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and American Farm Bureau Federation, said "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 National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents freight railroads in labor talks, said it was disappointed in the union vote Wednesday rejecting the deal, but both sides have agreed to maintain the status quo until early December.

The rail deal included a 24% wage increase over a five-year period from 2020 through 2024 as well $1,000 lump sum payments in each of the next five years.

A rail shutdown could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, cost the American economy as much as $2 billion per day and unleash a cascade of transport woes affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese)