While eight of the twelve labor unions that make up the freight industry have accepted a new agreement with railroad companies, four rejected it. Talks between railway workers and their employers appear to have stalled, making the threat of a strike at the Dec. 9 deadline all the more likely. 

The lack of paid sick leave in the contracts is a sticking point for the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

However, President Biden called on Congress to impose the current agreement on the remaining unions, because if they don't, all 12 unions are obliged to go on strike rather than "cross the picket line."

“As a proud pro-labor president, I am reluctant to override” the union votes, Biden wrote in a statement. But “in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

The current contract calls for a 24% pay increase over five years, retroactively starting in Jan. 2020, $5,000 in bonuses, voluntary assigned days off, one additional paid day off, guaranteed time away for medical visits and no disruptions to current health care plans. However it lacks a guarantee for paid sick leave.

“Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down," Biden says. "My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans – many union workers themselves – could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”