More than 9 in 10 freight railroad workers believe they should go on strike to secure better wages and working conditions, according to a new online survey.
The poll results appear to contradict rail union leaders who have downplayed the possibility of a lockout, which could inflict huge damage on the U.S. economy that is still struggling to overcome supply chain snags.
Railroad Workers United, a grassroots organization representing rank-and-file railroaders, found that 96 percent of the nearly 3,200 rail workers surveyed are prepared to strike once they are legally allowed to on or after Sept. 16.
The vast majority of workers surveyed said they would reject a recent labor agreement proposed by the White House-appointed Presidential Emergency Board.
The board — created by President Biden last month in an effort to end a years-long standoff between railroads and unions — recommended a five-year deal that would cap health care premiums, provide cash bonuses and hike rail worker wages by 24 percent.
That’s less than the 31 percent bump unions requested but more than railroads’ proposed 17 percent increase.
On Monday, three rail unions representing 15,000 workers reached a tentative deal implementing the recommendations. Tuesday’s survey results raise the question of whether workers will approve the deal, and nine other rail unions have not yet announced their own agreements.
“In the interests of all rail stakeholders, now is the time for railroads and their unions to reach a contract,” the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents freight railroads, said in a statement.
Federal law gives Congress the power to halt or delay any railroad walkout, but Congress has not dealt with the issue in three decades. Lawmakers could vote to impose the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations or appoint arbitrators to fast-track a new contract, among various options, if rail workers decide to strike.
Workers have bemoaned that freight railroads are raking in huge profits while failing to raise wages or improve working conditions.
Freight carriers have struggled to keep pace with huge demand for goods after letting go of tens of thousands of workers in recent years. Energy and agricultural interests have warned lawmakers that freight disruptions are driving up prices for consumers, while workers say they’re being forced to work unwieldy hours without adequate breaks.