A major railroad union announced Monday that its members voted to reject a tentative labor deal brokered by the Biden administration, which opens the door for a strike as soon as Dec. 9. 

More than 53% of the 28,000 members of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), voted Sunday to reject the terms of a proposal meant to resolve an ongoing contract dispute between the nation's major railroad companies and unions representing their workforce.

SMART-TD, the largest of the unions involved in the talks, and three other unions dissatisfied with the proposed deal are now back to bargaining with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents the railroads. Nine others — including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the second largest — have ratified their agreements.

“This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike," said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. "A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”

A potential strike could cost more than $2 billion per day, according to a report produced by the Association of American Railroads, a rail industry group. U.S. railroads ship around 6,300 million carloads of food and farm products daily, the movement of which could be stifled by a strike, the report said.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), a union consisting of 6,600 members, could be the first to strike, with its cooling off period set to end on Dec. 6. The other three, including SMART-TD, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED) and International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB), will be able to begin striking on Dec. 9. 

AAR and ag industry groups are placing pressure on Congress to avert a potential strike if an agreement is not reached. A release from AAR said the group "remains committed" to negotiating a deal with the unions, but urged Congress to force the holdouts into the terms recommended by the Presidential Emergency Board if the disagreement continues.

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"Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the PEB framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approach," Jeffries said. "Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy.”

More than 190 agricultural groups, including the National Grain and Feed Association, also sent a letter to Congressional leadership on Nov. 3 urging them to prevent a strike.

The groups noted in the letter that low water levels on the Mississippi River are already challenging grain shippers. They said the combination of the barging challenges and a rail strike would be "catastrophic" to the U.S. economy.

"Any additional disruption of rail service would immediately impact the nation’s food and agriculture and broader supply chains," said NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert. "The risk in both domestic and international markets is real. Congress must take bipartisan action to prevent a strike or lockout from occurring.”

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