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. railroad strike that could shut down supply chains across the country but added that he has not directly engaged on the matter yet.
Speaking to reporters outside a fire station on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, during a Thanksgiving holiday visit, Biden declined to provide details on how the talks were going because it was "the middle of negotiations."
"My team has been in touch with all the parties, and in (a) room with the parties and I have not directly engaged yet because they're still talking," Biden said.
More than 300 groups, including the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, urged Biden last month to get involved to help avoid a strike that could idle shipments of food and fuel while inflicting billions of dollars of damage to an already struggling national economy.
Earlier this week, several of these groups renewed calls for Biden and Congress to swiftly intervene to prevent a strike or employer lockout ahead of the holiday season.
A rail traffic stoppage could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoke inflation and cost the American economy as much as $2 billion per day by unleashing a cascade of transport woes affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.
On Monday, workers at the largest U.S. rail union voted against a tentative contract deal reached in September, raising the possibility of a year-end strike.
Labor unions have criticized the railroads' sick leave and attendance policies and the lack of paid sick days for short-term illness. There are no paid sick days under the tentative deal. Unions asked for 15 paid sick days and the railroads settled on one personal day.
The Biden administration helped avert a service cutoff by hosting last-minute contract talks in September that led to the tentative contract deal.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)