Pete Buttigieg, ‘Amtrak Joe’ Biden Talk Electric Cars at Auto Show While Rail Strike Looms

Pete Buttigieg (Erin Kirkland / Bloomberg via Getty)
Erin Kirkland / Bloomberg via Getty

President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg addressed the Detroit Auto Show Wednesday to boast about their infrastructure policies, even as a massive rail strike looms that could shut down freight and some passenger traffic.

As the Washington Post reported:

Freight railroad companies and unions representing workers have been locked in a dispute over pay and working conditions, and come Friday, the conflict could spill over into a logistical crisis, affecting not only commuters who rely on the railway to get to work but also the nation’s energy supply and drinking water.

While a presidential board has urged a compromise, two of the largest unions — representing 57,000 conductors and engineers — have not agreed to the deal, which could prompt a major strike or the railroads to lock out passenger rail agencies and workers. On Wednesday, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is hosting emergency meetings of the rail carriers and unions to help broker a deal. But disruptions are already being felt. Amtrak said it is canceling all of its long-distance trains starting Thursday and other rail systems are bracing for shutdowns.

The impasse is tied to disagreements between management and labor over sick time and penalties for missing work, a politically challenging stalemate for President Biden, who aims to advocate for union workers but has prioritized untangling the nation’s besieged infrastructure in the covid era.

Biden, who adopted the nickname “Amtrak Joe” due to his penchant for commuting on the (expensive) Amtrak Acela train from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to the Senate in Washington, DC, appeared alongside other Democratic politicians to boost electric vehicles (EVs), which the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” encourages American drivers to purchase.

Joe Biden at Detroit Auto Show (Erin Kirkland / Bloomberg via Getty)

US President Joe Biden speaks during the 2022 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, US, on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Biden toured the show on its preview day, and in remarks later plans to highlight electric-vehicle offerings that he’s hailed as a breakthrough for the US auto sector. Photographer: Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Buttigieg’s presence alongside Biden was touted ahead of the event, though Buttigieg’s portfolio means he is responsible for the nation’s rail network, which last experienced a strike 30 years ago, during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

The task of negotiating to avoid a strike is being handled by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the Wall Street Journal noted.

The Detroit News also noted that Buttigieg, formerly the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, might have local political ambitions:

It will be Buttigieg’s third visit to Michigan this year. In July, he visited Grand Rapids to highlight a project at Gerald Ford International Airport and in May he visited the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

Buttigieg and his husband Chasten officially made Michigan their home earlier this year, settling near Traverse City where Chasten grew up. Political analysts say the move could set up Buttigieg to run for statewide office in Michigan.

The announcement also comes the day after the co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, Meshawn Maddock, called Buttigieg — the first openly gay U.S. Cabinet secretary and a former officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve — a “weak little girl.” It drew immediate criticism from state Democrats and several Republicans.


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