Biden Administration Pressures Unions and Railroads to Avoid Shutdown

The United States Chamber of Commerce building is seen in Washington, DC, U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Sept 12 (Reuters) – The Biden administration urged railroads and unions to reach an agreement to avoid a rail work stoppage, saying on Monday it would represent “an unacceptable outcome” for the U.S. economy that it could cost $2 billion a year. day.

Railroads, including Union Pacific (UNP.N)Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKa.N) BNSF, CSX (CSX.O), and Norfolk Southern, have until a minute after midnight Friday to reach tentative agreements with unions representing some 60,000 workers. Failure to do so opens the door to union strikes, lockouts, and congressional intervention. read more

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will postpone the trip to Ireland to stay on the talks, the department said Monday.

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“The parties continue to negotiate and, last night, Secretary Walsh again committed to pressuring the parties to reach a resolution that would prevent the closure of our rail system,” a Department of Labor spokesman said. “All parties must stay at the table, negotiate in good faith to resolve outstanding issues and reach an agreement.”

The brinkmanship comes at a sensitive time for unions, railroads, carriers, consumers and President Joe Biden, who has appointed an emergency board to help break the impasse.

A White House official told Reuters that Biden has contacted unions and businesses today to try to prevent a strike, as have cabinet officials.

US railroads account for nearly 30% of freight transportation by weight and maintain about 97% of the tracks used by Amtrak for commuter rail. Widespread rail outages could choke food and fuel supplies, create transportation chaos and stoke inflation. read more

Unions, which won big pay raises, are rejecting work rules that would require employees to be on call and available for work most days. Railroads are struggling to rebuild employee ranks after cutting their workforce by nearly 30% in the last six years.

At noon Wednesday, Norfolk Southern will stop accepting intermodal freight — goods that move using combinations of ship, truck and rail transportation. Those shipments include consumer products and e-commerce packages that account for nearly half of US rail traffic.

That could exacerbate existing backups at East Coast seaports and inland hubs, causing cascading delays across the country as farmers prepare for harvest and retailers restock stores for the season. Christmas shopping. Bulk commodities, including food, energy, automotive, and construction products, make up the remainder of US rail shipments.

US industry groups are lobbying Congress to avoid a worst-case scenario.

“Shutting down the nation’s rail service would have enormous national consequences,” the House said Monday, adding that it would lead to perishable food waste, disrupt the delivery of goods and prevent the transportation of heating oil and chemicals.

The Labor Department said there have been dozens of calls from cabinet officials and other top administration officials to help the sides reach a deal.

Late last week, the railroads said they would suspend shipments of hazardous materials like chlorine used to purify drinking water and chemicals used in fertilizers on Monday so they don’t get stranded in unsafe locations if rail traffic stops. . read more

On Sunday, two unions that negotiate contracts said stopping dangerous shipments was designed to give employers leverage before this week’s deadline to secure labor deals. read more

As of Sunday, eight of the 12 unions had reached tentative agreements covering about half of the 115,000 workers, the National Railroad Workers Conference (NRLC) said.

The resistances include the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Train Engineers (BLET).

There has not been a nationwide stoppage of US rail service since 1992, when major freight railroads shut down operations for two days in response to a strike by the International Association of Machinists against CSX, saying a strike against one railway was a strike against all railways.

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Reporting by David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis, and Josie Kao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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