Biden administration presses unions, 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 has urged railroads and unions to reach a deal to avoid a rail work stoppage, saying on Monday it would represent “an unacceptable outcome” for the economy which could cost $2 billion a year. daytime.

Railroads, including Union Pacific (UNP.N)Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) BNSF, CSX (CSX.O), and Norfolk Southern, have until one minute after midnight Friday to strike tentative deals with tough unions representing around 60,000 workers. Failure to do so opens the door to union strikes, management lockouts and congressional intervention. Read more

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is postponing his trip to Ireland to stay in talks, the department said Monday.

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“The parties continue to negotiate, and last night Secretary Walsh recommitted to pushing the parties to reach a resolution that avoids any shutdown of our rail system,” a Labor Department spokesperson said. “All parties must stay at the table, negotiate in good faith to resolve outstanding issues and reach an agreement.”

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

A White House official told Reuters that Biden had been in touch today with unions and businesses to try to avoid a strike, as had cabinet officials.

US railroads account for nearly 30% of freight transportation by weight and maintain approximately 97% of the tracks Amtrak uses for commuter rail. Widespread rail disruptions could choke off food and fuel supplies, cause transportation chaos and fuel inflation. Read more

Unions, which won big pay rises, are pushing back on work rules that would require employees to be on call and available for work most days. The railways are struggling to replenish the ranks of employees after cutting their workforce by nearly 30% over the past six years.

At noon on Wednesday, Norfolk Southern will stop accepting intermodal freight: goods that move by combinations of sea, road and rail. These shipments include consumer products and e-commerce packages that make up nearly half of U.S. rail traffic.

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

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

“A shutdown of the national rail service would have enormous national consequences,” the House said on Monday, adding that it would waste perishables, disrupt the delivery of goods and impede the transportation of fuel oil and chemicals.

The Labor Department said there have been dozens of calls from Cabinet officials and other senior administration officials to help the parties reach an agreement.

Late last week, the railroads announced they would halt shipments of hazardous materials such as chlorine used to purify drinking water and chemicals used in fertilizers on Monday so they are not stuck in dangerous places if rail traffic stops. Read more

On Sunday, two contract-negotiating unions said the halt to dangerous shipments was designed to give employers leverage before this week’s deadline to secure labor agreements. Read more

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

Among the participants are the transport division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Officers (BLET).

There has been no nationwide rail service shutdown since 1992, when major freight railways closed for two days in response to an International Machinists Association strike against CSX , claiming that a strike against one railroad was a strike against all railroads.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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