Pressure mounts on US railroads and unions to reach agreement | Policy
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – The freight railroads and their unions are facing mounting pressure from business groups and the White House to settle their contract dispute before Friday’s looming strike deadline.
The pressure stems from fears that halting rail deliveries of raw materials and finished goods that so many businesses rely on would be, in the words of the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an “economic disaster.”
A White House official said President Joe Biden and members of his cabinet were in touch with unions and the railroads on Monday as part of their effort to avert a strike. And for the second time in the past week, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh sat down at the negotiating table on Sunday to urge the parties to reach a deal. Walsh postponed a planned trip to Ireland this week to stay close to the talks.
A Labor Department spokesperson said Monday that it was crucial that the parties stay at the negotiating table and reach an agreement because “the shutdown of our freight rail system is an unacceptable outcome for our economy and the people. American”.
Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that “a nationwide railroad strike would be an economic disaster – freezing the flow of goods, emptying shelves, shutting down workplaces and increasing prices for families and companies”.
The chamber joined a number of other business groups, including a coalition of 31 agricultural maritime trade groups, in sending letters to Congress urging lawmakers to prepare to step in and block a strike if the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the end. of the week. The chamber said if it came to that, Congress would have to impose conditions recommended by an emergency presidential council that Biden appointed this summer.
The Association of American Railroads trade group released a report last week estimating that closing railroads would cost the economy $2 billion a day.
The coalition negotiating on behalf of the nation’s largest freight railroads – including Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Kansas City Southern – has announced eight of 13 tentative agreements needed to avert a strike by some 115,000 railroad workers.
The offers that have been announced so far have closely followed the Emergency Presidential Council Recommendations this included 24% raises over five years, $5,000 in bonuses, and an additional paid day off per year. But the two largest unions representing conductors and engineers have resisted because they want the railways to go beyond those recommendations and address some of their concerns about strict attendance policies and labor conditions.
The railroads said they would begin reducing shipments of hazardous materials and other goods on Monday ahead of a possible work stoppage at the end of the week. This would ensure that containers of these dangerous goods do not get stuck along the tracks.
The leaders of the Sheet Metal Workers, Air, Rail and Transports – Transport Division union which represents train conductors and the Brotherhood of Engineers and Locomotive Workers union which represents engineers, criticized this decision in an effort to increase pressure on shippers and Congress to intervene.
Federal law governing railroad contract negotiations will not allow a strike or lockout until Friday.
Associated Press reporter Josh Boak contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
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