U.S.Railworkers Strike Nears

Biden calls on congress to intervene and block strike

A Journal of People Report

Currently, the tentative agreement mediated by the Biden administration in September has been rejected by four of the twelve unions that collectively represent the bulk of American freight train workers. Tens of thousands of rail workers will walk off the job if a deal is not reached by next week.

The railworkers had been in talk with employers regarding working conditions and compensation. The Presidential Emergency Board suggested the largest pay increases for rail workers in more than 40 years, but it didn’t resolve the unions’ complaints about the conditions of the workplace–especially access to paid time off and paid sick time.

The strikes can start as soon as 5 December. On December 5, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) is anticipated to go on strike. On December 9, three significant unions, including SMART-TD, may also do the same.

The Guardian reports:

‘Joe Biden called on Congress to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks, saying a strike would “devastate our economy”.

Biden’s move comes as business groups have warned that the looming strike would hit just before the holiday season and worsen the US’s inflation problems.

“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement. “Without freight rail, many US industries would shut down.”

The strike comes after long-running negotiations reached an impasse and both sides agreed to a cooling-off period that ends next week.

Congress has the power to impose contract terms on the workers, but it’s not clear what lawmakers might include if they do. They could also force the negotiations to continue into the new year.

Both the unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress while contract talks continue.

‘Last month the Biden administration said it was up to unions and the rail companies to reach an agreement. In his statement Biden said that as “a proud pro-labor president” he was reluctant to override the views of people who voted against the agreement. “But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Biden’s remarks came after a coalition of more than 400 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday urging them to step into the stalled talks because of fears about the devastating potential impact of a strike that could force many businesses to shut down if they cannot get the rail deliveries they need. Commuter railroads and Amtrak would also be affected in a strike because many of them use tracks owned by the freight railroads.

The business groups, led by the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation, said even a short-term strike would have a tremendous impact and the economic pain would start to be felt even before the 9 December strike deadline. They said the railroads would stop hauling hazardous chemicals, fertilizers and perishable goods up to a week beforehand to keep those products from being stranded somewhere along the tracks.

“A potential rail strike only adds to the headwinds facing the US economy,” the businesses wrote. “A rail stoppage would immediately lead to supply shortages and higher prices. The cessation of Amtrak and commuter rail services would disrupt up to 7 million travelers a day. Many businesses would see their sales disrupted right in the middle of the critical holiday shopping season.”

On Monday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) trade group praised Biden’s action. “No one benefits from a rail work stoppage – not our customers, not rail employees and not the American economy,” said the AAR’s president and chief executive, Ian Jefferies. “Now is the appropriate time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the 12 unions.”

A strike, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), might cost the American economy $2 billion daily. A number of industries would be impacted.’

An Associated Press article finds:

‘Another recent report put together by a chemical industry trade group projected that if a strike drags on for a month, about 700,000 jobs would be lost as manufacturers who rely on railroads shut down, prices of nearly everything would increase even more and the economy could be thrust into a recession.

‘Chemical manufacturers and refineries will be some of the first businesses affected, because railroads will stop shipping hazardous chemicals about a week before the strike deadline to ensure that no tank cars filled with dangerous liquids wind up stranded…That means the chlorine that water treatment plants rely on to purify water, which they might only have about a week’s supply of on hand, would become difficult to source. It would be near impossible for manufacturers to make anything out of plastic without the chemicals that are part of the production formula.

‘Main commuter rail services in Chicago, Minneapolis, Maryland and Washington state have all warned that some of their operations would be suspended in the event of a rail strike.

‘It would take about a week for customers to notice shortages of foodstuffs such as cereal, peanut butter and even beer at the grocery store, said Tom Madrecki, vice-president of supply chain for the Consumer Brands Association.

About 30% of all packaged foods in the US are moved by rail, he said. That percentage is much higher for denser, heavier items like cans of soup. Madrecki said big food companies don’t like to discuss the threat of a rail strike since worries about product shortages can lead to panic buying.

‘Jess Dankert, vice-president for supply chain at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said retailers’ inventories are largely in place for the holidays. But the industry is developing contingency plans. Retailers are also concerned about online orders. Shippers like FedEx and UPS use rail cars that hold roughly 2,000 packages in each car.

‘Drivers are already paying record prices and often waiting months for new vehicles because of production problems in the auto industry related to the shortage of computer chips in recent years.

That would only get worse if there is a rail strike, because roughly 75% of all new vehicles begin their journey from factories to dealerships on the railroad. Trains deliver approximately 2,000 carloads of vehicles a day. Automakers may have a hard time keeping their plants running during a strike because some larger parts and raw materials are also transported by rail.’

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