AP

Deadline to block freight rail strike looms before Biden

Jul 14, 2022, 8:39 AM | Updated: 9:40 am

FILE- A BNSF rail terminal worker monitors the departure of a freight train, on June 15, 2021, in G...

FILE- A BNSF rail terminal worker monitors the departure of a freight train, on June 15, 2021, in Galesburg, Ill. President Joe Biden is widely expected to name a board of arbitrators to intervene in a freight railroad contract dispute before a Monday, July 18, 2022, deadline, and that will prevent 115,000 workers from going on strike for at least 60 days. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File)

(AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The deadline for President Joe Biden to intervene and keep 115,000 railroad workers from going on strike and disrupting deliveries of cars, crops, containers of imported goods and countless other products and raw materials is looming.

Biden is widely expected to name a board of arbitrators to review the contract dispute and make recommendations on how to settle it before Monday’s deadline. Once he does that, any strike or lockout will be delayed 60 days under the federal law that governs railroad contract talks.

A White House official said the Biden administration is going through the standard process to decide whether to appoint this special board to intervene in the contract talks.

Businesses that rely on railroads have urged Biden to appoint that Presidential Emergency Board to try to bring the freight railroads and workers together to reach a deal. Groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and major trade groups of railroad shippers all wrote to Biden over the past month since the talks deadlocked and mediation officially ended to say a rail strike could cause catastrophic disruptions in the economy.

“Any strike is bad,” said Rob Benedict with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers group that represents refineries and other chemical companies. “We want to avoid that at all costs especially when we are in a precarious situation like our nation is now in kind of our current supply chain crisis.”

Adding to the supply chain worries is a separate labor dispute involving 22,000 West Coast dockworkers at ports that handle roughly 40% of U.S. imports. Both sides in those negotiations have said they plan to keep cargo moving until a new agreement is reached even though their contract expired at the beginning of July. The ports rely on railroads to deliver many of the goods they handle.

The presidential board can only make nonbinding recommendations on the railroad contracts, but those will serve as the basis for a new round of negotiations that could yield a contract that has eluded the railroads since talks began more than two years ago.

Even if those efforts fail, Congress would likely intervene to prevent a strike. Lawmakers could impose terms on the railroads and their 12 unions at that point or take other action to keep the trains moving.

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee that represents Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern and other railroads said it believes the wage increases railroads are offering are fair based on other recent major labor agreements, but the unions say none of the offers so far do enough to offset inflation or reflect the current worker shortages. Plus, the railroads want workers to pay more of their health insurance costs, which the unions say would eat up most, if not all, of the proposed raises.

NCCC Chairman Brendan Branon said the railroads are disappointed a deal hasn’t been reached yet, but they’re hopeful the presidential board will help.

“It remains in the best interests of all parties – and the public – for the railroads and rail labor organizations to settle this bargaining round by entering mutually acceptable agreements that provide prompt pay increases to the nation’s hard working rail employees and prevent rail service disruptions,” Branon said in a statement.

The unions say a better contract would likely help ease the railroads’ struggles to hire more workers to reduce delays in deliveries and improve service in response to complaints from shippers and regulators. The railroads have been having significant problems keeping up with demand this year as the economy improves — forcing some businesses to slow production while waiting for trains — and they say hiring hundreds more workers is key to improving service.

Many of the companies who ship goods on the rails, labor groups and regulators blame the railroads’ current shipping problems on those deep worker cuts while the railroads say the nationwide worker shortages and difficult hiring environment has kept them from hiring enough workers to handle all the shipments as the economy recovers.

In the contract talks, the unions also adamantly oppose railroad proposals to cut train crews down from two people to one.

Union officials say they don’t want to strike but they appear ready to act if it does come to that. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said this week that more then 99% of its members voted to authorize the union to go on strike if a deal can’t be reached.

“In the end, the question of whether or not any of the rail industry’s union-represented employees want to legally strike is secondary to what they truly want,” BLET President Dennis Pierce said. “They want a contract with meaningful wage increases and good benefits. They want jobs that give them the ability to have a life outside of work. To be clear, there would be no need for a strike vote if any of that had happened in these negotiations.”

The workers who kept the railroads running throughout the pandemic are frustrated they haven’t had a raise since 2019, and they’re fed up with the working conditions and schedules they have to endure after the major freight railroads cut nearly one-third of their jobs over the past six years as they overhauled operations.

“With a stale contract that has been in effect since prior to inflation taking hold, the workers have nothing to show for their blood, sweat and tears, as well as the sacrifices they and their families have made,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division union that represents conductors.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Crystal Baziel holds the Pan-African flag Monday, June 19, 2023, during Reedy Chapel A.M.E C...

Associated Press

The beginner’s guide to celebrating Juneteenth

For more than one-and-a-half centuries, the Juneteenth holiday has been sacred to many Black communities. It marks the day in 1865 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas found out they had been freed — after the end of the Civil War, and two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Since it was designated a federal […]

18 hours ago

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch ro...

Associated Press

Plane that did ‘Dutch roll’ on flight from Phoenix suffered structural damage, investigators say

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch roll” during a flight from Phoenix last month.

5 days ago

This photo provided by Randy Shannon shows Mooney Falls on the Havasupai reservation outside the vi...

Associated Press

Dozens report illness after trips to waterfalls near Grand Canyon

Dozens of hikers say they fell ill during trips to a popular Arizona tourist destination that features towering blue-green waterfalls deep in a gorge neighboring Grand Canyon National Park.

6 days ago

Mugshot of Rudy Giuliani, who was processed Monday, June 10, 2024, in the Arizona fake electors cas...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani posts $10K cash bond after being processed in Arizona fake electors case

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney, was processed Monday in the Arizona fake electors case.

9 days ago

FILE - White House former chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters at the White House, Wed...

Associated Press

Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows pleads not guilty in Arizona fake elector case

Former Donald Trump presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump 2020 Election Day operations director Michael Roman pleaded not guilty Friday in Phoenix to nine felony charges for their roles in an effort to overturn Trump's Arizona election loss to Joe Biden.

12 days ago

deadly heat wave last summer...

Associated Press

After a deadly heat wave last summer, metro Phoenix is changing tactics

Fresh memories of the deadly heat wave last summer have led Arizona authorities to launch new tactics ahead of summer 2024.

23 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Deadline to block freight rail strike looms before Biden