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The U.S. Railroad Labor Dispute Has a Deadline, and President Biden Must Act

Next week, US President Joe Biden must decide whether to become involved in the 115,000 workers countrywide US railroad labour negotiations or risk a strike or lockout that might endanger the already precarious US economy and stifle food and fuel supply.

The stakes are quite high for Biden, who wants to address the supply-chain problems that are fueling inflation and are already trying to achieve an agreement in the crucial labour negotiations at West Coast seaports.

If the president decides not to step in and form a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) before Monday at 12:01 a.m. EDT, the railroads and unions may decide to implement operational shutdowns or strike action.

If it were appointed, the board would offer suggestions that may serve as a general outline for a consensual settlement.

According to a White House representative, the administration is “going through the regular process that has been utilized in the past when considering a PEB,” according to Reuters.

Parties to the current negotiations anticipate that Vice President Joe Biden would appoint a board, as President Barack Obama did in 2011, to assist in resolving a dispute over wages and healthcare benefits at the main freight railways.

Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, which represents several railroad unions, said, “People in the executive branch and in Congress recognize how critical our freight rail system is to our economy.”


There would be equal pressure to achieve an agreement as there is on the port side, he continued.

U.S. industry organizations that include merchants, food, and fuel manufacturers have written to Biden to warn him that delaying the appointment of a PEB would be “disastrous” for the economy, which is already slowing.

Everything is transported on railroads, including Amazon shipments, fuel, and soybeans. Any form of shutdown might increase the cost of essentials and destabilize supply chains.

The timing of the railroad negotiations is unfortunate for Biden, whose administration is also involved in negotiations involving more than 22,000 West Coast workers from the United States, who are employed at 29 ports from Washington to California, including the busiest port in the country, Los Angeles/Long Beach.

The two parties are arguing about matters like compensation and automation after the contract expired on July 1.

Congress might step in if the suggestions are rejected by the employers or the unions.

According to its statutes, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), one of the unions involved in the negotiations, set a deadline for its 23,000 members to vote on sanctioning a strike should one be necessary on Tuesday morning.

The American railroad sector is already beset by snags brought on by self-inflicted labour shortages that have slowed down fertilizer shipments, created bottlenecks at important U.S. seaports, and prevented feed from reaching Foster Farms’ chickens in California.

Martin Oberman, head of the Surface Transportation Board, remarked during a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing that “they’ve sliced below the bone.” “Poor rail service is intolerable.

Everyone involved agrees that a labour shortage is the main factor contributing to the issue “said Oberman.

The United States’ freight railroads have assured investors that they are improving hiring and retention even as they bargain with unions over wages, paid time off, and healthcare cost sharing.

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The railroads, the unions, and the customers want to prevent another 1992. Following a strike by the International Association of Machinists against CSX Corp (CSX.O), the nation’s railroads shut down for two days, citing the principle that a strike against one railroad was a strike against all railroads.

Experts at the time cautioned that the effect of the rail disruption could increase from $50 million per day at first to $1 billion per day for prolonged action.

The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) stated in a negotiations update that a resolution to this dispute, prompt pay increases for all rail employees, and the avoidance of disruptions to rail service remain in the best interests of all parties as well as the general public.

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