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The Biden administration is urging unions and railroads to avoid a shutdown

The Biden administration is urging unions and railroads to avoid a shutdown
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The United States Chamber of Commerce building is seen in Washington, DC, the United States, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Sept. 12 (Reuters) – The Biden administration urged railroads and unions to reach an agreement to avoid disrupting railroad work, saying Monday it would be an “unacceptable outcome” for the U.S. economy represent that could cost $2 billion a day.

Railroads, including Union Pacific (UNPN)Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) BNSF, CSX (CSX.O), and Norfolk Southern, have until one minute past midnight on Friday to reach tentative agreements with the unions, which represent about 60,000 workers. Failure to do so opens the door to union strikes, employer lockouts and congressional intervention. Continue reading

US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh is postponing his trip to Ireland to remain in talks, the ministry said on Monday.

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“The parties are continuing to negotiate and last night Secretary Walsh again committed himself to pressing the parties to a solution that will prevent our rail system from being closed,” a Labor Department spokesman said. “All parties must stay at the table, negotiate in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, and come to an agreement.”

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

A White House official told Reuters Biden contacted unions and companies today to try to avert a strike, as did Cabinet officials.

US railroads account for nearly 30% of freight traffic by weight and maintain about 97% of the rails that Amtrak uses for mass transit. Widespread rail disruptions could choke off food and fuel supplies, create transport chaos and fuel inflation. Continue reading

Unions, which have pushed through significant wage increases, are pushing for labor rules that would require workers to be on call and available for work most days. The railroads are struggling to rebuild workforces after cutting their workforce by almost 30% over the past six years.

At noon on Wednesday, Norfolk Southern will stop accepting intermodal freight: goods transported by combinations of ship, truck and rail. These shipments include consumer goods and e-commerce packages, which make up nearly half of US rail travel.

This could exacerbate existing congestion at East Coast seaports and inland hubs, causing cascading delays across the country as farmers prepare to harvest and retailers stock up for the holiday shopping season. Bulk commodities — including food, energy, automotive and construction products — make up the remainder of US rail transportation.

US industry groups are urging Congress to avert worst-case scenario.

“Closing the country’s rail service would have huge national consequences,” the chamber said Monday, adding it would result in perishable food waste, disrupting the delivery of goods and preventing the movement 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 sides reach an agreement.

The railroads said late last week they would stop shipping hazardous materials such as chlorine used to purify drinking water and chemicals used in fertilizers on Monday, lest they be stranded in unsafe locations when rail services are halted. Continue reading

On Sunday, two unions negotiating contracts said halting hazardous supplies should give employers a chance to secure labor contracts before the end of this week. Continue reading

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

These include the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

Since 1992, when major railroads suspended operations for two days in response to an International Association of Machinists strike against CSX, there has not been a nationwide halt to rail service in the US because they said a strike against a railroad is a strike against all railways.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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