Biden administration scramble to avoid potential rail strike as deadline approaches

The Biden administration Its involvement in negotiations between railroad companies and unions representing rail workers is intensifying as a deadline approaches to avert a possible strike that threatens to paralyze the economy ahead of the midterm elections.

The National Mediation Board and US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met on Wednesday with major rail companies and shipping unions and held further talks this week to reach an agreement before the current contract expires on Friday, September 16, at midnight, the administration and the railroad group. to Reuters.

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks at a news conference after touring the Port of Los Angeles

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks at a news conference after touring the Port of Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/Getty Images)

President Biden appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in July which proposed a plan calling for it 24% in cumulative increases And thousands of additional bonuses over a five-year contract covering about 115,000 railway workers.

But so far, only five of the 13 unions involved have approved the deal, leaving plenty of ground to cover over the next seven days to avert a fundamental shutdown of rail freight that could decimate an already fragile supply chain.

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The American Railroad Association (AAR) said Thursday that rail shutdowns would cost the economy upwards of $2 billion a day, warning in a press release that the strike would “immediately damage every railroad economy” and “lead to product shortages.” Retailing, large-scale manufacturing halts” and “job losses”.

BNSF train pulls out of the yard

The head of the country’s largest rail union says a report designed to help resolve stalled contract talks with freight rails did not do enough to address concerns about working conditions, even though it recommended a 24% raise. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File/AP Newsroom)

The assembly alerted Congress to be ready if a deal was not reached in time and a strike occurred, urging lawmakers to force a PEB deal if it stepped in to oversee bargaining under the Railroad Workers Act.

“Like those unions that have already tentatively agreed to the PEB deal, each of the remaining unions can still enter into agreements based on these recommendations,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jeffries said in a statement. “However, if negotiations fail and result in business interruption, Congress must act to implement the recommendations of the PEB – rewarding employees and stemming unnecessary economic harm and uncertainty for rail customers.”

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The The largest railway union in the countrySheet Metal Workers, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART), is one of eight unions that did not accept the PEB deal. SMART President Jeremy Ferguson said last week that while the PEB deal is a “significant improvement” over previous railroad proposals, the recommendations don’t go far enough to provide our members with the quality of life they have earned, and that both they and their families deserve.

Freight train parked in the railway yard

Labor expert and head of the National Right to Work Foundation, Mark Meeks, said he suspected a last-minute deal to avoid the strike, given the effects the railway shutdown could have on the entire economy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File/AP Newsroom)

Mark Meeks, a labor expert and president of the National Right to Work Foundation, told FOX Business that he suspects a last-minute deal to avoid the strike, given the disastrous effects the rail shutdown would have on the entire economy.

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“If they actually stop all the trains…boy, can the economy take another hit like this?” Mix said. “We have food shortages, we have droughts and water problems on the West Coast, and now if we cover it all up — this power that unions have gained over very basic elements of our economy — they can take the whole country hostage.”

Ken Martin and Reuters from FOX Business contributed to this story.

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