Business groups urge Congress to block potential rail strike

OMAHA, Neb. — Business groups are increasing pressure on lawmakers to intervene and block a rail strike before next month’s deadline in stalled contract negotiations.

A coalition of more than 400 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday urging them to enter talks stalled by fears of the potentially devastating impact of a strike that could force many businesses to close if they cannot the train delivery is needed. Commuter and Amtrak railroads would also be affected by a strike because many of them use freight railroads they own.

Business groups led by the U.S. 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 begin to be felt even before the Dec. 9 strike deadline because rail trains would stop transporting hazardous chemicals, fertilizers and perishable goods up to a week in advance to prevent these products from getting stuck somewhere on the tracks.

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

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A similar business group sent another letter to President Joe Biden last month asking him to play a more active role in resolving the contract dispute.

Congressional leaders and the White House have said they are watching the deal talks closely but have not indicated when they might act or what they will do. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said leaders are aware of the situation with the railroad negotiations and will monitor the talks in the coming days.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said on “Fox News Sunday” that congressional intervention is a last resort, but lawmakers will have to be ready to act.

“The Congress will not let this strike happen. That’s for sure,” said Fitzpatrick, who helped lead a bipartisan group of 58 lawmakers. “It would be devastating for our economy. So we will find a resolution one way or another.”

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A White House spokesman said a rail strike would be “unacceptable.”

Congress has the power to impose contract terms on workers, but it’s unclear what they might include if they do. They could also force negotiations to continue into the new year.

Both unions and railroads have lobbied Congress as contract talks continue. Four railroad unions representing more than half of the industry’s 115,000 workers rejected the contracts that President Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September and are back at the table trying to reach new deals. Eight other unions have approved five-year contracts with the railroads and are in the process of reclaiming wages for workers for a 24% increase retroactive to 2020.

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Clark Ballew, a spokesman for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union, said, “It certainly could end up in Congress, which is why we’re going to DC this week to meet with legislators on The Hill from both parties.” . represent railway maintenance workers. “We have been instructing our members to contact federal lawmakers in the House and Senate for several weeks now.”

Unions have asked the railroads to consider adding paid sick time to what they already offer to address some of the concerns about workers’ quality of life. But so far, the railroads, which include Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX and Kansas City Southern, have refused to consider it.

The railroad wants any deal to closely follow the recommendation of a special Biden-appointed panel of arbitrators made this summer that called for a 24% raise and $5,000 in bonuses but did not address workers’ concerns about scheduling demands. make it hard to take. a day off and other working conditions.

By JOSH FUNK AP Business Writer


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