Business groups urge Congress to block potential rail strike

OMAHA, Nebraska — Amid stalled contract talks, business groups are ramping up pressure on lawmakers to intervene and stop a railroad strike before next month’s deadline.

A coalition of more than 400 business groups wrote to congressional leaders on Monday, urging them to intervene in stalled talks amid fears that the strike’s damaging potential impact could force many businesses to close the railroads they need without access to rail. deliver. Commuter railroads and Amtrak will also be hit in the strike, since many of them use tracks owned by freight railroads.

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 an outsized impact, with the economic pain starting to be felt even before Dec. 12. The September 9 deadline for strikes comes as railroads stop transporting hazardous chemicals, fertilizers and perishable goods a week earlier to prevent these products from getting stuck somewhere on the tracks.

“A potential rail strike will only add to the headwinds facing the U.S. economy,” the businesses wrote. “Rail outages lead to immediate supply shortages and higher prices. The suspension of Amtrak and commuter rail service will disrupt as many as 7 million travelers per day. Many businesses will see their sales disrupted in the middle of the critical holiday shopping season.”

Last month, a similar business group wrote again to President Joe Biden, urging him to take a more active role in resolving contract disputes.

Congressional leaders and the White House said they were closely monitoring the contract negotiations, but did not say when or what actions they might take. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said leaders are aware of the railroad talks and will monitor them in the coming days.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pennsylvania) said on Fox News Sunday that congressional intervention is a last resort, but lawmakers must be ready to act.

“Congress is not going to let this strike happen. That’s for sure,” said Fitzpatrick, who helps lead a bipartisan group of 58 lawmakers. “It’s going to be devastating to our economy. So we’re going to come to a solution one way or another.”

A White House spokesman said the rail strike was “unacceptable.”

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

Unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress, while contract negotiations continue. Four railroad unions representing more than half of the industry’s 115,000 workers rejected a deal President Joe Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September and returned to the negotiating table to try to craft a new deal. Eight other unions have ratified their five-year deal with the rail company and are in the process of recouping a 24 per cent wage increase retroactive to 2020 for their workers.

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“It’s definitely going to end up on the lap of Congress, which is why we’re traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with members of Congress,” said Clark Barou, spokesman for the Way Employees Division union maintenance fraternity. Represents track maintenance workers. “We have directed our members to contact their federal lawmakers in the House and Senate within a few weeks.”

The union has asked the railroads to consider adding paid sick leave to what they already offer to address workers’ quality-of-life concerns. But so far, railroads including Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX and Kansas City Southern have refused to consider it.

The railroads want any deal to stick closely to recommendations made this summer by a special arbitration committee appointed by Biden, which called for a 24% pay raise and a $5,000 bonus but did not address workers’ concerns about a demanding schedule that would making it difficult for them to accept rest days and other working conditions.

Written by JOSH FUNK AP Business Writer

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