Monday, November 21, 2011

Strike threat to freight railroads recedes

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With unions for more than half of the workers bargaining with North American freight railroads reaching agreements, the threat of a walkout affecting freight rail transportation is diminishing. Four more unions last week have reached agreement with the Class I’s, making it 10 unions in all, according to the National Railway Labor Conference.

The latest agreements reached include with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Iron Ship Builders, Forgers and Helpers; the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association; the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers; and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

Current agreements cover roughly 60% of the 132,000 employees in negotiations, implement recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Obama, NRLC said.

If pacts with the remaining three unions remain elusive during a 30-day “cooling off” period that ends Dec. 6, labor is permitted to strike under the Railway Labor Act. But as in past years, Congress likely would legislate a contract similar to the emergency board’s recommendations if a strike occurred.

The Association of American Railroads estimates such actioncould cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion per day.