The nation’s freight railroads have reached settlements with 10 of the 13 major rail unions covering more than 60% of 132,000 employees in the current round of bargaining, but a potential strike is still looming.
The National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents more than 30 railroads, among them the five U.S.-based Class I’s—BNSF, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific—in national bargaining with the 13 unions, reported late Tuesday that the railroads have not reached agreements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association to extend the current “cooling off” period, which ends Dec. 6. The railroads’ proposed extension, which a third union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, accepted, was contingent upon the acceptance by all three unions. Absent an extension of the cooling off period or tentative settlement agreements, these unions and the railroads will be free under the Railway Labor Act to exercise “self-help” at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 6.
“The railroads have made and will continue to make every effort to reach agreements with the remaining three unions,” said NCCC Chairman A. Kenneth Gradia. “During the busiest shipping and travel period of the year, a nationwide disruption of rail service would deal a crushing blow to our nation’s economy, potentially costing our country $2 billion a day. The Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Obama to help avert such an outcome made recommendations for the resolution of these disputes. The railroads, and eight other unions, have agreed to implement these settlement terms, which reflect the Board’s careful consideration of both sides’ arguments. We urge the remaining unions to reach agreements with the railroads before December 6.”
According to the Capitol Hill news service The Hill, Congress is considering intervening in a potential strike. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday “if a group of unions representing parts of the freight rail industry could not reach a labor agreement before a Dec. 6 deadline, they would step to prevent the unions from going on strike. ‘While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary,’ they said. ‘A shutdown of our nation’s railways, which would harm our economy and endanger many American jobs, is unacceptable. We are confident President Obama and the leaders of the Senate agree.’”
In a letter to Congress, Matthew Shay, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation, said, “For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating. It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers.”
The nation’s largest rail union, the United Transportation Union, is not part of the current round of negotiations. It reached an agreement with the carriers independently several weeks ago.