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U.S. Chamber Discusses Possible Rail Strike

In their Friday Chamber Federation call, the U.S. Chamber discussed the possibility of an impending rail strike, and the costly effect it could have on the U.S. economy.

While a tentative agreement had been reached between labor unions and employers in September (pursuant to guidance from a Presidential Emergency Board convened over the summer by President Biden), over half of track maintenance workers represented by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division voted to oppose the five-year contract despite 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. This union, the third-largest railroad union in the United States, said the railroads didn’t do enough to address the lack of paid time off — particularly sick time — and working conditions after the major railroads eliminated nearly one-third of their jobs over the past six years.

Four other railroad unions have approved their agreements with freight railroads including BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern, but to prevent a strike, all 12 unions representing 115,000 workers must ratify their contracts. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, initially rejected its deal but has since renegotiated a new contract.

A rail strike could be devastating, costing an estimated $2 billion per day, disrupting shipments to consumers, industry and agriculture, canceling many Amtrak trains, and tipping an already fragile economy into recession. Trains carry one-third of U.S. exports and 40 percent of America’s long-distance freight tonnage, including 3.2 million carloads of food, grain, fertilizer, and other farm products, 75 percent of new cars and trucks, and millions of UPS packages.

Voting will be completed in mid-November, and both sides will return to the bargaining table before that happens.  If a rail strike is not averted, it would occur November 19th, five days after both chambers of Congress reconvene.