Freight double-stack train in USA, source: Wikipedia

US Emergency Board seeks resolution to rail freight disputes

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) order signed by US President Joe Biden last month has averted the immediate threat of strikes in the sector. Still, longer-term, there appears to be little sign of a resolution to ongoing disputes in the US rail freight sector.

The PEB became effective on 18 July and is the latest bid to stop strikes crippling the country’s rail and port networks. Railroad unions had been calling for a strike that could have seen as many as 115,000 workers down tools, adding severe downside to the fragile economy and stretched supply chains.

“Keeping supply chains running means keeping America’s railways running,” a White House spokesperson said. “The President’s goal is to ensure America’s rail freight system continues to run without disruption, delivering the items that our families, communities, farms and businesses rely on.”

The new board aims to provide a structure for workers and management to resolve their disagreements. It triggers a 30-day ‘cooling off’ period designed to keep both parties working toward a negotiated settlement.

Ongoing supply chain disruptions

Talks have so far failed to reach an agreement, with workers demanding improved pay and conditions in response to worsening conditions on the ground. Record congestion at ports that began as markets reopened after lockdown has added to the strain on rail, and port workers and unions have been pushing for improved pay offers from operators.

“The U.S. business community faces enormous challenges today from record inflation, labour shortages, and ongoing supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Suzanne P. Clark, CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, said, “any breakdown would be disastrous for U.S. consumers and the economy, and potentially return us to the historical supply chain challenges during the depths of the pandemic.”

Class I freight railroads, including Union Pacific and Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, have been in negotiations with the twelve rail unions for over a year, but no progress has been made. The new PEB will now consider the arguments of both sides and aim to mediate a solution that can keep rail freight moving.

“We look forward to the forthcoming recommendations of the presidentially appointed arbitrators,” Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, representing several railroad unions, said.

Despite relief that strikes have been averted, for the time being, Clark of the Chamber of Commerce predicts that ‘substantive issues’ still remain and encourages “the Board to review all arguments fairly and both parties”.

Strike pandemic

The US is not alone in facing rail disruptions, as unions in Europe have also proposed fresh strikes in response to rocketing inflation and pressure on the supply chain. In the UK, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is proposing a national strike on Wednesday, 27 July, while French unions Sud Rail, CGT and CFDT have issued a recent joint call for strike action.

“Along with workers in France and in Europe, railway workers are sharply hit by exploding inflation. We must act to obtain wage increases,” the unions said in a joint statement.

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Author: Malcolm Ramsay

1 comment op “US Emergency Board seeks resolution to rail freight disputes”

bönström bönström|25.07.22|14:33

Industry of railways, by nature vulnerable, as any mono structure, by nature exposed to threats, now indeed has to find the strategy worthy 2022.
Contemporarily, for clients, ware owners, simply any risk for a risk, has to be hedged, thus a cost adding to total, the logistic, the already high, the too high.
(Global devices, by air and by sea, reduce costs, by added load capacity. Now, urgently any, elderly, risky, high cost, technicality has to be outed, as well at railways!)

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