Biden, unions, railroad executives fight for a deal as closure looms

DETROIT / LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (Reuters) – Biden administration officials hosted labor contract talks late Wednesday to head off a potential rail closure that could disrupt freight shipments and prevent supplies of food and fuel. but a small union refused a deal and Amtrak canceled all long-distance passenger travel.

Railways, including Union Pacific (UNP.N), Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF (BRKa.N) and Norfolk Southern (NSC.N), have up to one minute after midnight on Friday to conclude deals with three unions representing some 60,000 workers before the work stoppage affecting freight and Amtrak could begin.

The talks between the unions and the railways, which began at 9:00 a.m., were still ongoing more than 12 hours later, after 9:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, at the US Department of Labor headquarters in Washington.

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The talks are overseen by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, with input from other US officials. The parties ordered Italian food for dinner on Wednesday to continue discussions.

“Everyone will have to move a little to close a deal,” Buttigieg told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.

A union representing some 4,900 machinists, mechanics and maintenance personnel said on Wednesday that its members voted to reject an attempted agreement.

Rail workers have gone three years without a raise amid a contract dispute, while rail companies have made solid profits.

In ongoing talks, the industry has offered annual wage increases from 2020 to 2024, equivalent to a compound increase of 24%. Three of the 12 unions, which represent about half of the 115,000 workers affected by the negotiations, are calling for better working conditions.

Two of those 12 unions, representing more than 11,000 workers, have ratified agreements, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which is negotiating on behalf of the railways, said Wednesday.

Unions are enjoying a wave of public and worker support in the wake of the pandemic as “essential” employees risked exposure to COVID-19 to keep goods moving and employers reaped huge profits, they say business and labor experts.

A closure could freeze nearly 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, fuel inflation, cost the U.S. economy up to $ 2 billion a day, and unleash a cascade of transportation problems affecting the industries. US energy, agriculture, manufacturing and retail.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One that shutting down the freight rail system would be an “unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people and all parties must work to avoid just that “.

HIGH MAIL FOR BIDEN

President Joe Biden’s administration has begun making contingency plans to ensure deliveries of critical assets in the event of an arrest.

The stakes are high for Biden, who vowed to curb rising consumer costs ahead of the November election that will determine whether his fellow Democrats retain control of Congress.

“Unless they reach a turning point soon, the railroad workers go on strike this Friday. If you don’t think this will have a negative impact on our economy … think again,” said US Senator John Cornyn, a Republican and critic of Biden. .

Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday opposed a Republican bid to unanimously pass legislation to prevent a rail strike, noting the profits made by the rail industry.

If the agreements are not reached, employers could also block workers. Railways and unions could agree to stay at the negotiating table, or the Democrat-led US Congress could intervene by extending talks or setting terms of agreement. Read more

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was unclear whether Congress would intervene, pointing out that the main problem is the lack of sick leave for workers.

Amtrak, which uses the tracks operated by freight railways, said it will cancel all long-distance travel Thursday and some additional state-supported trains. Read more

The Chicago and Dallas rail hubs were already clogged and suffered from equipment shortages before the contract showdown. Those bottlenecks have been carrying cargo in US seaports for a full month. And, once the cargo reaches rail hubs in locations like Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, and Memphis, Tennessee, it can sit still for another month or more.

Parcel delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS.N), one of the largest US rail customers, and US seaports have said they are working on contingency plans.

Meanwhile, factory owners are worried about idling machinery while automakers worry that a shutdown could extend the vehicle buyer’s waiting time. Elsewhere, food and energy companies warn that further service interruptions could create even more abrupt price hikes.

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Reports by David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason aboard Air Force One; Joe White in Detroit; Chris Walljasper in Chicago and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Editing by Will Dunham, Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Michael Perry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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