Passenger trains, grain shipments to be stopped, while the railway strike looms

The threat of a rail strike on Friday has already begun to spread across the US economy as farmers, businesses and commuters begin to feel the impact of a potential transit closure even before it begins.

As major negotiators rallied in Washington to try to strike a deal, industry groups have increasingly warned of major disruptions to America’s already fragile supply chains. Scheduled shipments of ammonia, fertilizers and other chemical inputs for agriculture will be withdrawn this week, because those products cannot be blocked in transit if negotiations fail, farm groups said. According to S&P Global, ethanol prices have risen significantly this week due to the threat of a strike.

On the passenger rail side, Amtrak will cancel all long-distance trains starting Thursday, although most trains in the northeast will not be affected, Amtrak said.

U.S. railways are also ready to stop shipping crops as soon as Thursday, the Consumer Brands Association reported.

All you need to know about the upcoming rail strike

The emerging economic impact is putting a strain on Capitol Hill and White House leaders who are trying to avoid deadlock between rail carriers and workers. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will host emergency meetings with rail carriers and unions Wednesday at the department’s offices in Washington, but no sign of agreement has emerged. Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Congress on Wednesday are expected to push legislation to force unions and management to accept contractual recommendations from a presidential council. Democrats should reject that proposal.

Eight unions reached interim deals with carriers based on the council’s recommendations, leaving four unions without a deal, including two of the most powerful and politically largest.

But hopes for a speedy resolution were further strained on Wednesday by the rejection of a local chapter of the deal brokered by their leadership. On the other hand, a chapter of the International Association of Train Drivers authorized a strike, alluding to a wider grudge within the ranks of workers of all unions regarding the forced agreements between the management and the union leadership.

Negotiators face a deadline of 00:01 on Friday to avoid closing freight. Tens of thousands of workers would be part of a strike, if authorized.

“If the railroads stop, our entire agricultural system shuts down,” Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) Said in a speech in the Senate, noting that farmers in her state were counting on the imminent. harvest season. “The stakes of these rail negotiations could not be higher.”

Growing despair has spurred new struggles in Congress to resolve the impasse. The Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) And Richard Burr (RN.C.) are expected to try Wednesday afternoon to push through legislation that would force both sides to accept contractual recommendations made last month by a non-partisan jury appointed by President Biden. Unions have rejected such recommendations because they do not address workers’ fury over company sanctions for time lost due to illness or family emergencies.

Biden’s aides sought to resolve the conflict between rail carriers and unions to avert the possibility of one of the most disruptive strikes in recent US history. The stakes in the talks are high for the Biden administration, which is desperate to ensure that American trains keep running but does not want to undermine the demands of union workers either.

The freight rail strike threatens supply chains, prompting the White House to plan

Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been in frequent contact with both sides of the negotiations, and Biden has also personally called unions and carriers to solicit a deal.

The remaining controversial issues revolve around point attendance policies for conductors and engineers that penalize them for going to routine medical visits or responding to family medical emergencies. The two largest and most politically powerful rail unions have said that their members will not ratify a contract that does not address this issue and so far the railways have made no move on this. It is unclear how Walsh or the administration plan to unravel the impasse.

If the negotiations fail, Republicans are ready to push through legislation that would force workers to accept the council’s recommendations, even though they said they still prefer a voluntary trade union-rail deal over a Congressional intervention. The legislation would not codify the board’s recommendations until Friday’s deadline expires.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Said he supports the adoption of the council’s recommendations and called on the president to do the same. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Told reporters Wednesday that she hopes the negotiations will be successful, so Congress does not need to intervene.

Democratic lawmakers have largely entrusted the Biden administration with reaching an agreement, and it is unclear whether they would support GOP legislation, against the will of the unions, if the impasse reached that point.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) On Sept. 14 declined to say what action Congress should take if talks between rail carriers and unions break down. (Video: The Washington Post)

“The president’s council has made a recommendation on how to resolve the matter and, unless he has changed his stance, the president apparently supports the presidential council’s stance,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “It seems to me the perfect place to fix the strike.”

The Congressional ploy comes in the midst of a new poll suggesting that most workers at one of the largest rail unions are ready to reject the deal under consideration. A survey by SMART-TED, one of the largest rail unions, found that 78% of workers would reject the proposed deal.

“I know for a fact that with covid out there no one is even testing themselves because they don’t want to lose points,” said Jordan Boone, 41, a BNSF conductor in Galesburg, Illinois, and a member of SMART-TED. “I have five children and have always missed soccer and baseball games and the children’s cheerleaders, but the new participation policies make it impossible to go to anything.”

Democrats are highly unlikely to pass legislation requiring workers to accept contract recommendations without changes to leave policy, said Larry Cohen, union leader and former president of Communications Workers of America.

“The Democrats will not impose these contracts without addressing the issue of the working life of workers,” Cohen said. “Republicans are fiercely opposed to collective bargaining, but carriers will have to respect people’s lives and there has to be respect for these workers. They won’t get a deal without it. “

However, political pressure is mounting on the Democrats to agree to end the stalemate. White House aides in recent days have examined the potentially drastic impacts on the nation’s drinking water and energy supplies that could result from a shutdown.

“If it’s a day or two, it might not be a big deal. If this went on for a week or two, you’d see shortages of all sorts of things, “said Dean Baker, a White House ally and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-wing think tank. irregular: they’re working hard to do it, but it’s really hard to do on the fly. It’s not like they’ve been planning it for years. “

Luz Lazo helped report this article.

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