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

A national rail strike could derail critical deliveries of chlorine to wastewater treatment plants and coal to utility plants, among other potentially crippling outages, prompting senior White House aides Tuesday to review emergency options for protect the nation’s drinking water and energy supply.

White House aides are investigating how to ensure that essential products transported by rail, such as food, energy and key health products, can still reach their final destination even in the event of a potential strike. Senior officials examined how highways, ports and waterways can be used to compensate for any damage caused, including speaking with senior officials in the shipping, freight and logistics sectors.

President Biden was personally briefed on the matter on Tuesday morning after calling carriers and unions on Monday to press them into accepting a deal, a White House official said. Senior White House officials are now conducting daily meetings with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, and other major agencies on how to mitigate the impact. Biden’s aides in particular are working to ensure that hazardous materials transported by rail are transported safely without injuring workers. The White House is also studying potential authorities to mitigate any damage, but hasn’t made any announcements. The White House planning was described by multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal planning.

It is a contractual agreement between the railway carriers and two unions, representing 57,000 drivers and engineers on attendance policies. Friday ends a federal government-mandated “afterthought” period, which opens up the possibility of a strike if employees refuse to go to work, or a lockout if carriers refuse to let workers do their jobs .

Some freight carriers have begun to restrict services, suspending shipments of hazardous materials and parking trains in what appear to be preparations for a lockdown. Amtrak, which carries passengers on freight lines, canceled some long-distance routes on Monday.

Biden appointed an emergency council in July to mediate the dispute, after two years of negotiations between six of the largest freight carriers and 12 unions representing railroad workers. Nine unions reached interim agreements with carriers based on the council’s recommendations, leaving the two largest unions with no deal in place. A smaller union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, concluded an attempted agreement with the carriers on Monday evening and returned to the negotiating table.

Amtrak cancels some long-distance travel as cargo strike threat looms

Contract negotiations on Zoom between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the SMART Transportation Division and the rail carriers continued until late Monday, with the parties not reaching an agreement, labor officials from both unions said.

The most important issues hindering an agreement are some of the major carriers’ point attendance policies that penalize workers, right up to dismissal, for routine medical visits or family emergencies. Drivers and engineers say they don’t get a single sick day, paid or not.

The Committee of the National Conference of Carriers, which represents the railways in the negotiations, denied that workers do not receive sick time and said that its ability to determine attendance policies is necessary to ensure that a sufficient number of operators railways are available to work amid labor shortages.

“You may have heard from labor that they have no sick days or paid vacation. This is untrue, “said Jessica Kahanek, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, noting that some workers qualify for additional sick leave benefit and can take a break for any reason as long as they maintain a reasonable level of overall availability in based on carrier participation policies.

While unions have said they have watered down some of their proposals by abandoning demands for paid sick days, they remain adamant that members should be allowed to attend routine medical appointments without compromising their employment. They said they are willing to accept a contract that addresses these concerns and are ready to strike if carriers don’t move on it. As of Tuesday morning, the carriers had not made any counterproposals to this offer, the two unions said.

As U.S. rail strike looms, White House aides rush to avert crisis

Two of the largest rail carriers operating primarily in the Western United States – BNSF and Union Pacific – are companies with points-based attendance policies. More than 700 BNSF employees have quit since it launched a points-based policy in February. Workers can be dismissed if points are exhausted, even in the event of a family emergency. Lack of work on certain high-impact days or planning ahead for a single medical visit can result in the loss of half or more of the points awarded to workers.

“They refused to accept our proposals,” said Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, one of the two unions in talks. “The average American wouldn’t know we’re fired for going to the doctor. This thing infuriated our members the most. We have guys who got punished for taking a break for a heart attack and covid. It’s inhumane. “

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: