With the two sides still unable to reach an agreement and with a looming rail freight strike, union officials and railroad representatives are heading to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday where they will meet Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, according to officials from each union and a spokesperson for the Department of Labor.
While the sources pointed out that the situation remains fluid, the two main unions that have persistent disputes with the railways – the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division – should send their union leaders to the meeting.
“Continuing the administration’s continued commitment and practical efforts to encourage the parties to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, Secretary Walsh will host rail companies and trade unions in Washington, DC at the Department of Labor tomorrow morning,” said the spokesperson in a declaration.
Wednesday’s meeting puts Walsh at the center of the high-stakes effort to avert what would be a debilitating strike that could deal a severe blow to the economy.
CNN reported earlier Tuesday that the White House is urgently discussing contingency plans as the threat of a railroad closure looms, with federal government agencies working on how they could potentially use federal authority to keep operations running. critical supply chains as job interviews continue to sit in a dead end.
Work has increased in recent days as officials have become increasingly concerned about a labor strike if rail freight labor negotiations fail to produce a deal before Friday’s deadline. And on Monday, President Joe Biden personally called unions and railroad companies during his visit to Boston in an effort to avoid the closure of the railways, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
While officials have been following developments closely – and have been directly involved in trying to find a solution – for several weeks, accelerated efforts to plan for a worst case scenario underscore the stakes of an outcome that would lead to massive disruptions to the chain of procurement, and the dual political and economic risk.
“The White House is working with other modes of transportation (including freight forwarders, truckers, air freight) to see how they can intervene and keep goods moving in the event of a train stop,” a House official told CNN on Tuesday. White.
The official added that the administration “has also worked with relevant agencies to assess which supply chains and products are most likely to face major disruptions and which emergency authorities are available to keep goods moving.”
About 60,000 union members working for the railroad are expected to strike, including the engineers and conductors who make up the two-person crews on each train. Although another 45,000 union members belong to unions that have reached interim agreements with the railways, a strike by engineers and conductors would bring the rail freight system, which carries nearly 30% of the nation’s freight, to an abrupt halt. .
Interested parties are already warning that the situation is dire, the United States Chamber of Commerce detailed some of the pressing issues in a letter to the Congressional leadership on Monday.
“A closure of the nation’s rail service would have enormous national consequences,” said House Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil L. Bradley in the letter.
He continued: “This would lead to perishable foods such as dairy, fruit and vegetables spoiling at their points of origin, disrupting Amtrak service for approximately 12.2 million daily passengers in 46 states, disrupting the delivery of materials and goods to factories, and ports, and would inhibit the transport of heating fuel and other important fuels and chemicals. These are just a few examples of the damage of a train stop. ”
Biden continues to receive regular updates on high-risk deals, including briefings on the matter Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
Senior level commitments were due to continue on Tuesday. There are conversations with industry leaders and even “multiple agency meetings” that take place daily with the Transportation, Defense, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Energy departments, as well as with the Federal Agency for emergency management, the official said, with efforts to “identify the sectors and goods that will be most immediately and significantly affected by a train stop.”
An area of great concern is hazardous materials transported by rail.
“We are paying particular attention to hazardous materials transported by rail, to protect the safety of workers and communities and to support the continued distribution of vital hazardous materials that depend on rail transport, such as chlorine for water treatment plants,” he said. said the official, who added that “all the tools are on the table and will be distributed as appropriate”.
While concern over a strike in the White House has increased in recent days, the administration remains confident that the matter will be resolved. The president does not have the authority to avoid a strike, but Congress can still take action to prevent work stoppage.
“We hope that this planning and preparation will prove futile and that the negotiating parties will accept a resolution and do not allow American workers, families and businesses to be harmed by the disruption of the railways. We have been clear in all our communications with the negotiating parties that an arrest is unacceptable and will harm American workers, families and businesses and must act to avoid it, “the official said.
This story and title were updated with more details on Tuesday.