Rail freight strike threatens supply chains, prompting White House to plan

Rail freight strike threatens supply chains, prompting White House to plan

A nationwide railroad strike could derail critical deliveries of chlorine to sewage treatment plants and coal to utility plants, among other potentially crippling disruptions, prompting top White House aides on Tuesday to consider options emergency to protect the country’s drinking water and energy supply.

White House aides are studying how to ensure that essential goods 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 discussed how highways, ports and waterways can be used to offset the damage caused, while talking with senior officials from the shipping, freight and logistics sectors.

President Biden was personally briefed on the issue Tuesday morning, after calling carriers and unions on Monday to urge them to accept a deal, a White House official said. Senior White House officials are now holding daily meetings with the Agriculture Department, Transportation Department, Energy Department and other top 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 investigating potential authorities to mitigate damage, but has made no announcement. The White House planning was described by several people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal planning.

At stake is a contractual agreement between rail carriers and two unions, which represent 57,000 conductors and engineers on attendance policies. A federally mandated ‘cooling-off’ period ends Friday, opening up the possibility of a strike, if employees refuse to go to work, or a lockout, if carriers refuse to let workers go. do their job.

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

Biden appointed an emergency board in July to arbitrate the dispute, after two years of negotiations between six of the largest freight carriers and 12 unions representing railroad workers. Nine unions have reached tentative agreements with carriers based on the council’s recommendations, leaving the two largest unions with no deal in place. A small union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, canceled a tentative agreement with the carriers Monday night and returned to the bargaining table.

Amtrak cancels some long-distance trips as threat of freight strike looms

Contract negotiations over Zoom between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the SMART Transportation Division and the rail carriers continued late Monday, without the parties reaching an agreement, officials said. responsible for the work of the two unions.

The biggest issues holding up a deal are some of the larger carriers’ points-based attendance policies that penalize workers, until termination, for attending routine medical visits or attending family emergencies. Conductors and engineers say they don’t get a single sick day, paid or unpaid.

The National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents the railroads in negotiations, denied that workers do not receive sick leave and said its ability to determine attendance policies was needed to ensure that a sufficient number of rail operators are available to work in the event of a labor shortage.

“You may have heard from work that they don’t have sick days or paid holidays. That’s not true,” said Jessica Kahanek, spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, noting that some workers get extra sick leave and can take time off for any reason, as long as they maintain a reasonable level of overall availability in accordance with carrier presence policies. .

While the unions have said they have watered down some of their proposals, dropping demands for paid sick leave, they remain convinced that members should be allowed to attend routine medical appointments without jeopardizing their jobs. They said they were ready to accept a contract that addresses these concerns and that they were ready to strike if the carriers did not move. Tuesday morning, the carriers had made no counter-proposal to this offer, the two unions said.

As US railroad strike looms, White House aides scramble to avoid crisis

Two of the largest rail carriers that operate primarily in the western United States — BNSF and Union Pacific — are the companies that operate points-based attendance policies. More than 700 BNSF employees have quit since it implemented a points-based policy in February. Workers can be fired if they run out of points, even in a family emergency. Missing work on certain high-impact days or planning ahead for just one visit to the doctor can result in the loss of half or more of the points awarded to them.

“They refused to accept our proposals,” said Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, one of two bargaining unions. “The average American wouldn’t know we got fired for going to the doctor. That’s one thing that angered our members the most. We’ve got guys that got punished for taking time off for a heart attack and a covid. It’s inhumane.

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