Biden Administration Works to Avert Freight Railroad Strike

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The heads of the unions that represent engineers and conductors – the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union issued a joint statement criticizing a slowdown of shipments ahead of a strike deadline, which the railroads announced late Friday. A strike or lockout won’t be allowed until Friday, September 16, 2022, but railroad companies appear to be anticipating the strike, claiming they would begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals on Monday, September 23, 2022 to reduce the risk of carloads of dangerous products being stranded along the tracks if the strikes stops the trains.

According to ABC 7 Chicago, five of the 12 railroad unions that together represent 115,000 workers had already reached tentative agreements based on the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations that will deliver 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses over a five-year contract that’s retroactive to 2020. The coalition negotiating on behalf of the railroads announced three more tentative agreements Sunday, so deals covering roughly 45,000 workers have now been announced. Members of the unions with tentative deals still have to vote on them. According to PBS, the coalition negotiating on behalf of the nation’s biggest freight railroads (Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Kansas City Southern) has announced eight of the 13 tentative agreements needed to avert a strike by some 115,000 rail workers.

The deals that have been announced so far have closely followed the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations that called for 24 percent raises over five years, $5,000 in bonuses and one additional paid leave day a year. But the two biggest unions representing conductors and engineers have been holding out because they want the railroads to go beyond those recommendations and address some of their concerns about strict attendance policies and working conditions.

Biden, who touted himself as a pro-union president, may face tough choices to satisfy union workers as well the railroad companies.

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