Opinion by Jennifer Rubin for The Washington Post.
As a former labor lawyer, I can attest that when heading into the final hours of a labor negotiation, after months if not years of haggling, both parties can be frustrated, tired and angry. The intervention of a third-party mediator can therefore be critical to avoid a work stoppage.
In the case of the averted railway workers strike this week, that role was played by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
By all accounts, Walsh and his deputy Julie Su made a huge difference, helping to facilitate the final 20 hours of talks.
EARLY THIS SUMMER, farmers worried that millions of chickens in California’s Central Valley might soon peck each other to death. The birds were running perilously low on feed, which should have been delivered by Union Pacific Railroad from Midwestern corn producers. Foster Farms needed at least nine trainloads of corn each month to feed its tens of millions of chickens and turkeys, plus tens of thousands of dairy cows at its California facilities. But the trains weren’t showing up. Chickens can’t go long without eating—they become aggressive and turn to cannibalism—and if the feed didn’t arrive soon, the mega-flock would have to be euthanized.
Executives at Foster Farms began behaving like, well, chickens with their heads cut off. “Your failure to deliver is about to kill millions of chickens,” one incensed vice president at the company emailed a director at Union Pacific. “These dead animals will have to be picked up in dump trucks and taken to the local dumps. This is going to be an animal disaster, [and an] economic and media nightmare.”
Crunch. And a shortage of everything. That’s the warning rail union leaders are sending to consumers as the nation approaches the holiday season.
Expect, they said, a repeat of last year’s fiasco, where gifts were delayed for weeks or months as cargo ships backed up outside the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, the major import point for containers of toys, clothes, gadgets, games—or anything else arriving from Asia.
It wasn’t just because the ports themselves had problems. It was because the nation’s supply chain onshore, and especially its railroads, had virtually broken down.
AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast and provided an update on the impasse reached by major railroads and their unions that had been turned over for moderation by President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board.
The board released its recommendations, which the unions are currently reviewing, Regan said. He stressed that neither side is getting what they wanted, but compromises have been suggested. He also talked about how the freight railroad industry is massively underperforming and failing to meet the needs of the nation and how the low number of railway workers has contributed to the problem.
Reported by Sarah Zimmerman for Supply Chain Dive.
A labor dispute board appointed by the Biden administration proposed railroads raise wages by 24% over the course of a five-year contract, a major step toward resolving a negotiation stalemate that carriers say has made it harder to retain workers and address service declines.
The Presidential Emergency Board released its recommendations Wednesday for a proposed contract that would address issues related to wages, healthcare and other benefits. Workers have gone without a raise since 2019 as negotiations have dragged on, and the Board noted that railroads and unions were more than $9 billion apart in their proposals.
Surface Transportation Board (STB) chair Marty Oberman didn’t sound optimistic Friday about the state of rail , but vowed the STB is doing what it can to right mounting railroad congestion issues.
“We’re using every tool that we have available at the board to oversee this and to hold the railroads accountable,” Oberman said Friday during a rail-focused roundtable organized by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO union that also included several port and rail labor leaders.
The STB is the federal agency that regulates mostly freight rail , but ultimately has reach across all modes of surface transportation.
“Despite the hard work of our nation’s dedicated rail and port workers, there is a looming cargo logjam just as retailers are gearing up for a busy holiday season,” Transportation Trades Department president Greg Regan said during the roundtable.
Reported by William Padmore for Nebraska Public Media.
Freight rail workers are threatening to strike pending ongoing contract negotiations with the carriers they work for. If a strike does happen, roughly 116,000 workers will bring freight rail in the country to a halt, bringing difficulties to an already suffering supply chain.
Railroads are a critical part of the nation’s supply chain. Every year tons of resources like petroleum, lumber, food, and even packages from Amazon are moved across the country to ports and rail yards.
Reported by Todd von Kampen for the North Platte Telegraph.
Bailey Yard workers are more prone to give up on railroading after three years of layoffs followed by COVID-19, a North Platte rail union leader told an AFL-CIO virtual “town hall” last week.
Mike Gage, president of Local 1920 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, spoke second among 15 U.S. members of individual craft unions during Thursday’s hour-long forum related to rail labor negotiations with the nation’s major railroads.
“The shortage of workers has really had an effect on us,” said Gage, a 17-year Union Pacific Railroad veteran at the world’s largest classification yard.
As the nation’s railroad worker unions presented their details for a new contract with the freight railroads to a Presidential Emergency Board, rank-and-file workers, upset with no contract since before the coronavirus pandemic, rallied with their leaders in Galesburg, Ill., to demand one. And they picked up wide labor and political support.
“What was inspiring was not just the rail workers there, but the members of other unions who came” in solidarity to the July 30 event, added AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan, one of a lineup of speakers that day.