Reported by Taylor Nicole Rogers for Financial Times.
Joe Biden’s pledge to be the most “pro-union” president is being put to the test as some 112,000 employees of the largest US freight rail carriers threaten to go on strike as early as next week, a move that could cripple the country’s already strained supply chains.
The US’s largest railroads and the unions that represent their employees have tried to renegotiate their expired labour contract for more than two years. But the two groups are at an impasse over pay and benefits, and the federal board that oversees their mediation process abruptly ended talks earlier this month.
U.S. President Joe Biden faces a deadline next week to intervene in nationwide U.S. railroad labor talks covering 115,000 workers, or open the door to a potential strike or lockout that could threaten an already fragile economy and choke supplies of food and fuel.
The stakes are high for Biden, who wants to tackle inflation-stoking supply-chain woes and is already working to reach a deal in the critical labor talks at West Coast seaports.
If the president declines to intercede in the railroad labor negotiations by appointing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) before 12:01 a.m. EDT on Monday, the railroads and unions could opt for operational shutdowns or strikes, respectively. If appointed, the board would make recommendations that could be used as a framework for a voluntary settlement.
Reported by Nick Niedzwiadek and Eleanor Mueller for Politico.
RAIL WORKERS PREP FOR NEXT STEP: Freight rail workers held a demonstration Sunday in Lincoln, Nebraska, near a key linkage in the country’s supply chain infrastructure.
It is one of several moves that labor leaders are teeing up to rally support among members and the public ahead of a July 18 deadline for the White House to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to resolve an ongoing labor dispute between unionized rail workers and the freight industry.
Railway workers rallied outside of the BNSF Railway offices on Sunday. Participants marched and chanted around the Lincoln Station, advocating for more benefits, a pay raise and a new contract.
“We’ve gone too long without proper pay raises, proper benefits, sick leave,” said Jakob Forsgren, local chairman of Lodge 1320 for the Brotherhood of Maitenance Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “We’re fed up with the way that we’ve been treated the last couple of years in these contract negotiations, and it’s clear to me that I’m not the only one who has those feelings. So we’re just here to kind of show the railroads that enough is enough.”
Before these past two years, if you were polling passersby on the street, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone ready to admit that they were seriously concerned about the supply chain. You’d be hard pressed, for that matter, to find many who could describe what the supply chain actually is (present company included). That is certainly not the case today. From shortages—and correspondingly high costs—of groceries and consumer goods like baby formula and sunflower oil to medical devices, “supply chain issues” have become a pronounced source of anxiety and frustration for consumers, workers, businesses, and politicians alike.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on President Joe Biden to help resolve a dispute between the country’s Class 1 railroads and 12 rail unions to avert a possible rail strike beginning July 18.
In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, U.S. Chamber President Suzanne Clark warned that the decision last month by the National Mediation Board (NMB) to release the railroads and unions from mediation and begin a 30-day cooling off period “presents a new challenge to the U.S. business community, which is already navigating a difficult environment.”