Reported by George Anderson for Retail Wire.
President Joseph Biden last Friday stepped in with an executive order designed to keep freight rail workers from striking over the next 60 days.
Mr. Biden signed the action naming an emergency board of arbitrators that will help resolve disputes between the workers and their employers. The arbitrators have been tasked with coming up with recommendations for the parties to consider in an effort to find a middle ground that will avert a strike or further federal intervention.
President Biden made the decision to sign the executive after being “notified by the National Mediation Board that in its judgment these disputes threaten substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive a section of the country of essential transportation service.”
Retailers and their brand suppliers have a vested interest in labor disputes being resolved quickly and amicably.
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, thanked President Biden “for proactively working to address potential supply chain disruptions on our nation’s railways that would contribute to additional inflationary pressures. Now that we are in the peak shipping season for back-to-school and winter holiday merchandise, it is critical that both parties come back to the table to reach an agreement without any kind of rail service disruption this fall.”
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) also voiced support for the creation of the emergency board calling its members “highly experienced and respected.” AAR CEO Ian Jefferies expressed hope that the board would be able to “find a reasonable path forward … that allows both our hardworking employees and the industry to thrive in the future.”
The Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, which is representing workers in the negotiations, also welcomed the creation of the board. Greg Regan, TTD president, accused the railroads of “nearly three years of bad faith negotiations” and said that the industry had cut 45,000 jobs since 2015, a period in which the Class I railroads had realized $146 billion in profits.
“The reality is that these frontline workers are pandemic heroes who move essential cargo and goods through the supply chain, yet they have not received a pay raise in three years and are risking their personal health and safety every day on the job,” said Mr. Regan.
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