An update on rail labor negotiations

Time is running out to avert a rail strike
VP, Supply Chain & Customs Policy

On September 15, the White House announced that a tentative agreement had been reached between freight railroads and rail labor organizations, avoiding a shutdown of the freight rail system. Read NRF’s response.

There is a real threat of a rail strike if a deal on labor contract negotiations is not met by September 16, when the cooling-off period ends. Our nation’s retailers continue to meet strong consumer demand despite continued supply chain challenges. The goods and services tied to retailers are a key part of needed economic growth — despite various economic headwinds — and they require continued improvements and fluidity in the supply chain. A strike would have devastating consequences for retailers’ supply chains and could cripple the U.S. economy.

As of September 14, the National Railway Labor Conference, representing the freight railroads, had reached tentative agreements with nine of the 12 unions based upon the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations. The latest tentative agreement was reached September 13 with the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU.

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Tell Congress to avoid an impending rail strike by finalizing labor negotiations.

The two largest unions, SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, continue to express concerns over the recommendations and want additional issues like attendance policies addressed that were not included in the PEB recommendations. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which was one of the first unions to agree to a tentative agreement, has rejected the agreement and voted to strike.

The White House and key administration officials continue to work with the railroads and the unions to reach a deal before the cooling-off period ends. President Biden has spoken with all the parties in an effort to avoid a strike, and the administration is working on contingency plans to keep critical supply chains and commodities moving.

Several railroads have already indicated they will begin to wind down services in advance of September 16, including CSX, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific. The American Association of Railroads has said a strike would cost the economy $2 billion a day.

If the parties do not reach agreement, Congress can step in and pass legislation to implement the recommendations set by the PEB to keep the freight rail system open and America’s supply chains moving. NRF sent a letter to all members of Congress last week, alerting them to NRF’s concerns about a freight rail shutdown and encouraging them to step in immediately to pass the PEB recommendations if needed.

NRF has set up a grassroots campaign that members of the public can use to send a message to Congress: Tell Congress — Stop the Rail Strike. Contact your elected officials now and tell them to urge House and Senate leaders to schedule action on the PEB recommendations to prevent a rail strike and keep America’s supply chain moving.

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