US House passes resolution to prevent rail strike

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by Emily Atkins

The US House passed legislation on November 30th that would impose the contract terms on unions that have rejected the tentative US rail contract agreement.

A second House vote added seven days of paid sick leave to the tentative agreement. The legislation now heads to the Senate for voting before the President can sign into law.

The resolution, H.J. Res. 100, affects employees in unions working for Class I rail operators BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, CN, CP, Union Pacific, and KCS. Of the 12 unions that have participated in the negotiations, eight have approved contracts while four unions representing 60,000 rail workers have voted down the tentative agreement that had been negotiated in September with the participation of a White House appointed mediation panel. The dispute is over wages, attendance policies and paid time off.

“America’s railroads serve nearly every sector of our economy and provide access to global markets. The freight rail system is a lifeline for many industries, ensuring the transport of not only retail goods, but also essential food and energy supplies,” said National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay.

“We commend the swift action of the House to approve this critical piece of legislation and prevent a potential catastrophic freight rail shutdown that could cost the economy US$2 billion a day. It is imperative that the Senate now acts immediately to approve the measure and send it to President Biden’s desk. Until the Tentative Agreement is in place, U.S. economic security remains in jeopardy.”

Unions will honour pickets

The four unions rejecting the current offer include SMART TD, BMWED-IBT, BRS, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. If even one of the railroad unions were to go on strike, the other 11 says they will  honour the picket lines, effectively shutting down the national railroad network. Friday, December 9th at 12:01 am EST marks the end of a cooling off period, giving rail union workers the option of striking.

On November 28th, the White House released a statement from President Biden calling on Congress to immediately pass legislation to adopt the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators.

The labor dispute has the potential to significantly disrupt rail operations in the days leading up to the shutdown, the strike period itself, and the network restart to follow.

According to an update from Maersk, rail customers can expect reduced allocations and embargos for hazardous and reefer cargo as a safety precaution. If a strike ensues, there would be no train movement in the rail network as early as 12:01 am on December 9th. This would include the shutdown of all cross-border rail activity in either direction between the U.S. and Canada. Most rail ramps will remain open for import pickup, though there may be significant congestion and limited cargo access.

Maersk suggests that customers pick up as many import containers as possible from U.S. inland rail ramps at this time to avoid rail ramp congestion and costs from any possible disruptions. It will be offering off-dock container yards for customers to increase container storage capacity if needed.