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Negotiations continue to avoid devastating freight train strike

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Two railroad unions, representing more than 50,000 engineers and conductors who make up the two crews that run the train, threatened the first railroad strike in 30 years Friday at 12:01 a.m. ET. I’m here. Union leaders and railroad labor negotiators have been meeting with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh all day in his Washington, D.C. office. Negotiations continued as of 6:30 pm ET, which was seen as a hopeful sign that progress was likely to be made.

In fact, a person familiar with the negotiations said the negotiator had just ordered an Italian dinner to be delivered, and there appeared to be no plans to break the deal any time soon.

A Labor Department spokesperson said Wednesday that unions and railroad officials are “negotiating in good faith” and are “committed to staying at the table” as the debate continues.

White House press secretary Carine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday morning that “all parties will remain at the table and work in good faith to resolve outstanding issues and reach an agreement.” We need to negotiate with the An unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people, and one that all parties must strive to avoid. “

The Labor Department asked both sides not to comment on the status of the talks, and neither responded to requests for comment.

Nearly 30% of domestic freight moves by domestic rail. Many important sectors rely on rail services, including oil refining, agriculture, automotive and other manufacturing, and imports of consumer goods. The impact of a short-term strike will be limited, but economists say a strike lasting longer than his week could have a severe impact on the economy.

The railroad said last Friday it had stopped accepting shipments of hazardous materials and security-related materials, including fertilizers, over concerns that trains would stop quickly wherever the strike began. Shipments of many agricultural products have been suspended.

member of Union Pacific (UNP) Train crews were notified by the railroad late Tuesday that if they were in the middle of their journey when the strike began at 12:01 am on Friday, they should park and secure their trains and wait for transportation.
Freight railway Norfolk Southern (Nippon Steel) plans to use managerial employees to run a limited number of trains if the strike occurs on Friday. This could allow important substances to reach their destination, from chlorine to water treatment plants.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Connor Spielmaker told CNN Business on Wednesday. “We are still planning how to utilize them.”

Spielmaker said railroads still hope to reach an agreement with the union and avoid such a situation. He declined to comment on whether the company’s employees would be used to operate the trains.

Strike threat puts pressure on White House

Efforts to avoid a strike will be a big test for President Joe Biden and his White House. At the same time, he wants to avoid potential shocks to the economy, especially with the midterm elections just seven weeks away.

Railroad workers are governed by different labor laws than most workers, limiting their freedom to strike and allowing government intervention. In July, Biden issued an order to block the then-strike and created a panel known as the Presidential Emergency Committee to try to find a resolution to the dispute. Meanwhile, unions could not go on strike and management could not keep workers out.

Biden, however, cannot order railroads to continue operating after the cooling-off period ends on Friday. In the absence of an agreement, only Congress can act to keep workers in jobs. Senator Richard Durbin, his second-highest-ranking Democratic Senate leader, told CNN this week that congressional action was unlikely despite his group calling for action. Told. The Senate is adjourned on Friday, with many members of Parliament flying to London to attend Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.

don’t fight for wages

The PEB’s recommendation called for workers to get an immediate 14% wage increase and unpaid wages dating back to 2020. Also, from 2020 he requested a 24% pay raise and a cash bonus during his five-year contract period until 2024. $1,000 per year.

However, it does not address staffing shortages and scheduling rules, which are major issues of contention. The engineers’ and conductors’ unions say the railroad company is asking its members to be “on-call” and ready to show up at short notice as often as seven days a week. Officials from both unions say union members will not accept contracts unless labor rules are changed.

The railways have more than 50,000 union members who work as track maintainers, signal operators, train dispatchers and mechanics. However, they are not subject to the same labor regulations, and these unions have already accepted interim deals with the railways based on the PEB’s recommendations.

One of those unions, Machinist, said Wednesday that its members voted to reject the provisional labor contract. About 5,000 union members work on railways as locomotive mechanics, track equipment mechanics, and facility maintenance personnel.

Just because they rejected the proposed deal doesn’t mean that efforts to avoid a strike will immediately retreat. The union has said it will not go on strike before the end of the month as it seeks to reach changes to a tentative agreement that union members will accept. . accepted by the general public.

Two other unions, the Carmen Brotherhood of Railways and the Transport and Communication Union, with 11,000 members, ratified the agreement on Wednesday.

CNN’s Matt McFarland, Ali Zaslav, Kate Sullivan, Phil Mattingly, and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.

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