Railroad union members vote 99.5% to authorize a July 18 nationwide strike.
This nation has experienced a number of serious supply chain issues over the past year.
Now, another serious issue is on the horizon: Biden faces a July 18th deadline to intervene in nationwide U.S. railroad labor talks covering 115,000 workers.
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.
A White House official told Reuters the administration “is going through the standard process that has been used in the past when considering a PEB.” The White House declined further comment.
Union officials indicate that they do not want to go on strike, but are being forced to consider the option to try and obtain better benefits and wages, as well as to address staffing issues.
The unions have worked without a contract since July 1, 2019.
The two sides were forced into a 30-day “cooling off period” after failing to reach an agreement working through the National Mediation Board. The cooling off period prevents unions from striking or railroads from locking out their workers while they continue to negotiate.
That cooling off period ends at midnight on July 18, and a coalition of unions could choose to go on strike at that point, said Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation union president Jeremy Ferguson.
However, the Railway Labor Act, which sets out the rules for these kinds of disputes, allows President Joe Biden to appoint a three-member emergency board to investigate and make recommendations to both sides about how to settle their differences.
The union is not allowed to strike during the Presidential Emergency Board’s investigation.
This potential strike is a serious issue. Yet, in this summer of January 6th drama, gun control kabuki, and abortion theater, the press has spent next to no time covering this issue.
Should a strike occur, there are some supply chain statistics to keep in mind. About 1/3rd of American exports are transported to rail. Freight rail is part of an integrated network of trains, trucks and barges that ships around 61 tons of goods per American every year. Many of those goods include essentials, like energy and food.
As of July 12, over 99% of union workers have voted to authorize a strike.
The membership of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to authorize a strike if progress on a new labor contract isn’t made by the end of the week. The union is one of 13 rail worker unions negotiating a national labor contract after the previous contract expired in 2019.
The vote comes days before a federally mandated “cooling off period” between the unions and rail carriers is set to expire, after the two sides failed in June to reach an agreement before the National Mediation Board.
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